If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook (and really, why wouldn’t you?) you may have noticed that in early January I went on a research trip to Boulder, Colorado. That might have seemed kind of random at the time, but there were good reasons. After I finished Hunter’s Trail, the third book in the first Scarlett Bernard trilogy (got that?), my publisher was interested in another Old World book, but wanted to explore a new protagonist.There was a character I’d been thinking about for a while, Lex, but I had one major problem: I didn’t know where to set the book.
Urban fantasy, as a genre, tends to rely heavily on the location – for example, it’s hard to imagine Sookie Stackhouse without Bon Temps, or Harry Dresden without Chicago. I needed a new city, but the hard part was the only major city I’d lived in was LA, and the book couldn’t be set there without running into Scarlett and company.
I didn’t want to write about my adopted hometown, Madison, Wisconsin, because that felt…well, too close to home. Some writers do wonderful jobs with books set in their own town, but I didn’t think I could pull it off without seeming tacky. It did give me an idea, though: Madison is a unique city, but it’s unique in a way that other places share, if that makes any sense. Places like Boulder, Colorado. As Lex says in Boundary Crossed, “If cities were high schoolers, Boulder would sit at the trendy-hippie table in the cafeteria, along with Madison, Berkeley, and Portland.” Probably Ann Arbor and Austin, too.
When I started exploring the idea further, I realized that Boulder and Madison have a lot in common: they’re both university towns that pride themselves on being liberal and somewhat politically active, they’re both tourist destinations (Boulder probably more so), they’re both set in quirky physical locations (Boulder is right by the Flatirons; Madison is on an isthmus). Both populations care a lot about things like environmentalism, organics, natural living, and outdoor fitness: Boulder is famous for skiing and hiking, Madison is the only place I’ve lived where you can get snow tires for your bike.
So I set Boundary Crossed in Boulder, and just as LA influenced how I created Scarlett, Boulder enhanced my own understanding of Lex. For that first book I did a ton of research from home: Google maps, books, websites, movies. I have a very patient cousin who lives in Boulder, and I was constantly emailing and texting her—I even had her do a special edit of the novel to make sure everything I’d written fit with the real Boulder. (Sample correction: Boulder residents refer to the University of Colorado-Boulder as “CU.” Go figure.) It was a lot of work to write a city I hadn’t personally lived in, but I was proud of how the book turned out.
However, when it came time to write book two, Boundary Lines, I realized something: I was tapped out on satellite research. As my husband put it, the time had come for “boots on the ground.”
Usually when I’ve needed to return to LA for Scarlett research, I wait for a signing or convention, or some other event so I can double-up on time management. Because I’m on a tight deadline for this book, though, I needed to go right away . And thus, for the first time ever, I traveled solely for research—no conventions, no kids, no reading or signing. I didn’t have to pack baby wipes OR a blazer. It was both fantastic and a ton of work.
Tomorrow I’ll be publishing part 2 of this blog, which is full of pictures of the interesting stuff I saw and did in Boulder. Most of it will wind up in the book, although I’ll be saving a few things for the future.
Come back tomorrow to see wolves, dinosaurs, and lots and lots of mountain.