This weekend my household received our copy of the WSJ’s “Fall Fashion Issue – All the Season’s Riches.” I never cease to be astonished at the price tags – no wonder they are called riches. Clothes, accessories, cosmetics, luggage, hotel suites – all with price ranges anywhere from $79.00 to $106,000.00. That’s some range. And the travel budget is nothing to sneeze at either: the WSJ Team travelled to Brazil, then on to Paris, from there Venice, don’t miss South Africa, back to upstate New York.
Not all aspiring authors like myself can afford such extravagance. But, unless one stays in one’s own boring backyard with the story, you must get out there and see just where you are “situating” your characters. With this in mind, my spouse and I took a road trip in 2011 to see all the locations we thought would work for my novel. We started by researching the route using modern-day GPS technology but also consulted with 1939 maps secured on e-Bay. We planned our drive following the Highway 10 route my mother-in-law detailed in her memoire. Nothing exotic – just a basic highway heading west from Minnesota.
We needed to backtrack a bit from Phoenix to get to the upper Midwest. Arriving in North Dakota, we drove north to Valley City. Now it was time for some real observations, photos, and a dinner sampling local cuisine. On to Billings, Montana, then Big Sky County, and we sailed past the giant slag heap in Anaconda to spend another night in Missoula. We rolled through Lolo National Forest (which now, alas, is in the news with forest fires raging.) We spent two days in Okanogan, Washington. And then it was time to pack bags for home.
Where and what did this journey get us? Including setting in my story not only places the reader in the place where the action rages but it also adds a mood: dreary? cheery? threatening? comforting? And my characters can be properly dressed for the trip as they traverse muddy streams? bumpy pavements? dusty shoulders? Biting north winds? We have verisimilitude here as well as sensory detail on how things taste, smell, feel.
Parts of the ride were real eye-openers:
- My plot called for a landslide in an area where nothing but gentle, rolling hills predominated.
- In Montana, we drove through weather that was the slushy, windshield-wiper-is-it-rain-or-snow(?) variety type storm in the month of June.
- Another surprise were the roiling rivers roaring along, barely contained within their banks.
These facts all added authenticity and spice to my “telling details.”
We returned home with an array of photos (see header on my home page – taken by my husband in Montana), pages of notes, and an armful of local papers, tourist bureau brochures, and souvenirs. It also provided us with ideas for creating names of towns and characters that suited the local flavor of the location without identifying the exact spots where particularly devastating events occurred. It was a fun trip and provided us innumerable ideas for this story and future adventures. The plot thickens.