Since this month’s blog topic is Celebrating Romance Around The World, I’d like to explain how and why I chose Jamaica as a prime setting for my romantic suspense novel, FINAL ACCOUNTING.
Given that I live in South Carolina and grew up in Iowa, setting my first novel, DEAR KILLER, in the S.C. Lowcountry, and my second, NO WAKE ZONE, in Spirit Lake/Okoboji, Iowa, made perfect sense. I had intimate knowledge of both locations—people, geography, history, culture—and could weave key details into my plots.
The island is a study in stark contrasts. Paradise and poverty. Lavish resorts and urban violence. Soaring mountains and deep, dark caves. These contrasts give an author everything she could ask for to make setting a character in the story—from fairytale beach backdrops that beg to have a couple kissing in the foreground to steep mountain roads where danger seems to lurk around every corner (even when you’re not being chased by a determined assassin).
Though similar contrasts can be found throughout the world (the U.S. included), I felt Jamaica offered my readers a number of exotic and unexpected extras. Many Jamaican tourists never step foot outside their all-inclusive, walled resorts. But my introduction offered a glimpse at this island’s true diversity.
That’s because my husband and I had expert guides. My sister, Rita, and brother-in-law, Hank, lived in Jamaica for seven years. Hank, an engineer, headed a major highway construction project, and his work took him (and any visitors) to virtually every part of the island. For instance, on one sojourn, we drove into the hinterlands in search of gravel pits. In our travels, we bought coconuts (but not the ganja) offered by roadside entrepreneurs, ate jerk chicken at stands where one hoped the fiery spices killed germs, marveled at the number of goats and machete-carrying pedestrians holding up traffic in Kingston. Of course, we also ate at five-star mountain-top restaurants, visited ritzy resorts, and went for an unforgettable evening cruise on Jamaica’s bioluminescent bay.
In FINAL ACCOUNTING, my heroine and hero visit many of these same places (sometimes because they’re being chased). But they also descend into Dragon’s Throat, a fictitious cave modeled on the Cockpit region’s real—and numerous—caves. Since I’m slightly claustrophobic and don’t like heights, I’m happy to report that I didn’t rappel into a mile-deep cavern for a first-hand experience. However, I did try to capture the reality of what my characters experienced. Thank heaven for the Internet and the wealth of research opportunities it offers authors.
My brother-in-law gave me the idea of using caves in my plot, suggesting they’d be “a great place to hide bodies.” His observation launched me on a research project back home, and it wasn’t long before I found the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO) and Ronald Stefan Stewart, JCO’s founder. After I viewed the JCO’s extensive library of videos capturing their exploration of dozens of different caves, I wrote a first draft of my cave scenes. Then I sent them to Stefan for review. His expertise was invaluable. He’s visited more than 250 caves and sinkholes in Jamaica and added more than 50 new ones to the nation’s Register. If there are any errors in my descriptions of the fictional Dragon’s Throat cave, caving, or the Cockpit region, rest assured they are my mistakes. If you have any interest in caving and the JCO’s important conservation initiatives, please visit the JCO website: http://www.jamaicancaves.org/main.htm.
What my research taught me is that authors don’t have to personally visit every location included in a novel—if they commit to doing the research and asking for help. Lots of gracious folks out there, like Stefan, are more than willing to help authors attempting to get the world they live in right.
Writing fiction exercises the imagination. Taking our characters beyond our own geographic boundaries give us a chance to visit new, exciting worlds. Even if we never leave our computer screens.
Have your written about a place you’ve never visited? Have you read a book that made an unfamiliar location seem so real that you felt you’d spent time there?