Monday, June 20, 2016

On-the-Ground Setting Research

Whether you set your stories right where you live, across the country, or elsewhere in the world, you'll need to research your setting. If your story is set in a galaxy far, far away, I give you permission to make everything up.

Research for your hometown or somewhere else you're very familiar with takes a different shape, for sure. You'll need to decide how much to fictionalize in any real setting. Business names? Street names?

But let's pretend for a few minutes that you plan to set your story or series somewhere you are less familiar with.

Can you visit the setting?
If so, do it! Unless it is near enough to visit often, plan your trip carefully so you can be sure to get the information you need in one trip. If you're visiting in spring but writing a Christmas story, keep that in mind, too.

• Take a digital camera with an extra battery and an extra SD card. You definitely don't want to lose the capacity to record the details partway through your day.
• Take a lot of photos, including of signs. A recent one-day trip to Spokane, Washington, for my upcoming series resulted in over 300 images. Some of them were easy deletes when I returned home and processed them, but most stayed in the album. I often open this digital album when writing.
• Take a map you can write on, especially if you plan to use the setting "as is." Make notes on it!
• Close your eyes. Smell. Hear. Feel. These are important senses, and the information you absorb by focusing on them are much harder to get from online research. Make note of these in a notebook.

Can't go?
All is not lost if you cannot visit the setting in person. Online research is your friend!
• Google
• Wikipedia
• YouTube
• Google maps/street view
• Blogs
• Flickr
• Join a "local" FB group and read the listings.
• Contact the tourist info with specific questions

Know someone who lives there?
• Ask for a one-hour interview on Skype or a Google Hangout before starting to write. Ask what they like and dislike about where they live. Mostly listen, and keep good notes.
• Ask if they will beta read your story and point out setting errors.
• Ask questions via email during writing. Keep the questions specific so as not to waste their time.

I wrapped up my Farm Fresh Romance series in February with the release of the sixth book. For a few months before that, I spent time making decisions about the next series. I decided to create a spin-off series in an urban setting and, after much deliberation, chose Spokane, Washington. It is close enough both to the fictional setting of FFR and to where I live in Canada that I knew I could nail the setting.

I combed through Spokane on Google maps, looking for the right neighborhood. When I found a likely prospect, I switched to "street view" and went up one street and down the next, taking in the surroundings as much as the program allows. My husband was up for a one-day road trip, and off we went.

Thankfully the area was just as inviting in person as it had seemed in Google maps. We ate lunch at the neighborhood diner, walked along the river, climbed the sidewalk stairs from one street to the next, enjoyed glimpses of a fat gray squirrel and a golden-mantle marmot, listened to the birds sing, and walked amid the raised beds in the community garden.

All of these things became backdrops to Secrets of Sunbeams, the first book in my new Urban Farm Fresh Romance series.

Good fences make good neighbors.
Especially if your neighbor is a goat.

Eden Andrusek knows she should have fixed her fence last week. It’s too bad her runaway goat makes a less-than-ideal first impression on her new neighbor, who turns out to be cute, brilliant… and a little uptight.

Solar architect Jacob Riehl is furious when he returns outside to find a goat eating his presentation. As someone who likes everything in its place, he has little sympathy for a farm animal in the city or its tattooed owner, but there’s something about the lovely Eden that captures his attention.

What will it take to win over a man whose only pet was a goldfish? And how long can Jacob and Eden go without addressing the goat in the room?

Secrets of Sunbeams releases first in a multi-author box set, Whispers of Love, which also features a novel by ICFW member Marion Ueckermann plus ten other contemporary romance novels. If you haven't pre-ordered your copy of Whispers of Love, don't delay! The fantastic price of $0.99US is only guaranteed until July 4.

Click here for more information or to order for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, or iBooks.

Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local food movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie writes where food meets faith and fiction in her Farm Fresh Romance series and Riverbend Romance novellas. Visit her at


  1. Researching new places is a lot of fun, especially if you can visit. Congratulations, Val, on your new series and all the very best with the box set.

    Thanks for your post.

    1. Thanks, Ian! Visiting makes a big difference, but I haven't been able to do it for every book I've written. You?

  2. A goat in the city. I love it. Brings that country feel to your story, even if it's an urban setting.

    1. Writing urban farming stories has been fun! I'm nearly done writing the second one, which I expect to release in August.