Traveling for ResearchI 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.