Free is good, and states offer free tourist information for the asking. I recently emailed the state department of tourism in Mississippi and asked for their guide, a fat book just chock full of information on sites to see, hotels, and restaurants, not to mention snippets of history that always add credibility to a setting.
Crossing state lines on a major highway? Stop at the welcome center and help yourself to free brochures touting the state's must-visit areas. On my recent trip home to Texas this past summer, I stopped at the welcome center on I-30 and came away with a litter bag (offered to me at the desk, along with a new highway map) full of colorful folders detailing historic sites. I could have filled up two or three more such bags, but I concentrated on the information I thought would make good story-starters and research resources.
Check out public libraries which often have free printed information on the city and county in which they're located. Travel agencies provide good printed material, too. Often their last-year's information is in the back, waiting to be tossed out, and they'll be glad to get rid of it. (I used this resource as a teacher when I needed pictures for classroom projects.)
Bookstores specializing in used books often have older copies of the Fodor's Guides and other travel guides as well. While working on a novel set in Houston, I went online and bought a Fodor's "City Guide to Houston". Though it was eight years old, the street maps and other restaurant listings still met my needs for writing like I knew something about the city.(I double-checked the information on the internet to make sure the restaurants and other businesses were still operating.)
Recently, I bought a new book through the Writer's Digest bookstore--Writer's Guide to Places by Don Prues and Jack Heffron. The subtitle describes the volume as "a one-of-a-kind reference for making the locales in your writing more authentic, colorful, and memorable". It covers 50 states, 51 cities, and 10 Canadian provinces. The entry on Houston covers such items as
- Houston Facts and Peculiarities Your Character Might Know
- Houston Basics That Shape Your Character
- If Your Character...
- Local Grub Your Character Might Love
- Interesting and Peculiar Places to Set a Scene
- Exceptionally Grand Things Your Character Is Proud Of
- Pathetically Sad Things Your Character is Ashamed Of
- For Future Research (includes books and websites)
Settings, like characters, plot, and dialogue, need to be realistic in order to be credible. So while a trip to the French Riviera might be more fun, the resources mentioned above are always available and affordable.
Wednesday Book Review: Stories Behind Everyday Things