Setting Inspiration for Romance Novel “One Unexpected Adventure” by Sofia Sawyer
This summer, the second book in the “Her Journey” series is set to release, and I couldn’t be more excited. Oftentimes, I use my travel experiences to spark ideas for my books. After missing the freedom to travel these last couple of years thanks to the pandemic, writing a book set in Europe was a great way to immerse myself in faraway places even if I couldn’t actually be there.
Soon though…I hope.
One Unexpected Adventure takes place in Iceland. Although my trip back in 2018 mostly stuck to Reykjavík, my inspiration was sourced from the daily tours we took to the smaller towns nearby. Don’t get me wrong; Reykjavík is a gorgeous city and definitely my speed. However, the little towns offered plenty of open views of the majestic landscapes Iceland is known for without city buildings getting in the way.
What can I say? I love a good landscape. That’s what inspired the Scottish setting of the first book in the “Her Journey” series too.
What’s One Unexpected Adventure about?
A stress-free, last-minute, long overdue vacation in Iceland—that’s all Ava Espinosa wanted. To get exactly that, she did what she did best and planned every detail down to the minute it would take her to walk from the hotel to her dinner reservations each night. The trip was just what she needed to reignite that spark missing from her life before taking her new promotion.
Brooks Jónsson doesn’t give a crap about itineraries. He’s a search and rescue pilot, not a tour guide, but his dad is counting on him to help him with his business until he recovers from surgery. Naturally, he’d get stuck with a tourist carrying a three-inch binder containing her travel plan when he needed to focus on pinpointing whatever was affecting his hometown’s fishing trade and crushing their economy.
From not apologizing when he almost runs her over to spoiling her down-to-the-minute schedule with his tardiness, Brooks isn’t shy about his contempt for Ava. What he isn’t expecting is Ava giving that attitude right back to him. Every time she opens her sassy mouth, he forgets all the reasons why they’re all wrong for each other, and can only think of silencing that smart mouth of hers with a kiss.
When Ava catches wind about the mystery affecting the town’s marine ecosystem, she offers her expertise. Although the town is desperate for help, Brooks doesn’t trust outsiders. But Ava isn’t so easily deterred and with the rest of the townspeople accepting her into their fold, he struggles to hold onto his go-it-alone way of dealing with problems. As they reexamine how they’ve lost sight of what matters, Ava and Brooks learn that opposites attract. With happily ever after on their horizon, their past choices emerge, threatening to tear them apart.
I wanted to visit Iceland ever since I saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in 2013. Before that, I hadn’t given Iceland a second thought. The country’s name conjured up ideas of cold, miserable, barren places (aka, not the first place you think of when planning your vacation). After seeing the movie, I did a little research and quickly realized how very wrong I was.
The country itself has about 300k people in total. As an introvert, that seemed like heaven. I remember one of our tour guides in Reykjavík complaining about rush hour traffic. I looked out the bus window and saw there were about two cars in front of us. After living in congested suburbs or bustling cities, this was amazing. Not to mention, the restaurants, cafes, bars, bookstores, and museums all offered an air of cozy intimacy that made it really easy to unwind and enjoy the moment without being overstimulating or overcrowded. The Nordic countries have it right.
Iceland also has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. According to BBC, Iceland has “more writers, more books published and more books read, per year, than anywhere else in the world.” When I visited just before Christmas, I learned one of their traditions, called Jolabokaflod (or Christmas Book Flood), is when people gift books and spend Christmas Eve snuggled up all night reading with family, friends, and/or pets. As an avid reader and writer, I adored this tradition.
All this aside, the real reason I chose Iceland is because of the vast landscapes and natural wonders it offers. I only visited a small portion of the island. In those few days, I saw geysers, waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal pools, wildlife (aka fluffy horses), mountains, lava fields, volcanos, the tectonic plates, and, of course, the Northern Lights. It truly took my breath away, and I only wished I had better photography skills to capture all the beauty I witnessed while there.
