Researching Story Ideas


My Dad's vintage 1965 wood-strip canoe

For writers, researching story ideas comes with the territory. If you want to write “authentic,” you need to experience a place. Sight, smell, sound, taste, feel. Sensations make the difference between mundane and “being there in the moment.” I’ve been to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in northern Minnesota on about 30 canoe trips over more than 50 years, and I’ve paddled 8 or 10 trips on various rivers, so I know about canoe camping.

Nothing can replace being there

I know what the woods smell like; what the Northern Lights looks like with no city lights to diminish the grandeur;  the taste of good and bad freeze-dried meals (an acquired taste) and fresh-caught fish panfried in cracker crumbs and bacon fat; the chill of a frosty night shivering in my sleeping bag; the thrill of seeing a moose or a bear or a pine marten up close and personal; the ear-splitting echoes of thunder and blinding flashes of lightning; what it feels like to be in nearly total darkness; the physical and mental stress of paddling across a large lake in high winds; the haunting sound of my all-time-favorite bird, the loon; how it feels to be sweating in rain gear as torrential rain pelts my rain suit and simultaneously chills me to the point of worrying about hypothermia; the feel of wet feet as I slog through a portage that has been flooded by the newly built dam of an industrious beaver, and the sting of campfire smoke in my eyes as the sun sets across a pristine lake.

My latest Boundary Waters trip

Sawbill Lake cocktail hour
Sandra and me, enjoying a “glass” of wine.

My wife, Sandra, and I recently spent four days and three nights camping on one of our favorite lakes in the Boundary Waters–Sawbill Lake. The trip was more glamping that rugged canoe camping with portages and trying to get deep into the wilderness. We brought fresh food, wine(!), an extra tarp, a rollup table, our two-burner cookstove, and lots of warm clothes.

Other than a rainy first afternoon and night, we enjoyed peak fall colors, cool and breezy conditions, and sunny skies. We were windbound one day. But another day we got out for an afternoon paddle and saw a beaver. He/she obliged us with a tail slap on the water. We also saw an otter, an eagle, and a few other birds. We’d hoped to see the Northern Lights since someone had posted a picture of them on FB only a week earlier but were shutout. Not a big deal, because the phenomenon is quite rare.

N end Sawbill island site
Our home for three nights
A wilderness meal
Steak, hash browns, & peas for dinner


October colors
We enjoyed peak fall colors on Sawbill
relaxing in camp
I’m researching story ideas. 🙂






A perfect campfire

[If you’d like to see more Boundary Waters pictures, as well as other perks, please sign up for my monthly e-mail newsletter HERE (or on several of my other website pages). No spam, first notice of events, next book release info.

I do other research for my writing too, but traveling and/or getting out into the wilderness is the most visceral and rewarding.

Event Reminders

Next up is my presentation at the Northfield Public Library on Monday, October 21, at 7:00 pm. Geared mainly for writers, but open to all, my topic is titled “Everything you always wanted to know about writing a novel . . . but were afraid to ask.”

Click HERE for the latest updates to my schedule.

As always, you can buy both Straight River and Castle Danger at your local bookstore, or find the e-book versions at your favorite online retailer (print versions are available at many online bookstores too. And, if you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy either or both books, please consider leaving a review at an online site such as or Thanks.

Scroll to Top