by Darlene Gardner
How’s this for a twist on a research trip: Take the trip after the book is published. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. I set Wish Upon a Christmas Star, my December 2012 Superromance, in Key West. As a former resident of South Florida, I’d been to the southernmost city in the United States numerous times. The most recent trip, however, had been about seventeen years ago.
|My hero and heroine had their black moment |
on this sunny pier overlooking Higgs Beach.
To refresh and update my memory, I leafed through guidebooks, read online articles and spent hours going up and down the streets of Key West using the street view feature of Google maps. It took me forever to figure out if there was a parking spot in a specific block of Duval Street where my secondary heroine, a private investigator, could conduct surveillance.
This is where the post-book research trip comes in. My parents spend their winters a few miles from where I used to live, so I make an annual visit to see them and to reconnect with friends. This year I persuaded my mom and one of my sisters to take the four-hour trek to Key West. My underlying motive was to see how accurate I’d made Wish Upon a Christmas Star.
How’d I do? Fairly well, as it turns out. I was spot-on in describing the scenic drive through the Keys on the Overseas Highway. Much of the drive is on a two-lane road with blue, blue water visible on both sides of the car. I also got the scenery right at the Key West Bight, with its mix of open-air restaurants, water sports businesses and moored boats, even though my memory of the harbor was foggy.
|I'll deny the post-book research trip|
was just as excuse to visit Key West!
I knew I’d nailed Duval Street, the main tourist thoroughfare through town. The crush of tourists and odd characters walking the sidewalks past shops, restaurants and bars makes up a funky dynamic. Add the mopeds and bicycles more numerous on the streets than cars, and that’s an indelible memory.
Perhaps the easiest thing to get right was the sunset celebration that takes place every evening at Mallory Square. The street performers angling for tips put on such strange shows that an author could make up anything and have it be believable. The main attraction—the sunset—is of course incredibly lovely.
Now it’s confession time because there are things I would have written differently if I’d taken a pre-book research trip. I completely forgot about the chickens that are as common in Key West as dogs. Rumor has it the chickens came to the island with their Cuban owners and multiplied. Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to see a chicken on the street view of Google maps. Additionally, I set a free, impromptu concert in front of the Southernmost Point marker. While it could happen and I did describe the audience spilling into the road, there’s not a lot of space there.
My blunder was stating open containers are legal in Key West. I was so sure of that one I bought myself—and my mom!—mixed drinks in plastic cups to sip on during the sunset celebration. Turns out it’s not legal. Judging by the number of people walking around with open containers, though, it’s tolerated.
But that parking spot on Duval my character used for surveillance? I got that one exactly right! I’m curious if there’s anyplace you’d like to revisit to check your memory.