I’ve always loved it when authors use real locations for their stories, even if the location only plays a small part in the plot. As much as I enjoy visiting faraway lands like Narnia, Oz, and Neverland, there’s something about the inclusion of a familiar place that adds an extra dimension of reality to the adventure. It gives dreamers like me that little glimmer of hope. What if I could discover that same entrance and go there myself? Now, places like London, Kansas, and even ordinary closets hold a special fascination they never would have before I embarked on these literary journeys. Sadly, I’ve never found a closet or wardrobe that has led to Narnia. 😉 But it’s always fun to dream, to pretend. As a writer of fairy tales and fantasy, I think it’s important that I never lose that sense of wonder, of “what if,” that I had as a child.

This past year, I watched a video in which author Robin Jones Gunn shared some of the significant locations from her Christy Miller series. Granted, Robin is not a speculative fiction writer, but she created a lovable cast of characters in a familiar, believable environment. (And as a completely unrelated side note, she is an incredible person. I was so blessed to get the opportunity to meet her at my first Mount Hermon conference, where I majorly fangirled in spite of my best efforts. Just ask my friend Sarah.) 😉 When I watched Robin’s video, it helped support the enjoyable illusion that her characters truly lived those lives in our real world.

As I set out to write my series of books, I knew I wanted to ground my stories in hints of reality in this same way. To help with the fun, I decided to choose locations that were precious to me. After all, I’ve always been one to see the magical in the everyday. Why not make some special places actually magical?

One of my favorite places on earth has always been the Trinidad/Eureka area on the northern California coast. My family has vacationed there every summer since I was small, and years of wonderful memories are attached to every beach, campsite, and home we have visited through the years.

A place I particularly remember was an RV park where we used to camp. Just behind the park was a gully, covered with ferns, fallen logs, and moss. Tall redwoods stretched to the sky and gave the gully a hushed, secretive atmosphere. I fell in love with it from the moment I saw it. Even the occasional banana slug couldn’t destroy my enthusiasm. I called it the “Enchanted Forest” and pretended that unicorns lived there. Some of my best memories from that campsite were made when my dad would take me down to the gully to explore.

When I started working on story locations for this world, I knew this needed to be one of them.

Another of my favorite places from that same area is Moonstone Beach. Our family loves it for its flat, kid-friendly landscape. I also love it for the caves on one end, carved into a tall, tree-covered hillside.

The cave can be tall…

…or shallow depending on the time of year and the weather.

During our trip there last month, I crawled into the cave and sat alone for a while, dreaming and brainstorming and imagining. I wanted to drink everything in, to see this cave the way my characters might see it. I’ve always loved the mystery of a cave. I suppose I should revise that. I love the mystery of small caves that don’t lead to dark, scary places or creepy animals. 😉 I’m so pleased I get to include this one in my books.

Also during last month’s trip, I discovered a new place of wonder. While we were at our campsite at Emerald Forest one late afternoon, the sun found a path through the tall trees that surrounded us, and shone just enough to leave an enchanted trail of light that kissed a few fortunate ferns and trees.

Instant magic.

And then there’s beautiful Cherry Flat, hubby’s family’s special swimming hole at the Trinity Alps Resort. This was another place that captured my heart the first time I saw it. To begin with, the trail to the swimming hole is breathtaking, even in the summer:

Then you reach Cherry Flat itself. The water is so clear, you can see all the way to the bottom, even from the top of the giant rock we always jump from. Yet it has this amazing green hue right out of a storybook. The makings of an enchanted pool, folks.

It’s great for toy photography, too. 😉

To the right of the pool is a lovely, miniature waterfall. It can either be small and tranquil, as it was in the above photo taken from an earlier trip, or it can be a rushing rapid. When we visited at the beginning of this month, the current was so strong, I couldn’t even get over to this side of the swimming hole to take a similar picture.

I did, however, jump from the tall rock and plunge into the cold water of the swimming hole below. I had to. Story research. 😉

When I visit these normal, everyday places that seem to have an otherworldly quality, I believe even more in my characters and the stories I want to tell. I can’t wait to share them with all of you when the time is right. And maybe someday, I can do my own video like Robin Jones Gunn’s, sharing the special significance of each of these places and the parts they played in my books.