When I plan a trip, one of the first things I think about is what kind of research I can do there. Not because I’m looking for a tax write-off (because, hey, I still have to pay for the trip even if I can write some of it off later), but because I want to make sure I know where to go and what to do to get the most bang for my hard-earned bucks. It doesn’t matter if I’m by myself or with family. It might mean I plan some alone time for when they want to do something I don’t, or I look especially hard for places to do research that I think they’ll enjoy. I hate sitting in a hotel room, so I go out of my way to find something to do.
I was in New Orleans a year ago and took a walk after lunch, just to stretch my legs. I headed south, away from the French Quarter, and found myself in a not-really-nice part of town, but not scary. About the time I decided to turn around, I came across this amazing old Civil War Museum that had a ton of information I was able to incorporate into an historical romance I was working on. The next morning I got up at 5 a.m. so I could walk two miles to a huge outdoor market in the French Quarter and had hot beignets for breakfast—I can now accurately describe the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells. I rented a bike and rode around the French Quarter residential district, photographing beautiful old homes with mansard roofs, ironwork, gingerbread trim, and walled gardens. I visited the building that housed the New Orleans Mint during the Civil War (which gets robbed in my story) and I could describe the different rooms, the door lintels, the stonework—it was fantastic. A work trip to Philadelphia let me see what the Founding Fathers saw, read what they wrote, and see a pop-up Stevie Wonder concert (only because I’d taken a walk and turned down a street).
If I’d wasted these times in new places, what a loss it would have been for me. Yes, I was often alone as I wandered around, but it didn’t matter. There were people everywhere. I could ask questions, get directions. Waiters, bartenders, hotel staff—they all knew places for me to visit. I had only to ask.
I’m headed to Las Vegas this week to visit my son. But I have to admit, going to a Barrett Jackson classic car auction holds almost as much attraction (but don’t tell my son). I want to see the layout, hear the talk, see the cars, the people who attend, the booths and what they sell—all for my Bad Carma series. Yes, I could fake it. I’ve been to auctions before and I’m not using the Barrett Jackson name in my story, but I like realism, even in fiction. I think readers like it, too.
So if you’re planning a trip, even to the next town, think about what kind of research you could squeeze in. Is there a museum you haven’t visited? A road that leads to an interesting canyon? A building you could take a photo of and use somewhere, sometime? Don’t just think of current WIPs; plan for what might come later. File this information away for when you need it, even if you never do (you won’t know, though, will you?). After all, it’s research, dear.
I’m off to do some research, and to Write On!