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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Location, Location, Location to Research

Tricia Goyer is an acclaimed and prolific writer, publishing hundreds of articles in national magazines  while authoring more than twenty-five fiction and nonfiction books combined. Among those are 3:16 Teen Edition with Max Lucado and the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award winners Night Song and Dawn of a Thousand Nights. She has also written books on marriage and parenting and contributed notes to the Women of Faith Study Bible. Tricia lives with her husband and four children in Arkansas.

I've written over thirty novels and for most of them, I've traveled on location for research. It takes time. It takes money, and folks may wonder if it's worth it.

It's possible to accurate novels without traveling on location, but sometimes the location forms the story.
This happened with my co-written novel Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska. When Ocieanna and I got the idea for Glacier Bay we knew we wanted to mix a historical story with a contemporary one. We had a basic idea, but we were basically researching two books, set in two time periods.

Ocieanna and I traveled to Lonesome Prairie, Montana, and to Seattle, Washington for our previous books, and we knew the benefit of on-site research. We hoped we'd find the same benefit in Glacier Bay.

 If you are looking to travel for research here are some things that might help.

1. Connect before you go. In each of our trips we did some research ahead of time and found knowledgeable people to talk to. The best places to look were historical societies or museums. A phone call goes a long way. Call the local historical society and museum and set an appointment to visit. Let the person know what you're looking for. We've found wonderful people willing to help. They get excited that writers are interested in what they know. They like to share their expertise. (Just remember to take down everyone's name so you can thank them in the acknowledgements.)

2. Talk to locals. One of my favorite things to do is simply talk to the locals. Ask: “What is unique about the area? What are some of you rfavorite stories that you tell others. And who else can I talk to.

3. Don't go with a fixed schedule. Some of the best research and stories have come from unexpected interviews.

4. Have a few set questions, but allow for rabbit trails. Be a good listener.

5. Be observant. This is obvious, but don't just focus on the mountains, the houses, or the museums. Look at the bulletin boards, the grocery store shelves, and ask about the local walking trails.

6. If you've discovered wonderful, colorful locals, write them into the book. Ocieanna and I were able to do this with Glacier Bay. Both historical figures and current residents found their way into our novel. (Just make sure you ask permission!)

7. Don't be so fixed on your storyline that you don't have room to weave all the good stuff in. With each of our books, Ocieanna and I had a basic idea of the storyline, but we had plenty of room to expand and change the plot after our trips.

8. Ask for pre-readers. After your trip send thank you notes to those you interviewed. When you write, also ask if the person would be willing to read your manuscript after you're done. This is  an important step. You can travel, do research and work as hard as you can to get things right, but there are always those little things that a writer misses. When the book is done our goal is to get even the locals to admit, “They got it right.”

What about you? Do you travel to do research? What are the benefit? How has your research impacted your writing?

Love Finds You in Glacier Bay, Alaska

Singer Ginny Marshall is one signature away from the recording contract of her dreams—a deal that would guarantee success for the former foster child, who still struggles to bury the memories of her painful childhood. But Ginny needs advice from the one person who will look out for her best interests—her former fiancé, Brett Miller. She travels to the remote town of Glacier Bay, Alaska, where the town’s colorful characters and stunning scenery provide respite from LA’s pressures.

In Glacier Bay, Ginny discovers a box of old letters and is swept up in the love story between Clay, an early missionary to Alaska Territory, and Ellie, the woman who traveled there to be his children’s governess. When Ginny is reunited with Brett in Glacier Bay, will she discover—as Ellie did—that healing and love are sometimes found in the most unexpected places?


  1. Great post. I finished reading Love Finds You in Glacier Bay Monday and when I post my review I plan to write how evident it was that Tricia and Ocieanna did their research. It took the book to the next level, and proves research is well worth it.

    In my WIP, I've stayed in Speculator many times, and have a few ADKS resources who have been kind enough to answer my questions.

    Thank you for hosting Tricia today, I plan to save and use her tips.

    1. Thank you, Julie! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book!

  2. A couple of years ago my magazine sent me to interview a local man about his sport, "Cowboy Action Shooting," which I'd never heard of. I could have sat across a desk from him and asked him to tell me about it, but when I called he said he had a competition the next weekend. "I'm there," I told him.

    The competition was at Ft. Parker, near Groesbeck, Texas. I soaked in the period costumes and replica weapons, the heady aroma of gunpowder, and the atmosphere and (loud) sounds of the competition. I snapped photos for reference, talked with some of the subject's friends, and asked questions that would never have occurred to me in a million years if I had not been there in person. It turned out to be one of the best features I ever did.

  3. Great tips! Thank you for posting!

  4. I have hopes of doing some traveling for my current WIP. But it's hard to manage it. How ever do you put it into your busy schedule?? I would love to have gone to Europe when I started my first WW2 novel, but alas, I went years ago not knowing I would be writing a book. I love the idea of making contacts ahead - very good suggestion. I do have one set and ready to give me a tour of my WIP setting so I'm anxious to see if I can make it happen.
    Great points....encouraging!

    1. When I'm talking to the publisher about a deadline I work a research trip into the time I need to write the novel. John & I also like to use his vacation time for the trips, so it takes some planning ahead, but it's worth it!

  5. Great post! I've wondered how writers can write about a place they've never been to, but also how writers can afford to travel to a place to research it in order to write about it. Thanks for the tips and insight. :)

    1. Yes, I didn't talk about the $$$. Somes I pick a "closer" local so I can go there on a limited budget, and sometimes we used the money we budget for vacations for our trips!

  6. This story calls me to dream of travels to Alaska. I had family live there for seven years, and never visited, however this story entices me to reconsider. It is a beautifully and skillfully woven story of love, and adventure, in the Alaskan wilderness. It kept me lingering on each word, and savoring each page. It is a blessing to read of a Christian influence, acknowledgement and gratitude to a loving God, and the power of Jesus, in the storyline as well. My hope is that these talented authors will add a sequel. I will treasure this book for years to come. And if it is in the Lord's plan, I may one day visit Glacier Bay.

  7. Great tips! I havent written any books yet..but just wanted to comment on how much I enjoyed "Love finds you in Glacier Bay, Alaska". Its a wonderful love story, and the postcards are so touching. A must read for Romance lovers!
    5 stars!

  8. I think your research really showed through - Your book made me feel like I was right there, in Alaska!

  9. Awesome! I'm so glad you thought so!


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