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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Traveling for Research

I love to travel, so traveling to do research is twice as fun. There are two kinds of traveling research that I've used. The first type of research is the kind I do when I'm going to make a trip for a vacation or to visit family or friends. On these trips, I may not have a specific story in mind, but I make observations and take lots of pictures that may be valuable for a future story. For instance, one of my daughters lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Whenever we go to visit her, she plans little excursions to nearby places of interest. Of course, there is Baltimore itself. One year we took the Duck Tour around Baltimore. We have also gone to Gettysburg, Annapolis and the Naval Academy, taken a sailing ship out of the harbor and back, toured Evergreen, a house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here is a picture I took in Bar Harbor, Maine. Even if I never set a book in Bar Harbor, this is a great gazebo scene that could take place anywhere my imagination might set it.


Besides taking pictures, I always collect any free brochures or maps that are available. I put these things in magazine files. Sometimes, I will buy a book, especially if it has a lot of photographs in it. Now I have all this information handy if I decide I want to set one of my novels in these places. I can also use this information if a character should visit there. I have brochures and maps that I've collected from nearly every state I've visited, and I've been to all fifty states.

Then there is research travel that involves going to a specific place to look for specific things that I need to know for a book I am writing or a book I plan to write. Three of my books are set near Spokane, Washington. I went to high school there, so I am familiar with the area. But things have changed since I went to high school, so when I visited, I took particular note of the changes I saw. Before I wrote the third book in the series I went back to take a tour of Pend Oreille County, which is north of Spokane and found a place where my hero and heroine go on a picnic. Here is a picture I took of a sunset that I describe in each of the three books in that series.


Recently I took a trip to the North Georgia mountains, the setting for my book, HOMECOMING BLESSINGS, which comes out in April 2009. I was nearly finished with the book, but I felt that I needed to make a trip there to get a better idea of the small towns in the area, even though I had visited there many years ago. I was certainly glad I made the trip. Besides reaffirming some of my memories, it also reminded me of the hilly terrain, even in the towns. In the story, I have my hero and heroine stop for lunch in the little tourist town of Helen, Georgia. It is filled with all kinds of shops. I have my hero buy the heroine a small gift. While I was writing that scene, I had no idea what he was going to buy her, even after perusing the shops on the internet. So when I visited Helen with a friend, we went through the shops with the specific mission of finding something the hero could buy. The trip was worth finding the perfect gift. The story revolves around a mission that is restoring old houses in the area. So I took pictures of some old houses. Here's one.


I like to combine an in-person visit along with the information I find on the Internet. Many times I research the area on the Internet to find places I want to visit. For instance, for this last trip I checked out all the tourist information on the North Georgia mountains and discovered that a trip to Amicola Falls was a must. So before you go, make a list of places you want to visit and things you want to learn.


When I travel for research, if at all possible, I try to combine it with a vacation or a visit with friends or family. Even though I may not be able to do that, I still find that actually visiting a place can be helpful in making the story setting come alive in my own mind as well as on the pages of a book. Traveling for research can even trigger ideas for future books. Take pictures, collect all the free stuff and save it for a future book, and don't dismiss any opportunity to do research, even if the trip involves visiting relatives or going to a wedding. Make the most of any trip you make.

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14 Comments:

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Excellent advice! It's also always interesting to notice the difference in the way people approach the same situations; or it was for me, as a small town person, to see how people from larger cities or different parts of the country act and react.

When we made the small move from Arkansas to Nebraska, the difference was amazing. And even within states you'll find marked differences.

 
At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Amy said...

Hmmmmm, I'm thinking I need to set a book in Paris, or Rome, or London....

 
At 12:17 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Another great, tip! Merrillee. The gazebo is beautiful and you're right, the scene wouldn't have to be set in Maine.

LOL, Amy! I think Rome would be the ideal setting!!!

Thanks, Merrillee

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Merrillee--I love this idea! I'm going to start collecting brochures wherever I go. I'd like to promise myself I'm going to take pictures, too, but I know better than to count on that happening ;-).

amy--I think your idea is terrific, too, LOL :-)!

 
At 2:12 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Love the idea of collecting brochures. The trick will be to organize them immediately upon return so they don't grow into another pile of stuff for "when-I-get-to-it".

