Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#GuestPost Boots on the Ground in Australia for KNOWING VERA #writing #research #travel

My first two contemporary novels, Broken Build (Book 1) and HiddenUnder Her Heart (Book 2), were set in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I live here, it was easy for me to take field trips to research scenery and location. However, Knowing Vera presented a challenge. Even though it starts and ends on the Golden Gate Bridge, the main action takes place half-way around the world in Australia.

Australia has always been an land of enchantment for me. The romance began with Crocodile Dundee and the Crocodile Hunter. What girl hasn’t fantasized about rugged men with dirt on their faces and a knife between his teeth wrestling crocodiles or fighting sharks while talking with that sexy, husky accent?

I began writing my contemporary romantic suspense novels by setting them in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. Fact checking and research were fun and easy. I had only to drive or take the BART to where I wanted to go, take pictures and notes and talk to people and I was done. I spent an entire day on the Golden Gate Bridge looking over the edge to see how wide the little catwalk was and whether someone could hang on and fight. I also took day trips to Santa Cruz, Pescadero State Beach, and Half Moon Bay to scout locations. [click here and here for posts]

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco Side.
But Australia hung on my mind, or rather Aussie men, specifically Zach Spencer. He popped onto the scene in Hidden Under Her Heart as the swoonworthy training partner of Lucas Knight, the biracial triathlete who was the hero of the book. Initially, he was supposed to be South African. But a quick fact check that South Africa had been banned from the 1984 Olympics had me looking for another location, namely Australia.

I settled on Melbourne when I met my friend, Rebecca Berto, who is from the Melbourne area. She agreed to help me fact check everything, from the location of the gas and brake pedal of a vehicle to the level of humidity in Melbourne as opposed to Sydney. I also met some Australians on the Golden Gate Bridge and  pumped them for information, such as west side Sydney being the not so nice area as opposed to the East. So opposite to Los Angeles where I grew up.

Google was my friend for most of my research. I’d zoom into Sydney airport and map out the routes Zach and Vera took to leave the airport. I traveled through the tunnel and out many boring miles of traffic. Fortunately, I hired an Australian editor, Lauren McKellar from Sydney, and she quickly pointed out there was no shuttle bus from the terminal to the car rentals. She said you walk to the car park.

She also corrected some of my Aussie slang and modernized them from the ones I picked up in teh 1980's. As my adventurers took a detour onto Maroondah Highway, Lauren reminded me that the road signs would not say “Melbourne” anymore.

Once in the wine country, I took liberty and made up the entire Ping Crest Winery. Since I’ve been to Napa, I figured things couldn’t be too much different. I also transplanted the architecture of Mr. Ping’s house from California and used my imagination while looking at water fountains in Spanish Town along the drive to Half Moon Bay to fill in the garden area.

The Central Business District and Flinders Street Station are well documented by Google Street View, so I had no problem walking Vera along the plaza and putting her fingers on the water walls. I made up the electro dance club and description of the neighborhood by looking at pictures of Revolver Underground.

When I wanted to have Vera feed the cockatoos at Grant’s Picnic Ground in the Dandenongs, I got some unexpected help from Gina Dragone, a critique partner. She and her husband actually drove through there and walked around the trails. They didn’t go in, but reported about the fenced off area and having to purchase tickets and buy seeds from the gift shop. If I had gone entirely by blog reports or youtube videos I would have missed this, since it was a new development. In the past, people brought their own seeds and fed the birds in the parking lot.

I surely missed the natural beauty of the Dandenongs and Maroondah Highway, as well as the Yarrow Valley, the Mornington Peninsula and Port Phillip Bay. But having boots on the ground friends made all the difference in the details and I hope someday to visit Australia and see everything for myself. In the meantime, if anyone wants me to fact check San Francisco, Berkeley and Silicon Valley, just give me a holler.

Thanks Melburnians, here’s a link for you. “You’re not a Melburnian until…”

Australian tree taken from the Berkeley Botanical Gardens.
Thank You, Rebecca, Lauren, and Gina for being my boots on the ground in Australia.

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