by Cathy Anderson Corn
My favorite novelist of all time--hands down, winner-take-all--remains Mary Stewart. For me and my own internal needs, no one else even approaches her magnitude of writing (Okay, I forgot Daphne DuMaurier and Rebecca,but that's it.).
This English woman, born in 1916, wrote romantic suspense novels that riveted the attention of a teenager growing up in a sleepy little farm town in Ohio. Later, in my twenties and thirties, they provided relief and sanity from a stressful life.
Even now, when I no longer have birthdays (let's just say I'm classic), the stories and novels are just as compelling as when they were first published fifty years ago. In my writing, if I could unlock the secrets of her literary genius, I would sell my soul(even at a huge discount, no one's interested).
It couldn't have been the romance alone that drew me to the public library and her books. In The Gabriel Hounds, the protagonist is twenty-two and falls in love with her cousin. That just doesn't get it. In her books, lovers yearned for each other without much touching or kissing. Certainly graphic sex didn't exist, a product of the times (50's and 60's) when she penned these masterpieces.
Without a doubt, Mary Stewart mastered exotic settings. Some books were set on estates in England, This Rough Magic on the island of Corfu, The Moonspinners on Crete, and The Gabriel Hounds in the Adonis Valley near Beirut, etc. This was the magic of Mary Stewart: a mystery with the protagonist a woman in peril, the setting exotic and exciting, the protagonist and her man full of romantic tension, but not in danger of needing contraceptives.
So, in honor of and emulating my novelist mentor Ms. Stewart, I try to incorporate far away places in my novels. My protagonists have flown to Kauai, Dublin, and now to Madagascar. And this, my Sisters and Misters, is where I gulp a big breath and hold it until I turn blue.
How can I write about Madagascar when I've never been there?
Oh, I've read guide books and pieces on the internet, but how can I capture the heart and soul of the country if I've never felt what it's like to be there, to travel the roads, experience the weather, meet the people?
Let's face it, round trip airfare is at least $2500, so I'm not going any time soon. What, esteemed writers, can a novelist do to make a setting not visited plausible? How far can one stretch the fiction aspect of setting?
If no one has any ideas, I think I'll call Mary Stewart.