Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Research Road Trips - Work or Fun?

This weekend was a blur of note and picture taking. I jumped in the car and went on a research road trip to the Finger Lakes. In past blogs I've mentioned that I get lots of story ideas when I travel. But then I'm in the middle of enjoying my vacation, so I just scribble them down and go back to lazing about. Once I decide to hunker down and craft the story, I need more.

Okay, I want more. With the plethora of information available on the Internet these days, a writer doesn't have to leave the couch to glean plenty of information about a setting. The idea for my first book, Carolina Heat, sprang from a two day trip to Charleston. Did I go back there once I started writing? Heck, no. I used travel guides and maps and brochures. And almost every review I received mentioned how well I portrayed the setting. So I'm wholly aware that I don't have to go anywhere to write a good book. My very good friend who writes books about Cleopatra's daughter doesn't have the luxury of traveling to Mauretania. And yet, her Song of the Nile absolutely transports you to that ancient court.

Last year I embarked on my first research road trip. I gleaned things that I never would've put together from the comfort of my couch. Came up with a sensational ending that only occurred because I was right there, in the moment. So now that I've finished the proposal for my Finger Lakes trilogy (working series title of Shore Secrets), I needed to soak up some atmosphere.

You're probably wondering - was it worth it? Or was it merely an indulgent, wine-tasting long weekend with my hubby? I'll admit to a couple of stops at wineries. Of course, one of my heroines owns a winery. I can finish up that research at a local winery here in Maryland once I get to her book. Her hero, however, singlehandedly runs a distillery.  Which, I found out, is exactly how Finger Lakes Distilling got its start. Did I sample delicious rum and cassis liquer?  Yup.  But did I also spend a solid half hour peppering the poor server with questions about the business. Oh, yeah. She gave me soooo much great background material.

My hubby spent the day golfing, so he was happy. I spent it touring Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Traipsed through a cemetary where the heroine's parents in book one will be buried. Decided that she'll walk there for a visit every week, and take the hero there for a kleenex-worthy moment of sharing. I never would've come up with that twist if I hadn't driven by the cemetary. Had an in-depth talk at the State Park that completely changes a character in book 2. The character who I, completely incorrectly, had decided would be a forest ranger. Except....Watkins Glen State Park doesn't have forest rangers. They have patrollers. Little details like that make a book glisten and pop with accuracy.

Then I finished the day with one of the best massages EVER. The talented Mollie VanBuskirk patiently answered every question I threw at her, no matter how weird or personal. She's a wonderful masseuse and a very sweet person. Thanks to her, the heroine of my first book will be so much more well rounded and, well, authentic!

I wrote on the front porch of my inn, staring out over Seneca Lake and the beautiful fall colors. I listened to the innkeeper tell me the story of how she and her husband started it on a whim. We ate at two restaurants that were so fantastic they are absolutely being featured in the books. I breathed in the essence of the community, and hopefully that will be reflected in my series. So yes, if you are able to visit your setting, I encourage it. It will definitely fall more on the side of work than fun. My brain ran in overdrive for three days straight, capturing images and people and flitting through a million ideas. And my books will be all the richer for it.


  1. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. I learn way more than I can ever use in a book, but I think that's one of the perks.

    Thanks for sharing your lovey trip!

  2. Oh! I take research field trips all the time! Whether they're up the street or across the country, I love 'em. Yours sounds gorgeous, and highly productive. I agree that all those little details make your story sing. Can't wait to read about how you put it all together!

    Oh, and a massage as research? Brilliant, girl. Bril.liant. :)

  3. I took my first research trip this fall, flying down to LA to stay with my sister. It gave me a way to frame the story, a visual image that I wouldn't otherwise have had. You do make a solid case for setting a story in a winery, though...

  4. I can totally relate. I'm working on a book that chronicles a man's trip along the Great Wall Of China. Have I ever been there? Nope. (Do I hope to some day? SURE!)

    As you say, that's what the Internet and blogs (the online equivalent of travel guides) are for. You also touch on another good point: if we authors can't use our imaginations to "visit" and write about a place we've never been to, then NO ONE should be able to write historical fiction.