What’s awesome about writing contemporary is that it’s the real world you are describing. It’s not a world that once was or a world that will be. It’s the now. It’s here. We the readers instantly feel something when it comes to the setting. We feel like we want to be there or what it would be like to go there. It’s often why I read a story is because I feel something there. Yet because it’s the real world we right, the setting has to be authentic. Fantasy authors don’t have that issue and honestly neither does historical. (We all know for instance that 18 was over the hill during the regency period but we ignore that historical fact as the modern reader doesn’t connect or has serious opinions about a 14 year old getting married. I know I serious opinions on that matter.) You can taste the authenticity without ever being there and it’s hard to write a novel set in the now without serious research or visiting the place. I live in Miami. I giggle at the Miami cowboy book I read with some country place on South Beach. I also roll my eyes when someone doesn’t understand that the primary culture in Miami is hispanic, mostly Cuban and then there is the rest of us. All around me all the time people speak Spanish which I don’t understand and it’s totally okay as that’s the culture here. Because of this authenticity it is harder to write contemporary settings than people realize.
I know for me when I started writing novels I struggled with setting. I had characters in situations without ever describing the place they stood. As an aquarius, it’s not like I want to think about the walls that surround me as that’s totally boring. This attitude of mine made this a struggle. My solution was write about a place I knew. It’s why in Chaperoning Paris, which I started when I was 17 after my first trip to Paris, I had setting I had visited. In Borrowing the Doctor, I love going on cruises and in the upcoming Electing Love, I am born and bred in Boston so that will shine through in the setting once it’s released April 2016. I will stay far away from a cowboy ranch, which I love to read, but I have no sense of how the dirt truly feels in the air to ever write that story with authenticity which is so necessary for contemporary.
This summer during the blogathon, I went to meet my in-laws for the first time in Iran. I never in my life expected to go there. I remember George W Bush had it on some new evil list and I remember some guy on TV from Iran saying that that Holocaust never happened. (I’m saying guy so I don’t have to spell his name.) My perception of the place I intended to go was pretty grim and scary long before I stepped on a plane and I figured they’d hate me for being American. I was so wrong on every account. First off, I was there for the end of WW2 Armistice Day and on the news there was clips from the war and the holocaust broadcasting on television. To me this soldified how wrong I was. It was a fascinating adventure. At the airport the police were super nice, told me to have a great time and helped me with the proper wearing of the scarf. This is getting off a plane. (Oh and please ensure when traveling to the mideast to pack your deodorant in your carry on as the length of time to get there and the heat means you’ll need it.)
Iranian women are pretty liberal in how they dress compared to the Arab world we see and Iranians hate being labeled Arab at all. They are not. They are ancient Persia. It’s a different form of religion and everyone there was super warm and friendly. People went out of their way to welcome me. I complimented my husband’s cousin’s shoes and she took them off her feet and gave them to me. I now own traditional Iranian handmade shoes which are so interesting. In the US, if I told a woman ‘nice shoes’ she’d simply say thanks and maybe tell me the brand. While I don’t speak Farsi, the language, no one ever talked about America to me in a negative way and most said they liked our country a lot. Now I didn’t see any government officials. I don’t know them and I don’t want to, but the Iranians I interacted with were nice, capitalist, worldly and fun to speak to.
I would go back and for a living I teach American History. My students have shaken their heads at how polly anna ‘I love America’ I always am in class. For me to say I’d go back means I felt safe, I found the place interesting and one day a story will come to me that takes place there. Now that I’ve been, I can at least offer a flavor of authenticity that I couldn’t before and let’s be real for a contemporary romance we don’t want deep political, religious or anything that takes us out of the fantasy of the romance. Yet for the setting to be grounded, there has to be that flavor of authenticity.