My current work-in-progress is set in a fictional small town in California's Gold Country (fictional because it's an amalgamation of several towns) called Crow's Rest. So to help me establish the details and the atmosphere, my husband and I set out for a drive to some nearby Gold Rush-era towns last weekend.
Camera in hand, we visited some spots that the locals know about, like this historic cemetery:
where I found the perfect character name:
There's an interesting dichotomy, in that the locals are sometimes unaware of the nearby treasures. I used to be a docent at a historic park and the highway runs right through the middle of it; I'd have people tell me, "I've lived in the area for years and I never stopped to see what was here until now." Usually they were there with their child's fourth grade class, as a required field trip for California history.
As a historical fiction writer, one of my favorite places is a real snapshot of history in Sutter Creek: when the owner of a general store passed away in the 1950s, she left the store and its contents to the city, to be used as a museum or library. It's now a museum, with goods from the 1890s all the way through the mid-20th century, but it's rarely open because they don't have enough volunteers to staff it. My husband and I lucked out and got to go inside one afternoon, and I could have spent hours in there.
And yet, people that have lived in the area for years have no idea that it's there. I kind of like the feeling of it being a bit secret, but it's a shame that it doesn't get more attention. You know who usually knows about these kinds of places, though? It's the local kids. How great is it to grow up in a place where ruins and old mines are literally in your backyard?
What about you--have you recycled bits of your locale or hometown into your writing?