One of the fun things about being a writer is that you never know where you’ll find inspiration. Saturday, I was so looking forward to my historic homes tour because, though I love old houses, I also needed to have a complete picture in my head of an antebellum mansion for one of my books. And going on this tour delivered in spades!

From the gardens to the infinity edge pool, the 200 yr-old oak trees, the plaster friezes and medallions, the leaded glass, the art gallery (!), and the indoor racketball court, this house had it all. It had the new and the old all meshed together in a home built in 1858. And, this person had more art on the walls of this home (not to mention in the art gallery he’d built) than the official art museum downtown has. In fact, as I was walking through, I saw the original painting of a print I have. Talk about stunned. Who knew?

Though I’d gone to see the house, it was actually the gardens that inspired me. I’d envisioned my antebellum mansion having gardens, but I hadn’t envisioned the gardens to this extent. Now, I know what the sweeping lines look like — the ornamental grasses, the statuary, the fountains, the trees, the benches — and I can remember them while I write.

Of course it’s possible to get your inspiration from a research book, too. I’ve certainly done that when I needed something. For one of my books, I need a jungle. I’ve lived in Hawaii, so I’ve seen jungles of a sort, but I can’t go to a South American jungle for research. Hence the book I bought that details living and traveling through jungles. Cool.

For my Harlequin Presents, THE SPANISH MAGNATE’S REVENGE, I have a bag full of things I got in Madrid — maps, brochures, postcards — and the photos I took. I loved Madrid. What a fabulous, lively place! I’d go back in a heart beat. Maybe my Spanish magnate has a brother who needs a book. Even a friend would do. I’d have an excuse to go explore those art galleries again, to sit in the Plaza Mayor and sip a Tio Pepe.

This July, I’m going to New Orleans for a family trip. I’m looking forward to that because I plan to, you guessed it, use the trip for research. It’s been many years since I’ve been there, and I want to explore the French Quarter, take the River Road trip to see the plantations, and enjoy the local food. I never know what will strike me as something I need for a story, you know?

Do you have any favorite research methods? Do you travel for inspiration? Have you ever used a place you’ve been as a setting, or used an element from it, in your stories? If you could go anywhere to research a setting, where would you go?