Has a map ever challenged a pre-conceived notion that you had about a location? Please welcome Camille Di Maio to WU today, who’ll talk about the topic. A bit about Camille:
Camille Di Maio always dreamed of being a writer, and those dreams came true with her bestselling debut novel, The Memory of Us. In addition to writing women’s fiction, she trains in tae kwon do, buys too many baked goods at farmers’ markets, unashamedly belts out Broadway show tunes, and regularly faces her fear of flying to indulge in her passion for travel. She and her husband homeschool their four children and run an award-winning real estate office in San Antonio, Texas. They divide their time between San Antonio and Williamsburg, Virginia. Her second novel, Before the Rain Falls, is out now.
The Best Writing Tool that No One Knows About
You know that feeling. Some people call it déjà vu. That feeling that you’ve been there before.
And you have. Kind of.
I experienced a unique sense of this in 2016 when I first traveled to Liverpool, UK. It was the setting for my first novel, THE MEMORY OF US, a story inspired by the classic Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby. While writing and researching, I desperately wanted to visit Liverpool. To wander its streets. View its architecture. Feel its history. But what was a working mom of four kiddos in Texas supposed to do?
Enter Google Maps. The best writing tool that no one knows about. Well, of course, you know about Google Maps. But do you use it in your writing?
As a real estate agent, I used Google Maps all the time. For directions. For a sneak peek at a neighborhood. To see if a pool at a prospective house took up all of the yard when my client still wanted green space.
But as a writer? I had never heard of authors using it. And yet, it became the very best tool in my kit.
Back to Liverpool. My story was set in the late 1930s and my research showed that most of the buildings today existed then as well. So, using the handy orange figure in the right corner and dragging him to specific points for Street View, I was able to “walk” around town as my characters might. With this tool, I was able to describe the scrolls on the Cunard building and accurately set the scene for what my protagonist saw as she pulled out of the train station.
Beyond descriptions, using Google Maps helped me shape the story itself. When I needed to decide upon a business for Julianne’s wealthy father, I discovered Albert Docks in downtown Liverpool. The location was ideal – near the water, allowing him to be a shipping magnate, whose fortune rose and fell with the tides of war. When I needed a park for their estate to sit on, I learned about Newsham Park. Its two ponds (and the toy boat races that I later read about) were perfect to set a chapter where she looks wistfully at the children as she herself is forbidden from playing with them. When I needed a honeymoon location, a scan of the map led me to Llanddwyn, a piece of land in Wales that is an island or a peninsula depending on the time of day. Zooming in, I found the ruins of a small 5th century church and research led me to learn about the Welsh version of St. Valentine.
I’ve used Google Maps in my subsequent books. The second one is set in Texas in a fictional border town, but the website helped me with topography and landmarks. My current WIP is set in New York City, and one of my favorite scenes takes place in a restaurant that I might not have found without it.
A few tips for using this tool effectively:
- If you’re writing a historical book, cross-check your discoveries with other websites to make sure that what you’re currently seeing existed in the time period.
- Use the satellite view for a birds-eye view for topography.
- Follow the arrows to “walk” in different directions; the orange figure can be applied to just about every street.
- Don’t forget to “look” up by scrolling – especially in cities. Some of the most interesting things might be found in taller buildings!
And what about that déjà vu? As I mentioned, I got a chance to visit Liverpool just before the release of my book. I was a little nervous – what if I discovered that I’d been radically wrong about a detail now that I would be there in person? But to my great relief, the city felt amazingly familiar to me. And my research – much of which was done through Google Maps – was so thorough that there were multiple things I knew about the city that my lifelong native tour guide did not!
I hope you’ll consider this tool as you write. I’d love to hear from you when you make a wonderful discovery!
What is your go-to site for book research? What place have you studied that you would love to visit in person? Have a favorite research tool you think writers might benefit from? Share tricks, tips, links and raves in comments.