Every moment felt like an adventure. And for someone like Ava Espinosa, a busy Boston-based executive who’s focused on executing a plan to exact perfection with no exceptions, this seemed like the right place to force her to slow down and consider whether the life plan she’s so committed to is the right path for her after all.
What’s Örugg Höfn based on?
Is it weird to say the inspiration for the fictional town featured in the story first came to me while watching Eurovision? The movie is based in Húsavík, a small coastal town in the north (I love the song from that movie, by the way). The movie released only a few months into the pandemic when everything felt scary and uncertain, and when all our big plans to travel had fallen through. Watching it made me think of the things I loved about Iceland.
Although I’ve never been to Húsavík, it reminded me of the many small towns we passed through or visited, like Vík. I wanted my fictional town of Örugg Höfn–Icelandic for “safe harbor”–to embody the things I enjoyed most about those places. Cute Nordic-style buildings, tight-knit communities that value tradition, endless views and access to nature, and a slower way of living. There’s even a bar that feels a bit like Cheers, where everyone gathers regularly, like a family reunion. And, of course, everyone knows your name 😉
With Brooks being a pilot, it also gave them perfect access to fly around to other (real) places on the northern shore, like Ísafjörður. Did I do an unnecessary amount of research on these other towns that had basically one scene? Yes. Did I spend that time looking at pictures, reading about their history, watching videos, and “walking around” on Google maps? Absolutely.
Thank God for technology. If I couldn’t physically travel there, at least this helped me get a good sense of what I could include in the setting to bring it to life for my readers. I hope I did that for you!
What’s my favorite part of this setting?
There are a few things. If you’re a subscriber of my newsletter, you know I’ve been struggling some health problems these last few months, both mentally and physically. This book was extremely hard to write. Not only was my brain tapped out, but my chronic pain made it hard to sit down and type. While writing a draft normally takes me about three months, this one took me maybe triple the time and a lot of rewrites.
Normally, I would have given up. On a good day, my patience is limited. Writing a book while going through this challenging time felt like a constant battle to get myself to sit down and push through. One of the things that kept me going was getting sucked into the quaint town and landscapes. It brought me peace. Maybe that’s my version of meditation?
It also reminded me that sometimes the best things in life come from the unexpected. For most of my life, I’ve pushed myself to do more. To always be moving, achieving, and progressing. Go, go, go. It wasn’t until after I finished the first draft that I realized I’ve been struggling with burn out for a couple years. Finally, I went to a therapist and learned part of it was due to perfectionism. Funny enough, this is something Ava has to deal with in the book. She had a pretty strict life plan and wanted everything to go perfectly. Of course, that doesn’t happen because life is a bitch like that. But by rolling with the punches, scrapping her plan, and immersing herself in this small town, she gained so much more. Maybe I should take a lesson from her!
Lastly, it reminded me of the importance of slow living. Again, I’ve always rushed through life. Always focused on the next thing on my to-do list, or completely missing an important moment to celebrate or hold on to because I was too focused on looking ahead. Something about small town settings–both fictional and in real life–give me a sense of calm. I love the idea of having “your go-to places” and having the choice to walk instead of driving/taking public transportation. I love small cafes, harbors, friendly faces, and town traditions. I love the pride of history, a “town watering hole,” and the ability to relax because there aren’t a ton of people bustling around and creating a hectic environment.
Thankfully, I recently moved to a section of Charleston that gives me a bit of the “small town” feel. Now, I can get to the beach in 5 minutes, traffic is light, and I have plenty of shopping centers with restaurants, bars, and cafes I can walk to with my husband and dog.
I guess what this setting and story did for me is show me that not being “busy” or in the heart of all the action doesn’t mean I’m losing out. It doesn’t mean I’m falling behind. If anything, getting rid of all the distractions can help me really consider what matters to me so I can stop wasting time on the things that don’t. Less is more. So, by writing this book, I learned a lot about myself and my life, and that’s a gift I’m thankful for.
One Unexpected Adventure will release in summer 2022. It’s currently going through the final rounds of edits before we set a date. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay up to date!
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