Cassy Pickard- Writing in a Foreign Land

 Today I’d like to welcome an old, as in the time we’ve known each other, friend, Cassy Pickard. If you think the information she is imparting on you below is interesting then you should check out some of her other stories on: . You may have to hunt for them but they are well worth the read to show what a dedicated author goes through to get the feel of where she write about.

We as writers invent. We create worlds that first exist only in our minds and then we figure out how to put that on a page so others are invited to join us. We want readers to see our characters as people who are advancing through their struggles. We also want them to see the streets our creations live on, smell the aromas from where they eat, hear the buzz of the motorcycles along the street.

We all have access to an amazing array of resources for learning about spots in the world where we might never have been. Google Maps takes us up and close with a few strokes of the keys. The number of resources is almost limitless. I won’t even try to make a list. Add to that the various loops such as Crimescenewriter that will provide information on about anything mysterious, criminal, or judicial you might ever need to know—all done with high integrity.

But, it really doesn’t add up. There is a stagnant quality. The information is lifted in a sense.

I recently participated in a brainstorming workshop held in Matera, Italy. It was an international group of writers who had far more international lifestyles than I. But the message was clear. As folks took turns describing their works in progress and the group focused on each person- mind you, this was more than an hour for  each so the focus was intense- the context of each story become evident. The woman writing in Sweden was telling about her experience as an American who now lived there. The woman who moved around the globe as a child of embassy parents talked of the Middle East and of Europe. The man whose parents are multi-national has created an imaginary world for his stories based on much he has experienced and learned. There are many more tales among this group.

That leads me to my point. My stories take place in Italy. It’s a country I have been visiting for 40 years. I go many times a year. And, I have learned that I can’t “feel” the country on Google or on any website. Let me share with you an experience I had a few years ago- maybe this will make my point.

My husband and I were traveling in Italy and he made the genius suggestion that I stay on to research a portion of the book I was writing. “Take a week,” he said. “I’m fine heading back. You have lots to do.” I hesitated, then grabbed the moment.

I spent five days doing just that. I walked Rome in ways I had not done before. Even with the many times I have been there, this was different. I was looking for the apartment house my heroine lived in. I took photographs not of classic sites but of where my gal lived and worked—memories for me to be sure to keep for my pages to be written.

In Rome, women don’t usually jog or run. I planned the path for my protagonist to flee in a moment of terror and ran it. So, I literally busted my buns to get from Point A to Point B and timed it. I ended up in a huge protest group and realized it was a good place to hide from the bad guy chasing me, I almost began to believe he was real. Then as I moved on to Piazza dei Fiori, I had no idea the large farmer’s market filled the square. It was rich with details that I could never have found on Google or any other site.

I decided to have lunch at the edge of the piazza and watch the parade of people. With a glass of wine in hand, it became clear that I had to be there. I had to feel it, smell it, watch it, and then hopefully know it. And my dear character was right by my side. She loved it too. That was until I had to make her life much more difficult.

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11 Responses to Cassy Pickard- Writing in a Foreign Land

  1. Lindsay says:

    Thank you for joining us today.

  2. It is my pleasure to join you. I’d love to hear from others about how they do their research on places that aren’t in one’s backyard. I’ll extend that also to other stuff. I’m thinking about taking a gun course from one of the ranges nearby. That is foreign territory for me! Cassy

  3. Not sure when, but there is a shooting range in Guilford where the owner has extended me an invitation for a shooting lesson- blanks of course.

    As for Italy and other countries, anyone have stories to tell?? I’d love to hear them.

  4. jennajaxon says:

    That is exactly what I long to do in England, where most of my historicals are set. I need to go and walk around the towns I’m writing about, look at the coaching inns, walk over the grass meadows of Cumbria or along the rocky coast of Cornwall so that what I see becomes what I write. One day. I’ve been to England a couple of times, but long ago. But that is the best way to get the insight you need about the places you are describing. I envy you Italy (it’s on my list as well), but so glad you enjoyed it!

    • Lindsay says:

      I’m with you about England. My WIP is set in the Cornwall area and I’ve got two other books set there. Italy, not so sure. Might not want to get up from the dinner table to look around.

    • Jenna: I hear you. It really is a different experience to actually be there. Any chance of treating yourself??? But, the temptation is to be a tourist, not a writer. I have found the difference huge. Keep us posted! Cassy

  5. Ciara Knight says:

    Italy is my favorite country. Florence is so inspiring. I’m jealous you are able to visit so often. It’s been 13 years since my last visit. 😦 Oh, I want to return.

  6. Ciara: You are great to stop by. I won’t argue with you about Italy as it’s my second home. 13 years? Girl, you’re overdue. Do your stories have Italian elements? If so, I’d love to talk with you about that. Cassy

  7. How do you do your research? I always love to know more! Cassy

  8. I so agree Cassy. Google Earth or whatever you use is a tear drop in the bucket compared to the wealth of information you can gather from experiencing something first hand.

    What a great post. Thanks Cassy and Lindsay!

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