Travel: Writing Research

Toos of the Trade
Tools of the Trade

That’s the dream, right? Pack the bags and fuck off to some far-away place for an indulgent period of time to write, research, absorb your surroundings, and write some more.

If you’re like me, and I expect many of you are, you rarely get further than the closest convenient coffeehouse or bar.

But still the dream persists. We hold onto that “What if?” We Google the hell out of that dream destination. We scribble notes for that dream project that we would tackle if only time, money, and life permitted.

So, inspired by a conversation this weekend with a fellow writer, here’s my list of Top 5 dream writing vacation destinations and what I’d work on while I was there.

Mexico City

I’ve heard nightmare stories about Mexico City for years. Mostly by people who watched the movie Man on Fire or have a view colored by their interpretation of crime statistics filtered third hand through other people. Is there crime in Mexico City? Of course. There’s crime everywhere. And it’s a huge city with some extreme disparity of wealth from neighborhood to neighborhood.

But it’s also beautiful city rich with art, culture, and history. A good friend visited there recently and every photo she posted made me want to visit more. Ok, maybe not every photo. I’m still not sure about the consumption of chile-roasted grasshoppers, though I hear they’re delicious. I just can’t wrap my taste buds around that yet.

But a month to wander around, hit the museums and libraries, the markets and cafes–that would be incredible.

I have a short story I want to do about a couple of occult “problem solvers” who themselves happen to be dead. It was inspired by a drawing that same travelling friend did. I’d also really love to write some early Gato Loco stories, maybe a novel, that take place during the beginning of his vigilante career. And I can’t imagine a better way to capture that spirit than some full immersion.


I’ll admit, I didn’t really see the appeal of Paris until a few years ago.

Ok. So I was wrong.

A month hanging out on the Left Bank, living on black coffee and pastry at outdoor cafes with a notebook on my table? Yeah, that’s pretty much perfect. Give me a camera to capture the buildings, the streets, the flow of the city, and I’ll be in heaven.

I’ve been thinking of writing a series of short mystery stories featuring Jean-Paul Sartre, one of my dad’s heroes. I picture him and Simone de Beauvoir in post-war Paris solving mysteries. Tie that in with some Existentialism and the atmosphere of the city at that time and it practically writes itself. Though I’d really want to soak up as much of that Paris atmosphere–and coffee–that I could before I undertake that kind of endeavor.

New England

I’ve never been to New England. Odd that I’ve been drawn to setting stories there in the last several years. Maybe my brain is trying to tell me something.

On top of setting Cobalt City there just south of Boston in the crook of Cape Cod, I’ve also got a (languishing) punk rock fable called Winter Lullaby set in the fictional western Connecticut town of Devil’s Gap, and the ostensibly YA project Tastes Like Teen Spirit about a young cannibal who falls in love with a serial killer in Pluto Falls, New Hampshire. Also fictional.

But give me a month, preferably October, to pack up a rental and drive from town to town on back roads, stopping where I need, writing where I can, making myself sick on red leaves, apple pie, and maple syrup, and I promise you, I’ll find those fictional towns.

Fez, Morocco

I’ve been wanting to go to Morocco for decades. I want to go to Fez, the high mountain city that happens to be home to one of the world’s oldest universities, in particular. I’ve been fascinated by the Almoravid period, in particular (1040-1147), for much of that time.

Though I’d want to incorporate much of my month there into a big, optimistic sci-fi novel, mostly I’d want to write non-fiction. Essays about the use of public space in Moroccan culture, and studies of urban design. So, lots of time sipping mint tea at cafes (you see a theme by now, I expect), and walking the narrow streets. Taking language classes in the afternoon, maybe even a camel tour out into the Atlas mountains to see a little bit of the countryside.

As for that sci-fi novel, it’s going to take place in three locations. One is near orbit, so that’s out of the travel plans. The part that takes place in Morocco involves a former NASA astronaut, the last American to go to space, who is finding a late-in-life career as a consultant to a pan-African space program that is building an orbital launch platform in an international race to send a manned mission to Mars. He gets caught up in the intrigue and politics of the mission, very much a stranger in a strange land.

But I feel I need to have that experience to do it justice.

As for the third part of the book…


I’ll be honest. I don’t know how I landed on Cameroon when I was looking at African countries near the Equator to set the other third of this book. Something about the country just grabbed my imagination. I’ve decided the launch platform for the space agency is located there, and one of the three main characters is a mid-level security supervisor for the site who begins to suspect a plot to sabotage the program. And when he is attacked and left for dead, he figures out someone on the inside, higher up on the chain of command, is part of the conspiracy.

Of all the five travel destinations, this one is the biggest wild-card. I don’t know much about Cameroon. In fact, one of the deciding factors might have been their national basketball or soccer team snagging my innate love of underdog sports teams. But I’ve been wanting to visit Africa for a long time, and it’s a huge continent with even more huge cultural diversity. At some point, you just have to roll those dice and open yourself up to the experience.

That is, if I ever get the resources to do any of these writing vacations.

In the meantime, there’s always the coffeehouse across the street.

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