Do You Research Your Setting?

Curwood Castle built in 20s by novelist James curwood

Curwood Castle built in 20s by novelist James curwood

I have learned over time if I want to write real I need to visit the location of my novels if I’m using a real location. Creating a fictitious location is easier, but you’ll find bonuses in writing about real places.

The first bonus is visiting a town that you have never been to or you have never spent time there. I’m a life long resident of Michigan, but this small town is mid-state and I’ve never had reason to visit there before. When I learned about it through a friend, it captured my interest since my publisher, Love Inspired, enjoys stories set in more rural areas. Owosso was perfect. First off it has its very own castle, build by James Curwood, the highest paid novelist in the 1920s. At least 30 of his novels inspired or used to make movies. The castle served as his writing studio, and he lived in a home in Owosso where he was born and raised.

Since my novels are romances with various issues that plague the characters, my books often focus on a

Bentley Park, Playscape Tower with slides, ladders, tic-tac-toe and more

Bentley Park, Playscape Tower with slides, ladders, tic-tac-toe and more

single parent. This town has amazing activities for children including three venues that have areas called Playscapes, with a spalsh pool, regular swings, and slides for all ages. The parks have a pavillian and gazebo as well.

The DeVries Nature conservatory has a nature playscape for kids and paths for walking through the woods and around the River Floorplain. Kids can dig, catch bugs with nets, climb trees and walk on logs. While there, we experienced a deer leaping across the path in front of us.



Wrought Iron Grilll, once a Wrought Iron Funiture Factory with geat food

Wrought Iron Grilll, once a Wrought Iron Funiture Factory with geat food


The town has a Steam Railroading Institute with an amazing collection of trains, an art gallery, a confererence center at the downtown Comstock Inn, a sleigh museum, a community actors group and theater, a number of community festivals and events, and a nearby town that has a historic village.  You can rollerskake, bowl, and ave fun in the snow.  Shopping is basically on three or four streets so walking is easy and the town is filled with restaurants and churches.

As you can see, I experienced many of things I could only read about on the Internet or in brochures. And the bonus for me was to find a street in town that was a cul de sac (a road with a circular turn around at the end of the street to return to the only street outlet.  I took photos of houses and will be able to envision my characters living on this street.


Owosso Bookstore

Owosso Bookstore


The second bonus is that I learned the local newspaper in privately owned and is open to carrying local articles that would interest the people of  the town. I am hopeful that I can receive some press when my book series is released.  It also helps that the local Owoswo Bookstore is interested in carrying my books when they are relased and I offered to do a booksinging there. That would be a very nice opportunity also.

The third bonus is I can bring my novel to life as I visualize my characters in the real life environment. I’ve learned about events that can be used in my novel. Things I learned have stimulte new ideas. I know what happens there at Christmas and other holidays, where the city tree is displayed and what they do for that event. If they have an Easter egg hunt? Do they celebrate the 4th of July in a special way. Visiting also gives you contacts so that if you need to know something, you have a person to call. The only cost this is to you would be the travel expenses which is tax deductible since it’s a business expense and the benefits are high — realism, idea stimulation, personl interest in your novel, contacts and the ability to feel, taste, touch, smell, hear and see the location of your story.

Yes, you can fabricate a town, and you must if it’s speculative for example, but being there is a far greater investment especially for contemporary fiction, but historical fiction also is heightend by walking the fields of Gettysburg, exploring a real plantation, seeing migrant workers and where they live.  How can imagine what it’s like to ride a godola in the Grand Canal unless you’ve experienced. I have, so should you.


Lances Bakery with great scones and donuts.

Lances Bakery with great scones and donuts.

The sister train, which is also stored here, was used for the Tom Hank's movie North Pole Express

The sister train which is alo stored here was used for the Tom Hank’s movei North Pole Express

Comtock Cabin oldest preminent resident from 1836.

Comtock Cabin oldest preminent resident from 1836.


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  1. Deb Kastner June 27, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    I want a castle for a writing studio!!!

  2. Kathy June 28, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    Gail, so true. As the family genealogist, researching the physical location revealed the heart of my family, the land they farmed, the giant oak trees (as evidenced by the stump’s girth) next to their grist mill (gone all these decades), walking around the town square, standing where their home had been. This sets the stage for even the shortest physical description of where they came from before they moved to their latest location (their backstory). The land reveals prosperity or famine, how much water, good or infertile soil, wind, did they find clay to build bricks there? Visits to the local historical society, museum, and courthouse help too (photographs and objects from the past). Did they walk through those court house halls? And the cemetery prompts questions. Some of my family’s headstones were facing the opposite direction; were they buried first and everyone else wanted to face the road, or did they face themselves toward their farmland down below the hill? I have heard if you antique and find a lovely old photo, take it home with you and adopt that person into your family, or writing.

    • Gail Gaymer Martin June 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

      Katy – You are so right. There’s nothing like delving into the real place and that is wonderful when you can use a very meaningful, historic setting for you novel. It not only makes a better story with real life situations but it is a tribute to your family.

      I had the pleasure of using two real life family history to write two historical novellas. The one is Apple of His Eyes which is based on my family history in England. Gaymer Pub Cyder has been a royal warrant cider under Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The founder of the Gaymer Pub Cyder business is a direct line on the family tree. Through this I have made contact with family members in England and I have visited cousins there. A great experience. The other was based on my mother’s childhood but I shifted the time frame to a little early than the real date. It still built the story setup and then became fiction, but the incident was my inspiration.

  3. Gail Gaymer Martin June 28, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Deb, I’m with you. I’d love a castle to work in. Years ago I always thought about how thrilling it would be to spend the night in a castle, and I’ve had that dream come true more than once. Bob and I will have been married 29 years in August – and when I married him, I’ve had some of the greatest trips to Europe that I could ever imagine. He speaks German and lived there for four years so traveling in any German-speaking country is easy for us and we rent a car and drive. No tours. But we’ve been all over Europe, Great Britain and many other places and I’m planning more. Love seeing the world.

  4. Sharon Miller July 2, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    I really liked the information on Mackinac Island and look forward to visiting there when we drive around the great lakes area. That book will be really interesting along with The British Brides collection. sharon, CA

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  6. Wilma Frana November 1, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I love your books, would love to win some. I live in Iowa.

  7. Angie Quantrell October 13, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    What an adorable town! Now I want to visit. Perfect place for a story setting. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Patty October 15, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    I grew up just 20 minutes or so down the road from Owosso, and was actually born in the Owosso hospital! I’ve been to the Curwood Castel, but it has been decades ago.
    I live in the south now, and don’t miss the cold winters in MI.

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