My fascination with America started when I was a kid. Turn on the TV, and there it was, bright and shining and coated with Hollywood’s magic dust. This was a land of infinite possibilities; a place where dreams came true. Back then the world I inhabited was the dull, grey landscape of Britain in the seventies and eighties, so you can see why I was so easily seduced by the myth.
I was eighteen when I first visited the US. Up to that point the furthest I’d been was Dieppe on a school trip, so this was a very big deal indeed. Did it live up to my expectations? Damn right it did. Then again, I was visiting Orlando, so I was basically swapping one fictional version of America for another.
It would be another six years before I had the opportunity to return. In the mid-nineties my parents moved to Newberg in Oregon, a small city thirty minutes outside Portland. I spent a month out there with them and this experience couldn’t have been more different. This was an America that was light years from the version peddled by Hollywood and Uncle Walt. That said, there were echoes of those versions. The drive to my parents’ house took me over a set of rusty old railtracks that seem to stretch on forever and could easily have featured in a movie; the house itself overlooked a park where the Little League teams played.
With any novel the setting is one of the first issues that needs to be addressed. America is my first choice because everything is covered. Need a snowy wilderness? Head to Alaska. What about somewhere warm with a Latin feel? Miami perhaps? Basically the country is a writer’s dream.
Portland ticked all the boxes for the first section of KISS ME KILL ME. The city has a laidback, arty vibe, which I could see appealing to Zoe. At the same time I could imagine Dan running his software company from there. After so long away, it was fun to revisit the city through their eyes, a real trip down Memory Lane.
For the second part of the novel the action moves to South Dakota. Where possible I like to visit the places I write about but this isn’t always possible. The fact that I’ve never been to South Dakota isn’t the end of the world. This is where the internet comes in. If you can’t go to a place for real then you can at least have a virtual visit. Over the years I’ve written about plenty of places I’ve never actually been to. And I’m not alone there. Has JK Rowling actually toured a school for wizards? The trick is to create a version of reality that the reader can buy into. So long as that happens then you’re home and dry. And isn’t that what Hollywood has been doing all this time? Selling a version of America that people can buy into?
Kiss Me Kill Me by JS Carol is published by Bonnier Zaffre