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Traveling Through Books

By Mary Emma Allen

I've always been fascinated with actual places found in novels and often use this information as a guide for my traveling around the country. I keep an atlas beside my reading chair and pull it out to see where the stories are set and where characters might live and travel.

Sometimes I've visited the area of the country in my travels beforehand, so can readily visualize the scenes the author describes. Even so, I'll pull out my atlas to refresh my memory.


Mystery in Montana

A fishing mystery set in Montana had me constantly searching the atlas as the characters moved around the southern part of that state. I had traveled through some of that area, but not all of it. However, I could visualize many of the scenes from my memory of the countryside.

It also was interesting to head out from Bridger with the characters to places along the Madison River, towns like Ennis, Jeffers and Madison Dam. Some of the action occurred in lakes in that area.

Children's Story in Kansas

A children's story placed in Lawrence, Kansas caused me look up the names of nearby towns mentioned. This could be a wonderful geography lesson for kids and an activity to help them learn about that state. This story was unusual because it alternated between the present and past in that area, then tied it all together at the end.

The historical story also followed various rivers as the characters traveled by riverboat, on foot, by barge, and in wagons to Kentucky and back where they rescued some slaves.

New England Mysteries

A New Hampshire mystery, although set in a fictionalized town, mentioned surrounding landmarks and the main activities of the area.

Another mystery with a Maine setting mentioned towns that I'd traveled through. So, even though the characters were fiction, I could visualize their activities in these areas.

Oregon Settings

A series of Oregon mysteries have made me more familiar with that area for the author uses actual places for her scenes. The main character lives in Eugene, but some of the mysteries take place in the wilderness areas further east.

Since I write for a weekly newspaper in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, these books are particularly interesting. I've gleaned more information about the area, and towns like Vida, McKenzie Bridge, Sisters, and Blue River as the mysteries unfold. My nephew and his family also own a vacation home in Bend, another location for one of the stories.

Phyllis Whitney's Mysteries

Phyllis Whitney's mysteries for children and adults have long fascinated me. Many are set in actual places throughout the United States. I grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State and found some of her mysteries set there.

Ms. Whitney also placed one of her stories in Sedona, AZ and the place captured my interest from her descriptions. Then after my husband and I visited Sedona and its red rocks, I had to re-read the book and see the settings more vividly.

What areas of the country have you visited first through books before traveling there? Are there others that become more real because you have been to the part of the country where they are set? Combining arm chair traveling and actual traveling can enhance your aura of place.

(c)2012Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen writes from her NH woodland home and while traveling locally and to more distant places. Her most recent children's book has been compiled from research done on the life and activities of her great great uncle, William "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson. For more information, e-mail her at: me.allen@juno.com )