I have the wanderlust bug. Bad. I day dream constantly about jumping a plane to Europe and seeing France in summer, or I wonder what Kenya is like in winter (probably still very hot as it's on the equator), or I'm always ready to head to Japan, my spiritual home. Alas, budgetary restrictions and a young family keep me from packing my bags and bugging out. Sigh. So what's an author to do?

Write our characters into these far off places, of course!

I know plenty of authors fear the far away cities in their work. What if I get something wrong? often crosses their minds, and rightfully so. If you're writing about a place you've never been, the only thing you can do is a lot of research. Putting our characters into a foreign place and watching them adapt to different cultures gives us a chance to expand on the human nature of themselves and the people around them. This is one thing I love a lot about writing multicultural fiction! Sometimes, not only are my characters foreign to everyday audiences, but the places they inhabit are foreign as well.

I feel New Adult often falls short of exploring the whole world. Authors tend to focus on a US college campus or other US location. I specialize in Asian cultures (most notably Japan) and bringing Japanese characters and their country into New Adult is a clear passion of mine. One way to do that is to make the cities they live in come alive, make those cities another character in the story.

In my upcoming New Adult Contemporary Romance, SUMMER HAIKUS, I employed three different methods of research to help get all the city details right. (Caveat: I have been to Japan in the past, so I wasn't working completely blind).

First, Google Maps, probably THE best tool for researching far away places.

It's easy to get the lay of the land when you can call up the location on your computer and click around. Using Google Maps, I was able to find Senso-ji temple, a destination in my novel, see where the nearest Metro station is, the restaurants and shops located around the destination, and then walk the streets like the tourist do using Google Street View.

Second, YouTube. God bless, YouTube. Once I have an idea of where I want to take my characters, I can then search YouTube for various videos that'll give me a feel of the destination. Is it busy? Or quiet? What's located around the destination? Are the people in the video young or old? How do they arrive at the destination? Do I see bikes parked? A busy street? Are people walking dogs or pushing strollers? Is there graffiti on the walls? Fliers or posters affixed to fences? All of these little details really bring out the flavor of an area and become a part of the fabric of the narrative.

Third, along with YouTube, I like to watch the news or public access TV from the destination's TV networks. In Japan, the dominant news organization is NHK. NHK has an English station called NHK World that I'm able to watch from my cable provider, but they also have a few YouTube channels available as well. While I may not be researching Senso-ji specifically, the TV shows give me a chance to study the culture of the people and extract details I can use as well.

My final research method is to consult guidebooks for the destination as well. Lonely Planet is a favorite of mine, both online and their books. I take the time to understand what a tourist would be interested in versus what a local person would like. Sometimes these things are one and the same, but often guidebooks will tell you where the locals like to go and why a particular place is a hidden gem. I cross-reference these places with Google and figure out if they're worth a mention in the story as well.

So, since I'm always looking for New Adult novels in exotic locations to appease my wanderlust bug, what books can you recommend? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

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  1. I'm one of those weird people who LOVE research, so this was right up my alley. :D

  2. I love doing all of the research! It's a lot of fun!

  3. The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra is one of my faves. I wrote a YA/NA romance set in Moscow, but I have yet to do anything with it.

  4. YouTube is quite valuable. Lots of tourists record videos. I found one where the tourist was holding the camera on the Areopagus in Athens, who then did a 360 turn that included the Acropolis.

  5. YouTube is quite valuable. Lots of tourists record videos. I found one where the tourist was holding the camera on the Areopagus in Athens, who then did a 360 turn that included the Acropolis.


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