Although I only live one state away, I’m looking forward to traveling to Portland for Wordstock. It’s not only that I enjoy road trips. Although I write mostly fantasy, travel is one of the key inspirations for most of my books. Perhaps this is because one of the books that made me a writer was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, which, of course, is a fantasy road-trip taken by Milo in “a small electric automobile.” I wanted to go, too. So I do, regularly, even if my automobile still runs on gas.
Oh, I don’t have many jaunts to other dimensions or planets (though I wouldn’t mind the opportunity). But something about being in a foreign land or an unfamiliar territory supercharges my imagination, and I draw ideas, setting details, cultural values, and historical details from reality to inform my fantasies and, I think, make them more concrete and believable.
For instance, my latest novel for young readers, The Farwalker’s Quest, is a post-apocalyptic story inspired significantly by a trip New Zealand. I do a lot of walking on such vacations and absorb imaginative fuel far beyond potential landscapes or setting descriptions. For instance, the personality and presence of several old trees and charismatic boulders in Christchurch and Queenstown significantly shaped the world of my book, not only suggesting some unusual skills for my characters — not everyone can talk to trees and rocks, after all — but ultimately influencing how I envisioned the remnant society, its history, and the motivations of the antagonists.
Travel might be the most enjoyable research I do, but it certainly isn’t the only kind, even for fantasies. I’ve searched public records for a ghost story based on the ghosts in my grandmother’s house. I’ve looked up historical beliefs about religion and the supernatural for The Humming of Numbers, an historical fantasy set in 10th century Ireland. I did much more than a month’s worth of moon research for my forthcoming title, The Timekeeper’s Moon. I’ll be chatting about such research for both fantasy and historical books on a panel called “Other Times, Other Places,” with Karen Cushman and others on Saturday, October 11, at 5 p.m. I hope you’ll make the trip to the Target stage to join our conversation, whether you’re interested in facts, fantasy, or both. Because in my book(s), they’re two sides of the same street, and one worth traveling no matter which direction you’re headed.
The end of the journey? Well, that’s another story. For that, catch me Sunday at my workshop on The Art of the Ending!
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