One of the best parts of being an avid reader is getting to visit tons of different worlds and eras without ever leaving your seat. London in the 1970s? Groovy, baby! Colonial America? Why yes, good sir! Modern-day Italy? Buongiorno! When you read as much as us, you can definitely tell when an author has done his or her research --- the details are crisper and clearer and every description jumps off the page. So how do they do it? In this post, author Diana Rodriguez Wallach shares how she went abroad to beautiful Italy to do some on-site research for PROOF OF LIES, an action-packed thriller with twists, turns and international intrigue. Read on to find out how she (and her travel companion husband) scoured Italy from the ground up to find all of the necessary details for her book.
Writing what you hope is the next "Great American Novel" comes with some perks, like using your creative passion, working from home and scheduling your own hours. But one of the often overlooked gems of the writing profession is research --- and I don’t mean sifting through Google results or dusting off dated microfiche film (though those tools are necessary). I mean setting the scene. Every story is set in a location, and if yours isn’t based in a made-up galaxy on planet Zoltar, then you need to be very familiar with the place you’re describing. You can’t possibly describe the cobblestone hills in Tuscany if you haven’t seen them, right? Well, that’s the story I sell my husband every time I make him plunk our vacation hours (and dollars) on a trip abroad so I can authentically set the scenes in my next novel.
I love to travel, and thankfully so does my husband, so we’re always looking for an excuse to go somewhere new --- and writing a book is a pretty awesome (tax deductible) excuse. My latest YA novel, PROOF OF LIES, is the first in a trilogy that will each feature scenes both abroad and in the U.S. All are places I have personally visited.
For example, my main character Anastasia Phoenix sets off to Italy to search for answers about her mysterious family. But a girl’s got to eat and sleep in between clandestine meetings, right? Every hotel I describe in the book is based on the exact rooms I stayed in with my husband. The dangerous cliff Anastasia encounters outside of Cortona’s city walls, was trampled by my two feet. When Anastasia stops at a café in Rome for cappuccino, you can bet I ate there. And when she takes a water taxi in Venice, I can describe the spray on her face because it felt the same way on my own cheeks.
My settings are real, vivid, and authentic, down to the salty smell in the air and the honking sounds of traffic. One of the best compliments I got from reviewers after my last YA series, Amor and Summer Secrets, came out was that the tropical setting of Puerto Rico felt like a character in its own right. Big smiles for that praise. I’ve been to Puerto Rico several times, and my father grew up in the town of Utuado (where the first book is set), so it was very important to me to get it right. There are some details --- like the perilous drive through the tropical mountains and the taste of the local food --- that you simply can’t absorb through photographs and blogs alone.
For PROOF OF LIES, some of those travel details were tiny --- like knowing that the hotel elevator has a Floor 0 instead of “G” for ground, or that cafes in Europe don’t want you to linger after you’ve finished your coffee. Some were big --- like describing the whirl of motorbikes in Rome that zip around cars like bees or knowing that the traffic outside of Venice is smog-filled and industrial before you descend steps into the colorful beauty of the water-clogged city. Sometimes those details are downright significant --- like noticing that one of the streets near the University I describe is named after a historical figure already pivotal to my plot or realizing that the symphony hall in Venice shares the same last name as my main character (“La Fenice,” which means the Phoenix). I wouldn’t have known these things if I hadn’t been to Italy, wandering the streets, absorbing the culture and looking for the perfect places to set my scenes.
So while traveling for book research is admittedly expensive, I always tell my husband that I’ve never heard anyway say they wish they hadn’t taken that vacation. Traveling is a part of my job now, and I hope readers will not only get to escape into a good mystery in PROOF OF LIES, but also escape into European destinations so vivid they’ll be researching airfare before they hit the last page.
Now for some real fun: Diana Rodriguez Wallach was kind enough to share photos from her own vacation in Italy to help you visualize some of the sights she mentions here and in her book. Check them out below:
Diana at a Roman cafe --- where you are not encouraged to linger after finishing your delicious treats and caffeine boost.
One thing we're always curious about is an author's desk or workplace --- the place where they begin to organize and flesh out their thoughts. Here's a glimpse at the place Diana began her work when she stayed in Italy.
When you think about Venice, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a gondola --- traditionally filled with a striped shirt-wearing, singing man. Well, part of that may be fantasy, but the boats are definitely real! Here's Diana and her husband on a Venetian river.
We saved the best for last: here is the gorgeous Tuscan countryside you always hear about in books and movies. WOW!
If you're ready to pack your bags for Italy now, be sure to check out PROOF OF LIES!