As I began working on the third book in my mystery novel series that is set in France and England, I decided I would bring my foreign characters to the U.S., where even more of them will feel like outsiders. I thought about a city and finally decided on the city where I currently live: Columbia, Missouri. Being relatively new here (less than two years), I still remember how it felt to see the area for the first time–the hiking/biking trails, the parks, the university, the quaint downtown, the rolling hills. I’m creating a few ficticious places, too, such as a historic village for students and tourists to visit and learn about the way people lived in Missouri 120 years ago.
For some scenes I have to conduct research. The book opens in a former prison in Jefferson City, the state capital which is only about 35 miles from Columbia. I researched online and viewed photographs, then began writing. Since I’m using a real place, I wanted to get it right, and I wasn’t sure the internet was enough. One of the benefits of a setting that is close to home is that I could visit the place easily. So, one day my husband and I took a drive to Jefferson City and checked out the old prison and the surrounding area. I’m glad we did. I came away with some interesting photographs–and discovered the building was much older looking than it had appeared online. It’s not terribly important for the story, but I’m adjusting some details because of it.
Now, as I work more on the book, I realize what a fun experience this can be. I’ll give my book characters new challenges, I’ll learn more about my new city and state, and let readers know about this wonderful place.