One of the things I like about writing contemporary big-city romances is that they allow me to enjoy some of the travel I’ve done (and plan to do) from a couple of perspectives.
First, there’s the pleasure of exploring new places and well-known cities in and of themselves. I love landscapes and natural environments, but I also really enjoy walking in and through city streets and experiencing those places on foot. There’s an energy to cities that can be overwhelming but also exciting.
As long as I have a map, the address of the place I’m staying, and the willingness to get lost (temporarily), wandering a new city or revisiting an old favorite is a real pleasure for me. I love exploring churches, museums, different neighborhoods, noting details. Depending on the culture of a given city, I also like to feel the flavor of it simply by sitting at a café and people-watching for an hour or two, perhaps jotting a few notes for present or future writing projects.
I have no problem with traveling alone to the cities I’ve visited: while it’s nice to have a companion to whom I can turn to say, “Wow, look at that!” (and I do travel happily with others), there’s also freedom in being on one’s own and doing exactly as one pleases at a slow or rapid pace, as one prefers.
Second, however, there’s the reward of getting to know a location well enough to use it, however tangentially, as a setting for character and action in my work. I don’t claim to get to know all cities I visit in any depth. Unless I’ve lived in a place for a while, I’m a tourist rather than a resident and my knowledge is that of an outsider, partial, not profound. Also, let’s be real: I’m no Charles Dickens, in whose work London, for example, often becomes a character far more than it is a mere backdrop.
Even as backdrop, though, and even in category romance, setting can help establish mood, tone, and draw in the reader to the external and internal conflicts between the two protagonists. (My first romance is a category romance; the one I’m writing now is a little more complex and of single-title length — at least, that’s my goal.)
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’m looking forward to returning to Venice for a week at the end of October, a city I love to distraction. It’s a triple-purpose trip: 1) I’m delivering an academic paper at an international conference in my incarnation as a university professor; 2) I’m getting there a few days ahead of the conference so that I can do some last-minute location scouting and snag some related images for that presentation; 3) at the same time, I’ll be taking notes from a different angle, because four chapters in my WIP (work-in-progress) novel are set in Venice. This means that the portion of the trip which is not covered by my university (it’s an impoverish public institution) can, at least, be written off as a tax deduction.
(There are unexpected advantages to being a romance author who’s fond of travel!)