The traveling writer

Not quite Mars, but close enough for the imagination.

In one of the obituaries for the late Ray Bradbury, I was surprised to find that he was not much of a traveler, preferring instead to stay at his home in Los Angeles. I suppoose one really can’t fault Ray for wanting to stay put, and his genius was aptly illustrated in the worlds he created through dozens of books and stories.

Personally, I can’t imagine a life without travel, and I can’t imagine creating new worlds in science-fiction and fantasy without exploring a few strange new worlds on my own. I find travel to be fulfilling on a wide variety of levels, specifically when it comes to creativity and fiction writing.

My wife Kate does a far better job recapping our various and sundry adventures on her blog, which I encourage you to check out and bookmark. But I can tell you how our various travels have informed my own writing, particularly when it came to creating The Daedalus Incident.

For example, it’s quite difficult to travel to Mars these days, though there’s a rather ambitious and perhaps ill-conceived effort underway to colonize the Red Planet by 2023. Given that I’m wholly unqualified to be an astronaut, and certainly would prefer a round-trip ticket to a one-way colonization effort, alternatives were needed. For that, I found the deserts of Utah to be amazing. Huge swaths of barren deserts and canyons, immense and utterly alien-looking rock formations, and no civilization beyond a single ribbon of asphalt — it was perfect for envisioning what a rover-ride on Mars might be like.

Steady as she goes.

Likewise, I’m more than 200 years too late to experience life in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail, but thanks to the San Diego Maritime Museum, I was able to stand upon the quarterdeck of a replica Royal Navy frigate that was nearly the exact same size and configuration as the one featured in my book. The cramped quarters, the tangle of rigging and the surprising lack of fo’c’sle gave me a lot of insight into how best to pace the action aboard ship…and prompted a revision or two. (“OK, so the alchemist’s lab can’t be in the fo’c’sle…because there isn’t one.”)

There’s no real place to go to experience future technologies first hand. I’m reading Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future right now, which has helped tremendously. Having been a technology reporter once upon a time, I know that the progess of technology comes fast and furious, and what we think will be the future will end up being hopelessly outdated by the time the future arrives. In the meantime, I’ve seen glimpses of our potential futures in places like the EMP Museum in Seattle, some of the exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and even at Disneyland in Anaheim.

I love imagining Ben Franklin in here. He’d probably wonder who cleaned all the mirrors.

Seeing the past can be almost as difficult as seeing the future. Imagining Paris in the late 1700s is difficult today, given that most of the city we know and love dates from Napoleon III’s efforts to beautify the place in the mid 1800s. But a trip to Versailles gave me a great glimpse into the life of the powerful and wealthy during the period. Benjamin Franklin presented his credentials as ambassador to France from the upstart United States to the king at Versailles. I could easily see how the French thought his rustic wit was so refreshing.

Speaking of Ben, a trek through Philadelphia’s historic center is very educational if you’re looking for some Colonial-era art and architecture. I detailed a bit of that trip in a past blog entry. And if you’re looking for a hint of the exotic, the Grand Stupa at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado is a worthwhile stop, also detailed in an earlier post. Of course, this Buddhist temple is very much a tribute to a long and storied past, but for me, it got me thinking about the strange lines one might see in alien architecture on other worlds….

I totally get that not everybody wants to travel, or can afford to get too exotic when it comes to vacations. But removing yourself from the day-to-day, in ways big or small, and going somewhere different can do wonders for the imagination.


Filed under Books, Travel, Writing

2 responses to “The traveling writer

  1. “But removing yourself from the day-to-day, in ways big or small, and going somewhere different can do wonders for the imagination.” I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Great piece!

    I have been a gypsy most of my life. Until I was 12 we were moving every year, and after settling down for high school and university, it was a life on the road again for me. Actually, these past ten years in Japan are the longest I have ever stayed put, but in a way I am cheating. After all, living here is still a bit like traveling.

    Ironically though, I have never written a story set in Japan. The closest I came was the opening of “But Smile No More.” I guess someday I might, but really I write about the haunted lands of my childhood, not the strange landscapes that have characterized my adult life.

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