This is off topic but since we were talking about real vs. fictional places... It's HARD to make up a town! I'm trying to name the location for my story, set in FL, and I've been floored to discover that every name I've come up with appears to be a real place when I google it. Sheesh! Maybe I should have been a city planner, or at least a city namer.

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

LOL, Patricia. Don't worry about it if it's a name from another state, but you're using it for Florida. I've done that before too. Go for it and JUST DO IT!!! :) Hope you're moving along on your book!

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Merrillee: What beautiful pictures! I want a gazebo like that!

I love doing book research on trips. What did your hero buy for the heroine in Helen, GA? I always think snowglobes are romantic. That little contained world... I should tell Angel Joe to get me one. :D

Patricia: That is really funny that every name you've come up with exists. You're probably going to have to come up with something really outre', although I don't know if there's room for broad humor in your book. How 'bout Anole Springs? (snicker -- I grew up in Fla.)

 
At 4:10 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Patricia--I had the same problem when I tried to make up a name for a high school in a certain area. Everything I came up with had already been used somewhere in the state.

You could try blending two or more elements that are evocative of the area. For instance, since there's a Fort Lauderdale and a St. Augustine in Florida, you might come up with Fort Augustus (or Asunción or Arturo). Considering the history of the area, Spanish saints' names (or surnames) or Native American terms for the local flora/fauna would be handy.

Thank goodness for quick Google checks, hm? I usually check out my characters' names that way, too.

 
At 6:11 PM, Blogger ChristyJan said...

I had to do a double and triple look when I saw the picture of the house...it could be an exact duplicate of my Great-Grandfather's house (that is across the road from my house ~ I look at it everyday) Even the trees and bushes are the same!

 
At 8:06 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Patricia,
For my two books that come out next year, I didn't name the town. One is set in South Dakota and the other, as I mentioned, in North Georgia. I just name real places that are close by. In the South Dakota book I refer to real towns such as Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Huron and Rapid City. I did this because I really didn't want to come up with a name. In the Georgia book, I just talked about the North Georgia mountains and left it at that. There are a half dozen little towns up there, and I figured people could draw their own conclusions.

I mentioned my fictional town of Pinecrest that I used in several books. When my brother read the first book he was sure I was using the town where he works. But I used the town Web sites of several towns to make a composite. So if you're having trouble coming up with a name, maybe you can get by without naming it. Terry had some good thoughts about combining parts of names.

 
At 8:14 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Esri,
I thought about a snow globe. We made a list as we went through the stores. A music box, hour glass, Christmas ornament and Nativity set were just a few of the items we listed. Then we came to this shop with where they had key rings made with beads. My friend pointed them out and showed me one with a crystal cross at the end. I knew this was perfect.

This is early in the story, so I didn't want him to get something that would be too much. I wanted it to be something that related to her, and he bought it on a whim because she was always buying stuff for other people and not caring about herself. She is a missionary. He bought it because it made him think of her. She has a new vehicle, and she has left him with her keys while she shops. The keys are on one of those crummy plastic things the dealers give you when you buy a car. So he sees the key ring with a cross, and immediately knows it would be perfect for her. I would never have thought of that without seeing it in the store in Helen.

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Merrillee: PERFECT. Perfect gift for an inspy, and the perfect level of pretty and thoughtful yet not too personal for the beginnings of a relationship. Well done!

 
At 12:07 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Merrillee,
I use your travel ideas when I go places. Thank goodness for digital cameras. In 2003 and 2005 when I went to England I took tons of photos and I collected brochures everywhere. One thing I did was also photo the information next to a museum display so I didn't need to write it down. Saved lots of time.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

I'm the same way. In fact that's the main reason I switched from a 'real' Nikon with interchangeable lenses to a point and shoot, and then to the same thing only digital. I wasn't doing "photography", I was doing research.

(And when we had a family reunion in Bar Harbor, I'm pretty sure that sailboat in the background of your picture is the one we sailed on -- I definitely remember the gazebo.)

Another thing to 'record' is people. Although I doubt I'll set a book in South Africa in the forseeable future, the people I met on the tour are bound to be in my books.

 

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