My good friend Aggeloi asked me to blog about a recent research venture of mine. It began, as it usually does, with an idea. This one happens to be for a children’s story. I’ve never written for children, but that’s a topic for another blog. The story needs to be set in a small town, preferably in Washington state so I don’t have to stray too far out of my comfort zone. The small town needs to be large enough to have an elementary school nearby but secluded enough to have a large (5 acres or more) old-growth forest nearby. After taking multiple trips to Seattle to research sites for previous novels, I decided that the small town in my newest novel needs to be within easier driving distance: thirty miles max. That’d make life much easier for me.
I’ve been driving up and down the Hood Canal all my life (family used to live up north), so I have a basic familiarity with all the small towns along Highway 101. I thought of using Lilliwaup, but it’s too small. So I went south just a bit and chose Hoodsport. It met all my criteria, as far as I knew. So last Memorial Day, with nothing better already planned, I asked my husband to drive me up to Hoodsport to look around. Normally before field trips of this sort, I’d use Google maps and Google Earth to scout the area to make sure it was close enough to what I wanted. I didn’t have time to do that this time. We packed the kids in the van and headed out.
Hoodsport is a wonderful and unique town. The first thing we did was drive down the main drag and find a parking spot somewhere in the middle (it’s a really small town). Before we even got out, we checked Google maps and found out that Hoodsport doesn’t have a neatly planned grid-like system of streets. It’s got one main street (Highway 101) paralleling the canal, and two other main streets that run up into the hills, perpendicular to the highway, for a couple of miles until they join up and run out to Lake Cushman. There are several smaller side streets, most of which dead-end, and no “neighborhoods” of houses parked in a row with front and back yards and alleys and whatnot. That’s a big deal for my story, so I made note of it.
(This is the dock at Hoodsport)
We got out of the van and walked down the main drag, stopping in all the stores that were open. Most of them catered to tourists. I found two great history books on the area: one is the story of one of the original settlers to the town of Hoodsport, and the other is an account of the early settlement of Lake Cushman. They were pricey, but I bought them anyway. During our walk, my husband took tons of photos: store fronts, the view of the water, a panorama of the main drag, and all the interesting, unique things you don’t find in other small towns. The Hoodsport dock is amazing. The walkway shoots out over the beach and the water (by the time you get to the end, you’re 20 feet above the water), then a steep ramp shoots you down to the docks. When the tide is in, that ramp isn’t quite as steep, but when we were there, the tide was out and I was too chicken to try walking down that ramp. Anyway, back on shore there was a box for mooring fees. Yep, just a box. So trusting to leave something like that out in the open and unguarded. Hubby took a picture of that. There was also a unique circular concrete table with attacked benches (also circular) that was rustic, charming, and would fit wonderfully into my story.
(This is the bench)
After that short tour of the “downtown corridor,” we got back in the van and headed up the hill on one of the side streets. We saw a few houses tucked back into the woods, then came across the visitor’s center. We parked and I headed inside. A friendly elderly man and his dog greeted me. It told him I was writing a story set in Hoodsport and asked for a map of the area. He didn’t have a street map of Hoodsport, but he gave me several maps of the entire area. Then he told me a story about how a local place got it’s name. If I didn’t have hubby and kids waiting in the car for me, I’d have taken a seat and listened to that guy talk all day! Sometime soon I’ll have to go back with a picnic lunch and hear more stories, as I’m sure that kind of background would be useful.
When I left the visitor’s center, we shot down a little side street, but seeing nothing but trees and a few scattered houses, we went back to the highway and found a realtor’s office. She was so friendly! She had this fat book full of street maps that she used for selling properties. When I told her I was writing a story set in Hoodsport, she got excited about helping and started photocopying pages from her book. I ended up with two street maps of Hoodsport and one of Lake Cushman. She told me where to find the elementary school (it was 15 minutes down the road), and wished me well with my book.
We left Hoodsport and drove to the elementary school, just so I could see where it was and what it looked like. Then we drove to the Skokomish Tribal Center. My story features a Skokomish grandmother who tells stories, but I don’t know any Skokomish stories, so I was hoping to meet someone at the Tribal Center who could help me. Sadly, it was closed for the holiday. I later sent an email to the center and asked for contract information. So far I haven’t heard back, but when I do, I’ll drive out there to interview some people and look around a bit more.
When I got home, I took all my maps, books, and ideas to my computer so I wouldn’t lose them. That’s when I looked at the area using Google Earth. I found a fabulous spot to put my protagonist’s house, not too far from an immense stand of timber (I don’t know if it’s old-growth, but I’m allowed to make stuff up in a story, aren’t I?) and within walking distance of the downtown area. For a spur-of-the-moment research trip, I gathered a lot of what I needed to make my story work.
Have you ever visited the town where your story takes place? Did you interview locals to get a feel for the community? Did you take pictures and try to imagine your protagonist (and antagonist) living and struggling there? Lastly, did this summary of my research venture help you in any way? I appreciate your feedback.