If Walls Could Talk: Location Research

M.H. Norris

As 2016 came to a close and we welcomed in 2017, I started digging back into research for the first full length All the Petty Myths novel. I have the myth, I have the location—but the latter is one thing I need to spend time researching.

There is the old saying, write what you know, but honestly, that takes the fun out of it. It’s no secret that writers do write settings in places they know little about, when they set out to write the book.

And here I sit, wondering how to do research on it. Originally I thought it would be as simple as visiting Barnes and Noble and picking up a guide book. But looking at what they had to offer, I realized those are geared where they should be, to tourist who wants to visit the city in question.

So yes, within the pages of the guide books I can see the city’s top tourist destinations, the best places to eat, museums to visit, places to stay, a variety of things.

But it misses what gives the city life. The history, the culture, a way to ground the story and give it the sense of place it desperately needs.

Short stories you can get away with to a certain extent, but for a full length story you need to have a fair amount of knowledge.

Let’s take Badge City: Notches for an example.

All I was given regarding the city was that it was known as “Badge City” and had gained that nickname because of its historically strong police force.

That was it.

Everything else you read within the pages was something I spent days mapping out. Its state (Northern California), its proximity to the shore (I left a body on a beach and had to decide it that was a viable option before plotting that out), its general population (I couldn’t find my notes but I believe I had it somewhere around 1 million people), a bit of its history (past mayors, economic state, and a few other details), its streets and landmarks, as well as a couple of other things.

To me, that was something that brought it alive and helped make it as strong as it was.

Even with an established place, some of the locations are made up. In my story for The Lemon Herberts, set in 1960s Sydney: some geography was real, while a lot of the locations were made up (I think I used an actual hospital, but their hotel was made up).

Another thing that gave that story a sense of place was the time. For the most part, I’ve stuck with contemporary pieces because it is easier. But that one gave me a fun challenge. I was used to having modern technology to help my heroes solve the crime. The Lemon Herberts didn’t have that advantage.

And trust me, there were many times where I wanted to yell at the 1960s for their lack of computers. They make crime solving so much easier.

God bless the internet.

So here I sit, doing research and having trouble deciding where to start. I’ve been tempted to turn to Reddit to see if people in sub-Reddits for the city can give me insight. Wesley Julian’s had great success with that. I also got advice to watch TV shows based in that city, but unfortunately none are on Netflix at this time. I will also look into books.

But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a website where an author could go to and say “Hey I want to write a story in this place. Is there anyone willing to help me learn about it?”

Then the information is there for the next time someone wants to use that setting.

Alas, this does not exist (the closest thing I can think is Reddit—hence my temptation to use it). If I could afford to go spend a couple of days there I would love to. Alas, it is not in my budget at this time.

But, I can’t wait to get going on this story and bring more of Rosella to you soon. Hopefully I will have more news on the anthology soon!