Most of the time, random internet browsing, which I find myself doing a lot on the hot tiring summer afternoons, is not much more than bubblegum, with a fleeting, often stale or bitter after taste. But then, by chance, you find something wonderful, like this: http://places.designobserver.com/feature/a-home-before-the-end-of-the-world/26568/ , on a topic dear to my heart – the importance of getting landscape right in novels.
For my second book, this is something I worry about a great deal. I want to make sure my New Mexico is a plausible, entrancing one, not a cardboard backdrop, or lumbered with inappropriate flora and beasts. I have my little book, Wildflowers of the Southern Rockies by Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire to help with the high altitude stuff – it is also full of lovely anecdotes about the discovery and etymology of flower names.
One thing I enjoyed finding out for myself was that the Ponderosa Pine which grows in the mountainous areas of New Mexico, and looks (I think) like this:
…has bark that gives off a strong scent of vanilla. These sensory details add so much to a text, as I’m sure Proust could prattle on about to us all. I’m reading Swann’s Way at the moment, or should that be slowly wading through it? Getting it right is important, though it might take a lot longer, and there is a risk that some readers may want to skip ahead. Getting it right does involve a balance between what the author needs his or her book to convey — atmosphere, after all is mostly an invention of the reading or observing mind, brought about by smoke, shadow, not entirely based on material appearance — however, a little judicious sprinkling of things like the odour of a huge tree, the smell of burning wood in a fireplace, and the light glinting off rock formations, will improve things massively, and hopefully make the novel a rich and believable place, something another reader, or the same reader in a different frame of mind, might want to crawl inside the pages to live for a little while.