Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thanks to Google, I spent the day in London—without leaving my office.

That's me having coffee atop St. Paul's Cathedral in London
In The Vengeance Squad Goes to England the gang is looking for the man who stole Liz's bookmobile fund. Chris goes over to England to visit Angela, but he's joined soon by the rest of the group.

The first day in London, I wanted Angela to show Chris around some and keep him awake so he could adjust his inner clock to London time. I decided on a bus ride from her flat near Victoria Station to St. Paul's Cathedral because I had done that once or twice myself, for the same reason.

To make the trip more interesting, I wanted to point out the sights along the way. That's where Google comes in. I plotted a trip from Angela's flat to the church using Google Maps. Then, as I viewed the route, I switched to the photo view and looked for interesting landmarks along the way. Big Ben, London Eye, etc. But, I also saw other bits of information that I felt might be interesting to readers. I saw lots of black cabs, for example. Cars and busses driving down the wrong side of the road. Red double-decker buses everywhere. This gave me scenery, but also an idea for Liz to buy a double-decker bus that had been converted into a bookmobile.

Google Maps Takes the Fun Out of Research

In The Vengeance Squad, the protagonists travel a lot. To make it easier for me, I only let him go to places I've been. That way I can create better descriptions of the locations. As I was writing,however, I wished I was in Albuquerque again to get a bit a detail I needed for a scene. I wanted there to be a house close to the Petroglyph National Monument, but I didn't know if there was or not. In the old days, such research might require a tax-deductible trip to look around first hand. But, no longer.

I opened Google Maps in my browser and typed in Petroglyph National Monument. Then I clicked on the little orange Google man and moved him to the streets around the park. I found just what I needed. There was a whole neighborhood near the park's parking lot. Close enough to serve my needs.

From Albuquerque, my characters went to Rowe, a small town in Massachusetts I know quite well, but had not been there in the winter. Also, I had not been to a private airport in nearby North Adams that I wanted to use in my story. With Google Maps I was able to start at the airport and follow the road to Rowe. I learned there are many turns along the way. I looked for photos as I made my virtual trip in hopes of finding a winter scene but there were none. Luckily, a friend there sent me some photos taken while there was snow on the ground.

So, no longer must we go to a villa in France or spend time on a barge in the Netherlands to absorb details enough for a realistic description. All we have to do is turn on the computer.

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