Bonnie Leon

Bonnie Leon is the author of fifteen novels, including the popular Queensland Chronicles and the Sydney Cove series, plus the bestselling Journey of Eleven Moons. She’s excited about a three-book contract she just signed with Revell for a new Alaskan adventure. Bonnie also stays busy speaking and teaching at writing seminars and conventions. She and her husband Greg live in the mountains of Southern Oregon where there are more deer than people. She admits to yelling at those foraging creatures now and again. They’ve a fondness for her roses. Her best guess is that roses taste like candy to deer, since they gobble them up as fast as they bloom. Bonnie And Greg have three grown children and four grandchildren. Visit her website at:

Writing Fiction In International Settings

Writing fiction always means doing research, no matter what genre you work with. If you toss in that it’s historical and takes place in a country other than your own, research takes on a whole new meaning. Sometimes there seems to be no end to it.

I heard “write what you know” from the very earliest days of my writing career. I live in a tiny Oregon town and there’s not a lot happening here day-to-day. If I write only what I know, I’ll soon run out of topics. Take a look at my list of novels and you’ll see I’ve mostly ignored the advice. I’ve written a stand-alone and two series that take place in Alaska, one in the nineteenth century and the other in the twentieth, another series that has dual plot lines—Russia and the United States during the 1930s, plus two series that play out in Australia (different parts of the country and different eras). I’m presently working on a book about a woman pilot in 1930 Alaska. By the way, I’ve never flown a plane.

Two things need to considered when writing stories about times and places we’re unfamiliar with. One, stories are about people. Emotions are universal. The human race experiences fear, greed, heartache, joy, anticipation, sorrow, disappointment, and a myriad of other emotions; therefore, it is my contention we, as human beings, are qualified to write about such things.

I don’t want to oversimplify the process. Time periods and places affect how people think and react to circumstances, so we’ve got to study our characters’ environments. Immersing ourselves into a setting will help us accurately grasp and then convey the players’ actions and reactions to the situations we throw at them.

Second, if we don’t know, someone else does. We’ve got to connect with the “experts.” They come in all kinds of packages. It may be someone who has personal knowledge of a place or circumstance or has learned details from others they know. Your expert might be a professor or someone’s grandmother.

One of the most exciting moments in my writing career happened when I was researching for the Sowers Trilogy. I needed to know about coal mining and coal miners. So I traveled to the coal mining town where the story takes place, and one evening sat down around a table with a handful of old-timers who’d once been miners. I set a tape recorder in the center of the table and threw out questions. Stories flowed. Those men, their perspectives and expertise ended up in my story.

Whenever possible visit the area you intend to write about. Firsthand is always best. However, it’s not always possible to visit locations, so we have to do the next best thing: Pictorials and videos can be a good resource. Even better is talking to people who know an area or time period. You’ll find them while you’re doing your research.

I’ve been blessed throughout the years by “ordained” contacts. I’ve found them in books, periodicals, through friends and online.

Some have found me and offered their assistance. While doing research on my first Australian series, I joined an Aussie chat room. I met some fabulous blokes, had a good time, and learned a lot. I’ve never asked someone for help and have them turn me down. Still, it takes courage to ask. Don’t be afraid. The payoff is huge.

I used to check out books at the library and sometimes still do. But I prefer owning research books. That way I can keep them, even mark in them if need be. Like most writers I live on a budget so I generally purchase used books.

Writers can’t afford to get lazy, so we’ve got to accept that researching a project never really ends. We should learn all we can and should know. You’ll have to go back to your experts, books, pictorials, magazines, and Websites again and again. Getting the background right is hugely important. Some readers will know if you get something wrong. When you do, you risk losing credibility with that reader. However, you will inevitably stumble. We can’t know every facet of a time or place. Still, we need to do our best at unearthing the facts. At least that way when we do misstep, we know we’ve done our utmost to get it right.

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the wonder of discovery. Learning is growing. I’m always amazed at what I encounter while I research. There are incredible places on this planet and remarkable people who have stood against the most difficult tides of life and yet remain standing. I’ve been inspired by history, places, and people. Some discoveries have changed my life, and your discoveries might transform yours too.

Enduring Love