I am going on my first ever research field trip which will take my long-suffering husband and me on a round-trip journey of more than 2.500 miles into the depths of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
I chose the U.P. as a setting for my work-in-progress, a romantic suspense titled Mistletoe Tagged, and circumstances have allowed me to actually go there. The irony is that while we live near Washington D.C., I grew up in the mitten state where my mother still lives. The other irony is that this will not be like visiting Bath, England or Tuscany or New Orleans. As far as I can tell from reading the internet, travel books and maps, there is very little in the U.P. except scenery.
And I am not interested in scenery. We do not plan to stop at the spectacular Tahquemenon Falls or the impressive Pictured Rocks coastline of the might Lake Superior. We are not going to hike, camp, fish or hunt in the millions of acres of national forest.
My goal is to visit a town with only one operating business - a general store - and another town that recently held a potato festival. I want to see the folks who live in this wild, impoverished, isolated spot where deer outnumber people and snowflakes outnumber everything else put together.
I'm hoping a stop at one of the local bars will give me a flavor of the locals. Is there tension between the Native Americans from the several reservations and the European descendants of the immigrants who came to work in the long-gone iron and copper mines? Has the loss of industry created more of a sense of community in the small towns? What are the folks doing to create jobs in the areas that do not have a ski mountain or snowmobile trails or easy access to water?
How do they get through the long, cold winter when they are 500 miles from the state capital and there is almost no public transportation available to them anymore? Do the Yoopers have that closeness of family and community that sounds so idyllic to those of us who live in busy metropolitan areas?
I expect this field trip to be fun and interesting (and surprisingly expensive) but will it improve my fiction? My first books (About a Baby, He Loves Lucy, Eye of the Tiger Lily) were set in a small town in Maine, a state I have never visited. Will this series be better because I've seen the U.P. up close and personal? Time will tell.
The one thing I 'm sure of is that folks will be friendly and that meeting them will help me fashion lifelike, well-rounded quirky characters - always, to me, the best part of fiction.