How Google Earth helps provide realism for my thrillers

September 24, 2013 2:08 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

When I started my first thriller, Category 5, back in 2002, I wanted to make my story as realistic as possible by using incredible but plausible scientific premises and by choosing interesting locations from around the globe. In developing sites where my book action could unfold, I discovered Google Earth, a web-based system that provides satellite photos accessible by latitude and longitude.

Before and during my writing of Category 5, I visited as many chapter locations as I could. While on site, I imagined the action unfolding and documented the latitude and longitude using a Magellan Meridian handheld GPS receiver. When I returned home, I’d input these coordinates into Google Earth and save the images. For Category 5, I visited nearly all chapter locations, including Washington, DC; the state of Colorado; the Monterey, California, peninsula; Istanbul, Turkey; and the island of Bermuda. In Turkey, my wife and I ate at a restaurant (Pandeli) in the Spice Center where an important meeting occurs early in the book (Chapter 3).

In Bermuda, we visited the Bermuda Weather Service where a few scenes take place; I needed to know the layout relative to the airport runway. Where there was no existing building or structure available to meet the needs of my story, I would “build” one. For example, where the final scene take place in Bermuda, my wife and I located a vacant lot that seemed to be an appropriate spot for the fortress structure that I depict in the book’s conclusion. If you go to you’ll see all of the chapter images.

For my second thriller, Prophecy, I again visited most chapter locations; go to The story begins in Pennsylvania near the Johnstown Flood National Memorial (near where I grew up); this memorial commemorates the famous Johnstown flood of 1889 when over 2200 people died. From there it moves to Washington, DC; the Monterey Peninsula; Emporia, Kansas; the Cairo, Egypt International Airport; and the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania International Airport.

Which brings me to my latest thriller, White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy; images can be seen at This story’s locations jump around the world even more: Berlin, Germany (in 1945); the Gremikha Naval Base on the Kola Peninsula in Russia; Monterey, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cartagena, Columbia; Washington, DC; San Francisco, California; Reykjavik (and later, Keflavik), Iceland; McLean, Virginia (CIA); and finally, the Helheim Glacier in southeastern Greenland.

Regretfully, for White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy, I did not visit several key locations, notably Iceland or Greenland where much of the final action takes place. But my wife and I did scout out the site for the estate of the Müller family in Cartagena, Columbia. As it happened, as we were departing Cartagena on a Princess Cruise Ship, I observed a small peninsula that seemed a perfect spot for the palatial grounds of the Müller family, the antagonists in my book. When I got home, I downloaded the Google Earth image of that peninsula and laid out the buildings for my imaginary estate.

White Thaw comes to a dramatic conclusion in southeastern Greenland, above the Helheim Glacier, whose name appears in the title of my book. There is no point in providing a close-up Google Earth image for “Ice Station Helheim” because there is little to see but ice and snow. Instead, the Google Earth photograph I chose for display draws back to provide the reader a view of the glacier, surrounding waters, and my imagined location for the below-ice station where the bad guys are up to no good.

I realize that few of my readers will look at my Google Earth images as they read my books.  And why should they? If I’ve done my job properly, I’ve put into words pertinent details that I gleaned from my images while writing the book. That’s why they were important to me.

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This post was written by paulmarktag01