THE GOOD GIRL is set in the city and surrounding suburbs of Chicago, as well as the remote wilderness of northern Minnesota. As a Chicagoan, it’s clear why I set the novel here, in my hometown, and yet I’m asked quite frequently: Why Minnesota? Until very recently I had never been to the town of Grand Marais, nor had I traveled along the Gunflint Trail, a heavily wooded highway that traverses northern Minnesota up to the Canadian border. The reason is simple, really: it was about logistics. How I settled upon the small town of Grand Marais, I can’t quite remember anymore, and yet I needed a wilderness outside of Chicagoland, close enough to drive to, and still far enough from civilization to hide without being found.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Grand Marais, Minnesota
When I began working on THE GOOD GIRL, my daughter was an infant and my son was not yet born. I was a stay-at-home mom with a writing hobby. Traveling to Minnesota for research was out of the question, and so I relied on the infinite wealth of information the Internet and libraries had to provide. I learned about the harbor towns of Two Harbors and Grand Marais; I stared for hours at photographs of Minnesota’s scenic North Shore, running along the shores of Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border, a route my characters would have had to travel before arriving at their hiding place. I learned more about the Superior National Forest and the Gunflint Trail, a 57-mile route through the wilderness of northern Minnesota, sprinkled with lakes and the occasional cabin, lodges, outfitters and millions and millions of trees – as well as a bear or two.
Gunflint Trail sign – CopyGunflint Trail 2 – CopyI felt I knew the area inside and out, and yet an overwhelming need to go there in person, to stand on the shores of some inland lake and stare at a scene Colin and Mia may have seen. And so, this summer I convinced my family – my parents and kids – to take a road trip, to pack the car and drive the ten hours from Chicago to northern Minnesota to see it with our own two eyes (make that ten eyes).
What I found was this: it was exactly as I had imagined it to be. That although this was the first time I’d ever stepped foot in the region, I had somehow been here before. I saw streets and landmarks that are featured in THE GOOD GIRL in person, walked down a trail my characters may have explored, and laid eyes on a number of remote cabins, wondering time and again: Is that the one? Is that it?
The isolation is overwhelming; it takes your breath away. As a Chicago native, I’m used to people – and lots of them. What you’ll find in this region of northern Minnesota is anything but. The town of Grand Marais boasts of population of less than 1500, a number that shrinks significantly as you travel up along the Gunflint Trail. And yet the scenery is breathtaking. You are truly at one with nature. Along the trail, we spotted a bear and moose – and a lone cat, which, for anyone who knows me well, knows was quite a thrill.
As launch day draws near, I feel as if my experience is much more complete now that I have made the journey to Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail. I can’t remember the day I sat down at my computer and typed the words Grand Marais for the first time, or what Internet search I performed to come up with the quaint Minnesota town and its surrounding wilderness. The photos don’t do it justice. You must see it with your own eyes, breathe in the scent of pine that fills the air, and tremble at the notion of walking along a path where a bear resides. You must stand on a hill high in the Sawtooth Mountains and overlook a profusion of lakes and trees, and dine with the natives of Grand Marais to know what this region is all about.
I’m so glad I did.