I haven't been to Mendocino in years, but a few scenes in my third book take place there. I decided a road trip was in order. I needed to make sure my descriptions were accurate, the ambience was right, and Dana could really do all the things I'd outlined in the book.
Over the weekend, I loaded the kids and the grandparents in the car, and we headed off for Mendocino. Several hours and many twisting turns later, we arrived at our destination. Looking around, I realized that my descriptions were way off. First off, Mendocino has exactly zero fast food restaurants. In a world where there seems to be a fast food joint at every freeway off-ramp, I found the lack of chains refreshing, but that also meant Dana would need to find a new place to stop for breakfast. Fortunately, Mendocino has several coffee houses that can serve the same purpose.
Next in the book, Dana visits the home of the murder victim, but again, my imagination created a setting that doesn't exist. Where I had manicured lawns and trimmed hedges, the residents of Mendocino have beautiful flowering bushes that flow over the fences and fill the yard with color.
For the town itself, I was picturing parking lots and cement. In reality, it's meadows and cliffs.
In the end, we only spent a few hours in Mendocino, but the trip was well worth it. I was able to answer all my questions about neighborhoods, speed limits, and eateries. More importantly, I got a good sense of Mendocino's artistic leanings, as well as the natural beauty of the place. Though those scenes will represent only a small portion of the book, they'll now be more authentic and believable for anyone familiar with the area. I'd love to return some time to visit the shops and actually eat in some of the restaurants. I could claim I was doing more research, but really, I'd be there for pure enjoyment.