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Ella: No Salt, No Sharks, No Worries

As this post goes up we’re driving home from a week’s vacation on Lake Michigan. As research trips go, this is about as good as it gets. My novel is set in northern Michigan, in a resort town, and as Woodchuck cheerfully pointed out, if I sell my novel and incorporate myself, we can expense this trip.

I’ll hold my breath.

It was kind of a working vacation for me, though. As writers, that’s what we do, isn’t it? Store up experiences and impressions to use in a story someday. It’s been two years since the last time we were up here, so I had my eyes wide open on the trip up. The apple orchard that inspired the setting for my book has been sold to a developer and there’s a subdivision there now. Horrors! There was a 5 p.m. traffic jam in Traverse City on Friday afternoon when we drove through—locals going home from work, I imagine, and tourists driving in, the whole thing complicated by roads too narrow to handle that amount of traffic and tourists darting across the street to get to the beach, dressed in bathing suits and flip-flops and sarongs, carrying beach towels. I can use that in my story; I’ve just finished writing scenes in which Alis comes home late and trouble ensues, and that traffic jam would be perfect timing.

We stayed in Glen Arbor, right next to the public boat launch, so I’ve been able to watch the boats and decide which kind my protagonist’s ex has, so now I know how to properly curse it. We rented a mcmansion-style condo for the week, which was fascinating and informative—several of my characters live in mcmansions, but I never have; the juxtaposition of the vast spaces and high-end finishes against the insufficient soundproofing and mold problem in the master bath has me thinking about how the homes my characters live in might affect how they interact with each other. There were five TVs and two and half bathrooms, double sinks in all of them, in the place we stayed. Woodchuck and the girls and I could go a really long time without talking to each other. Imagine raising a family in that kind of luxurious isolation. Imagine how easy it would be to come unglued without anyone noticing.

There are smaller details, too—how surprising it is to get a meal that doesn’t include cherries in some form. How outdoorsy it is up here—there’s the lake, and the beach, but there’s also bike trails, and shallow winding rivers to kayak or canoe on; tubing and paddle boarding, too. Skiing in the winter. Hunting, of course, because how else could they get all the antlers that everything is decorated with? People camping everywhere. Lots of “private drive” signs. How there’s no shortage of expensive restaurants but there is a definite shortage of good food. How warm the sun is and how cold the breezes off the lake are.

The trick with all this “research” is going to be to let it color the story but not be the story. I need local color, not a travelogue, so having a few more weeks before I start writing again is working in my favor, I think. The details will fade a little; my imagination will fill in the gaps.

And just in case, I’ll keep my receipts.

6 comments on “Ella: No Salt, No Sharks, No Worries

  1. Emmy
    August 16, 2013

    An awesome way of doing research. I will have to write a book some day set in the Caribbean :D

  2. Alison Doherty
    August 16, 2013

    Just the details you put into this post make me interested. Cherries with every meal sounds amazing!

    • 2unpublishedgirls
      August 16, 2013

      Ella: We had cherry pancakes, cherry corn muffins, cherry barbecue sauce, cherry-tomato sauce on meatloaf, cherry coleslaw, cherry wine, cherry gingerale, cherry cola, cherry pop, cherry pie, cherry crinkle cookies, cherry chocolate turtles, cherry jellybeans, and dried cherries on almost every salad we ate, which was of course served with cherry vinaigrette. Oh, and grilled cherry chicken salad, and cherry-something ice cream. It got kind of overwhelming. Although I feel certain I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of antioxidants this week. I kept thinking, If you lived here, would you be requesting “no cherries” when you ordered food?

      • Alison Doherty
        August 16, 2013

        Oh man, that sounds amazing right now. But I suppose after a bit you would get tired of cherries.

      • 2unpublishedgirls
        August 16, 2013

        Maybe not the dark chocolate cherry turtles, though. Those were amazing.

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