Friday, March 7, 2014

Photo-Journal Research Trip

How does an author gather the details she needs to write a book? Tag along on a photo-journal research trip along the Oregon Coast!

    Before I could write the next books in The Cupcake Diaries series, I knew I had to take a 4 hour road trip from my home in Washington down to the Oregon Coast. I had been there several times before, but  needed to gather new info and take a fresh look at the landmarks in the surrounding area with an author's eye. My husband did most of the driving so I could write notes and take photos along the way.

     Our first stop was at the Pig 'N Pancake restaurant in Astoria to get coffee and a good breakfast. Afterwards I took photos of the sprawling Astoria-Megler Bridge from the parking lot. Astoria is the seaport town where the majority of the first 4 books in the series is set.

     We continued our journey and arrived in Cannon Beach forty minutes later. Book 5 - The Cupcake Diaries: Sprinkled with Kisses - releases March 18th and is set at this location. When I wrote the book I used the Google Earth web cam to view various streets where I could place my heroine Stacey's pink Volkswagen bus mobile cupcake stand. I was happy to see the web cam had been extremely accurate - I recognized the spot on sight. As I walked the beach and traveled all the paths Stacey took in the book I used my camera to photograph everything. I will use these pictures for upcoming blogs and other promotion for the new book release.

     Next we visited the tourist information center where I talked with the woman in charge about festivals and events that might impact my characters at different times of the year. I also picked up maps, booklets, postcards, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers from the area to help set my scenes with accurate detail and historical background.

     Now the part we were really looking forward to. We went to Simply Cakes by Jae and bought 4 cupcakes: 2 vanilla with raspberry filling and Italian butter cream icing, 1fudge filled chocolate, and 1 caramel filled chocolate.  These are simply the best cupcakes I've ever tasted!  Jae's shop was originally located in Astoria and when she moved to Cannon Beach I was inspired to have my cupcake shop girls (Andi, Rachel, and Kim) expand their business and run a beach stand. Jae has been a valuable source of information, not only for details about running a cupcake shop, but for giving me local resident insight. Many scenes in the book series were inspired by our previous conversations. This time we talked for 1 ½ hours. I plan to have a book signing at her shop (with cupcakes!) in May.

     While I was in town I also stopped in the local book store to see if they'd be interested in a book signing and also learned the library features local authors once a month.

     Next stop: Seaside. This is the new location for Book 6 in the series, the book I plan to write next. I picked Seaside to be the town where my cupcake shop girls open their second shop for a number of reasons. Seaside has volleyball tournaments on the beach, something I plan to bring into the plot. And it has the aquarium where you can feed the seals. They are just so cute I have to bring them into the story by setting an important scene there. Seaside is also a huge draw for tourists and so the town has lots of fun and unique things for my new romantic couple to do.

After checking into our hotel, we walked to the circular promenade at the end of the main street by the beach. The statues of historical pioneers Lewis and Clark  stand in the middle and when I saw a pictorial engraved hand shake on the monument with the words, "peace and friendship," I thought that could very well be this new book's theme.

Day 2 of the research trip was much lighter. I took more photos. The purpose of the pictures are 3-fold. I can use them for promotion, look at them while I write for inspiration and accurate detail, and they help me find possible locations for scenes set in the story.
     I found the perfect place for the second cupcake shop next to our hotel in the Riverside Walk shops. I went across the bridge to take photos of the shop from the opposite side of the river and discovered two furry otters scratching their backs on the wooden dock. There is no doubt - these little guys will also find a way into this story!
My husband and I went into the Seaside Aquarium today and I gathered the scene info and necessary ties to theme and plotline by reading some of the descriptions and backgrounds of the fish. Very cool! The background for one type of fish symbolizes my story character's trials.
     I visited two more bookstores and talked to each of them about possible book signings in hopes of grouping some of these together into one weekend the next time I come down. Always multi-tasking!
     I hope you've enjoyed the tour and recognize some of my stops when you read Books 5, 6, & 7  of The Cupcake Diaries.  For more information visit:


  1. What fun, Darlene! I like you way you do research--beats the heck out of surfing the Internet. :) Thank you for sharing a part of your writing life with me and for the virtual mini-vacation!

  2. That was such a fun journey to take with you. This is the kind of detail I want to know as a reader and as a writer. Loved the pics!

    I agree - you picked the perfect spot for the next cupcake shop - the doors are the color of frosting.

  3. Darlene,
    What a great blog and pics! This series is "too delicious". :-) Probably heard that already, right? LOL
    Best of luck with it, and I vicariously enjoyed your journey. Sure wish I lived close enough for one of those caramel-filled cupcakes!

  4. Don't you just love research? Fun post, Darlene. Looking forward to the next Cupcake Diary!

  5. Very fun! I grew up on the Oregon coast. It was fun to go back there through a tourist's eyes. It's a great place to set books. I've set two novels there, one a romance, the other a thriller with romantic elements. I'll look forward to your cupcake romances.

    Danita Cahill