I enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s not a perfect movie and, in my opinion, left a lot of lost opportunity on the table, but when seeing this ordinary guy break out of his shell and go on this extraordinary adventure to far-off lands it’s hard not to leave with a smile.
I mean, come on – have you ever been to Iceland?
We enter the realm of books and movies often to escape our own reality. It’s a chance to put on someone else’s shoes and drive around in their head, but it also gives us an opportunity to visit locales we’ll never get to in our lifetime. It’s half the reason we all sign up to see the next James Bond or Mission Impossible movies – to see what stunts they’re going to pull and where.
So as a novelist, what’s stopping us from setting our books in different locales than we’re familiar with? And what are the challenges in doing so? Is it possible to write about a place you’ve never been and make it feel real or is there a level of detail you won’t attain without having experienced it?
You probably thought I’d have answers to these questions, but I don’t. If authors are able to fabricate entire worlds and conjure a cast of characters out of pure imagination I believe they can be capable of writing about locations without ever stepping foot there. At least the good ones. But I do think there’s a level of authenticity that is only gained from having experienced – in some form – a part of the world you’re attempting to share.
My newest novel, The Creation, is set in the Amazon rain forest in Southern Venezuela. It’s about a phytopharmacologist (fancy word for someone who studies plants) and a green activist who are both caught up in a storm of transformation as the world literally changes around them. Throughout the series they’ll see each day of the Creation take place, but in a twisted and more devastating pattern.
Having lived in Venezuela for two years, and having visited the Gran Sabana on more than one occasion, I’m fortunate to be able to rely on memories and pictures of the area. To help fill in some of the gaps and help give my novel more authenticity, I’ve conducted more hours of research than I care to admit. Memories, pictures, and words however cannot do this exotic land justice.
The Gran Sabana is a part of one of the largest national parks in Venezuela, called Canaima National Park. The region goes from sweeping savannas to impenetrable jungles, is home to the world’s largest waterfall as well as the table-top mountains called tepuis that you see in Pixar’s movie Up. These strange yet amazing raised plateaus are breathtaking to behold, each having its own unique ecosystem as they’ve been separated from the surrounding jungles for countless millenniums.
If I had to pick a spot for a new Garden of Eden, there’s no doubt this would be it.
Since traveling to Venezuela is a bit difficult these days, I invite you to check out the video below. It’s from a National Geographic special called: Lost World – Venezuela’s Ancient Tepuis. Or, if you’re interested in checking out my novel, the first novella-length chapter in The Creation Series is available for free on Amazon here! Check it out and let me know what you think.
Venezuela is very dear to my heart. I made friendships there that will last forever and learned so much from such a caring and giving people. Is there corruption? Sure, but you only have to go as far as the local paper to find as much of it here as there. But my life was transformed by my experiences there. It’s suiting then, that for a novel about transformation, I chose to return to a land I love.