What to do if you are a writer and can't go to where your story takes place.
For Kings River Life Magazine, December 2022
I’ve Always wanted to go to New Zealand….
When finishing my first novel “Ebola Island” I decided to write myself to New Zealand by having my two protagonists plan to marry and live there. I could then travel to and explore New Zealand and expense part of my trip as legitimate research for my second novel. Well that was my plan.
I am Gregor Pratt, retired trial lawyer, lousy fly fisherman who loves it anyway, average golfer, avid reader and at long last author! My first novel published in November 2019 was the culmination of many years of work. It is a pandemic novel published just weeks before any of us had ever heard of COVID. And while there are many differences in the Ebola pandemic depicted in my novel and the COVID pandemic, there are also some striking parallels. These include misinformed and even deceptive government statements, overreaction, fear, and even the nature of how crisis is determined and proclaimed. A number of my friends jokingly blamed me for the COVID pandemic. “Pratt you wrote this and now look what happened.”
As any of you who write know, it takes a good long while to research and write a book, especially for a new author like me.
Here’s what happened to my plan. New Zealand closed down due to COVID. Even if I wanted to take a long series of flights in airplanes crowded with potentially sick people, I couldn’t get into New Zealand! The country was closed!
So what could I do to keep my work going and stick to my script about New Zealand? I considered writing myself out of it by acknowledging or describing early in the second novel how and why the New Zealand plans had changed and why Jack and Maddy Gamble, my heores, were now somewhere other than New Zealand.
Instead I decided to see what I could find out from sources like Google Earth. It turns out that is an incredible resource for writers like me on a tight budget. I was able to view neighborhoods and streets and individual houses in Nelson, New Zealand, where my second story begins. And I never left my desk. In this fashion I identified the house where the Gambles lived with their children, the children's’ school there in the neighborhood, the walking routes to get there, the school where Maddy taught English to non-English speakers, the port, the airport, the police station; well you understand. I was able to get a good feel for the area geographically from widely available resources. And so I was able to write my second novel after all. “Dragon’s Eye” starts in Nelson, New Zealand moves to Tauranga, New Zealand, the open seas of the Pacific and Port Vila Vanuatu. As a writer I want everything to be as authentic and accurate as possible and some of that might be the retired lawyer in me. And online resources gave me substantial accurate details about far flung places.
Even though “Dragon’s Eye” is done, I still plan to go to New Zealand sometime soon. I’m not getting any younger as the saying goes. Years ago, somebody described New Zealand to me as “like the States in the 50s” and I thought that sounded pretty good and have wanted to visit ever since. Then I learned about the prodigious trout there. And besides from a computer you can’t tell how a place smells or sounds or how people greet you or don’t or the pace of a place, how a stream feels against your legs or where the deep pools are hiding huge trout among other things. There’s nothing quite like actually being there. So one of these days…..