This month I’m celebrating the release of my third lighthouse book, UNDAUNTED HOPE! While UNDAUNTED HOPE is connected to the first two books in the series, it’s also very easy to read as a stand-alone novel (at least that’s what readers who haven’t read any of the other books are telling me!).
I’m super excited about this particular book because when I was in the process of writing it, I was able to go to the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, the setting of the book, and do hands on research.
The outline in blue is the Keweenau Peninsula (part of Michigan). The arrow is pointing to approximately where Eagle Harbor is located on the peninsula.
Not only did I get to go on location, but I actually got to stay for an entire week in the assistant keeper’s cottage which is next door to the lighthouse.
The front porch of the assistant keeper’s cottage overlooked Eagle Harbor and Lake Superior. I could look out the front windows and see the waves pounding the stony ledge and hear their crashing. I loved drinking my coffee while I sat in the porch swing and watched the beauty of the lake.
I was able to visit the lighthouse next door as many times as I wanted, which was fascinating for a historical buff like me. While Eagle Harbor used to be a thriving port town, it’s now sparsely populated with only a handful of year-round residents who dare to brave the harsh winters.
While there I tried to imagine what the town used to look like. The old schoolhouse still remains and is inspiration for the one in UNDAUNTED HOPE. The cemetery is original too with headstones dating back to the 1800’s.
I also traveled around the rest of the Keweenau Peninsula, visiting old mining ghost towns. I was even able to climb down into an abandoned mine and explore one of the shafts. I was fascinated to think about how busy the area used to be when copper mining was at its peak.
The trip was incredible, even if it was slightly colder than I expected for the end of June. (I was prepared for summer weather and had to wear a jacket most of the week!) I learned SO much about the area including the terrain, flora, fauna, climate, and more.
So that brings up the question, is my book better as a result of doing such in depth research? Or could I have achieved the same results without having visited the location of the book?
If I were to hand readers two of my books and ask them to figure out which one I researched while on location and which one I researched from the comfort of my home, would they be able to tell the difference?
The truth is writers can make a story authentic without ever having to step a foot in the setting of their book. The advantage of on-location research is that it makes the job of authenticating easier. However, when I’m not able to visit the locations of my books (like The Doctor’s Lady which involves a young couple crossing the entire length of the country on a journey to Oregon), I can still very believably write about the setting.
How can someone write realistically about a place(s) they’ve never been?
There are many ways, including the internet which has become more detailed in recent years. For example if I want to know what South Pass looks like, I can find hundreds of pictures, YouTube videos, and descriptions online.
While online information is truly invaluable for a writer (especially for setting details), I’ve found that firsthand accounts are even better. I love when I’m able to find an original resource (like diaries, letters, newspaper articles, etc.).
So while my trip to Eagle Harbor was incredibly helpful, discovering the diary of a school teacher who taught in one of the little mining towns in the area was even MORE helpful. I had an eyewitness account describing to me the conditions in winter, the bed bugs he experienced, the giblets he ate, and so much more. I was able to pull out many of his experiences and let my heroine live them.
Since much about the area has changed in the last hundred years, reading the diary actually gave me a more accurate account of what things were like during the 1870’s in the Keweenau Peninsula.
I want to offer a word of encouragement for writers who can’t travel (perhaps due to budget or time constraints, life stage, etc.). You can still have a writing career. Your books don’t have to be second-rate. With effort and digging, you can write an authentic, detailed, and accurate book. (I know this from personal experience!)
Needless to say, I love when I can visit the places that I’m writing about. It’s always a really fun thing to do, one of the perks of being an author!
What about YOU? Writers, how much research do you do on location? And readers, have you ever been inspired to visit a place after reading about it? Tell us where (even if you haven’t yet visited the location!). 🙂
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