As many of you know, production on the Mailboat suspense series was delayed because it turned into a series instead of a stand-alone. On the one hand, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to release a book in 2015. But on the bright side, stretching out the production process meant I had the chance to squeeze in a second research trip to the story’s real-life setting, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Am I ever glad I did!
I had two goals for my 2015 trip. One was to photograph and/or video as many settings as possible – sometimes in step-by-step detail, as my characters walked through a scene. But perhaps even more importantly, I needed to map out something far less tangible. I needed to get to know the personality of Lake Geneva.
The photography was pretty straight-forward: Find locations and bring a camera. But getting intimate with the character of the community meant becoming more than just a tourist. I needed to get to know the people who lived there.
I met Walter during my first research trip while standing in front of his house with a camera, waiting for the Mailboat to come by. We struck up a conversation, and a year later, he and his wife Margaret invited me into their charming getaway. They drew from generations of lake life to flesh out the history of Lake Geneva for me, beyond what I could pick up in texts on the subject. They also showed me how incredibly laid-back life here is … even if you do own a golf cart to get from your house to your pier.
Linda, who had contacted me by email to say how much she was looking forward to the release of the series, met me for coffee in Fontana. We toured the town and saw how much more peaceful and rural it was on the west end of the lake. And she really touched me when she gave me a coffee mug and a book to remember our visit. Coincidentally, it was the same book as the first one I’d ever checked out of a library for research on Lake Geneva. I was thrilled to have a copy for keeps!
Jamie the librarian patiently applied her years of knowledge of the town and surrounding areas to help me find actual locations that resembled settings I needed for the books. She later followed up with me at my blog and went so far as to send me a Thanksgiving card. Awww!
I’ve easily spent the majority of my time in the area hanging around the employees of the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which owns and operates the real-life Mailboat. I’ve never met a more steady-going, even-keeled group of people. Even the teenage summer employees are laid-back – all of which fits hand-in-glove with the strong German heritage of that part of Wisconsin. (Germans: nice, quiet, hard-working, never get excited about anything.)
I follow a number of Facebook pages that have their origin in Lake Geneva (At the Lake Magazine and Reel Life TV are favorites), and I’m frequently reminded by their posts of the strong sense of community there. Yes, the place gets overrun by tourists every weekend. That somehow hasn’t squashed the small-town, help-your-neighbor feel of the place. And from the number of “God bless you’s” I’ve received – without even sneezing – I’d guess most “Geneva-ites” have a strong faith tradition.
I also wanted to find out whether the people from the Geneva area had any speech mannerisms. Yes, they do. Despite the protests of several of my Wisconsin-born friends, there is, in fact, a Wis-caahn-sin ay-ccent. In that part of the state, at least. After just a few days at the lake, I began thinking all my thoughts in Wisconsinish – which I’ll admit drove me crazy.
Despite that, I’m so glad I had the chance to make two separate trips to Lake Geneva before releasing the first book in the series. The lake and the communities around it have captured my heart, and one of my chief hopes is to do the setting justice.