Lately, I’ve been plotting out two new books (more on plotting in a later post). If my book isn’t going to be science fiction or fantasy, I want to set it somewhere I’ve been. I’ve never been one for creating “fake” towns- although it’s definitely a good option for some.
Much like Stephen King uses Maine, I have been wanting to use areas of Arizona- despite its bad reputation- there are actually some amazing people and places in the state… a state that is one of the most geographically diverse… there’s low desert, high pine forests and just about everything in between. There are small towns and large cities. I like choosing areas I can research easily- because you should ALWAYS research your setting. You’d think that would be a no-brainer.
So what do you need for a research road trip? Your camera, and a notepad… aside from your necessities like gas money, clothes and a place to stay.
Chances are, you don’t live in your setting. Maybe you did once… like me. I chose to venture to Flagstaff, AZ in the autumn, when and where, I want to set my next book. I went to high school in Flag… and my mother still lives there. But I wanted to refresh my memory. So, I started to plan out a trip. From Vegas to Flagstaff is 240 miles. I talked to my step-dad, who has lived there since 1974 (five years before I was born) and made sure he’d be around to answer questions.
Once I was there, I asked him to drive me around some of the older neighborhoods with really cool craftsman type houses. I had one in mind to write about so I made sure I snapped a few photos of it. Then, more driving around to take photos and notes. This was a three-day process… talking to restaurant owners, people, and just taking in the daily life. This is the fun part! Eat at a local favorite cafe, visit some popular boutiques, and talk to people. I know, strange concept! Enjoy the day life AND the night life.
Flagstaff is what I call a big-small town. It’s not the ideal “Small Town” with its population of about 60,000 but it’s still very quaint, has a great artist community and lots of history. It’s also one of the most scenic and picturesque areas in Arizona. It’s has a few quirks that are good to know- like almost 40 trains pass through town each day… including Amtrak who will hold up traffic downtown for the duration of loading and unloading passengers.
If you don’t know small details like this… your story may fall flat- and not just to the people who KNOW the area. However, those of you who want to set your books in places far and away… there are still many resources and ways to get the overall feel- and no, I don’t mean go to Wikipedia. Find a friend who has been there- or has lived there. We don’t all have those expense accounts to travel… but the more in-depth your setting is- the more intriguing your book will be. Research can mean spending a bit of money to get that full effect… don’t be afraid to take that extra step and make the most out of your planning.
WINE: Naked Grape Pinot Grigio