This'll be more than one post because it has so many factors. Hopefully, you'll see something interesting for your own writing or another project you're working on.
I keep all of my research notes in Microsoft's One Note, an app well-suited to collecting and organizing content. This morning I looked back to my first entry for the Shoes project. It's dated Saturday, February 20, 2010, almost eight years ago!
As with most of the Shoes project, I rely on inspiration and intuition to point me in the right direction. So I see in that first note that I'd already chosen names for Father Ambrose and Mother Francine, as well as the title for the book.
I must have known I wanted the setting to be in rural California, because my next notes have to do with understanding the structure of the County Sheriffs Offices there. Somewhere in the middle of that study, Sheriff Charlie Cormley's name came to me, and I began to create an org chart for his office.
I also started looking at the physical layout and local geography of (predominantly) agricultural counties and towns in Northern California. I ended up creating a fictional county and town because I needed the freedom to invent places and communities that were "right" for the storyline.
New Life Ecumenical Retreat has many elements in common with my own spiritual community, but also many differences. One big difference is that New Life supports itself on the land. I started looking at monastic communities with that focus. One that I looked at in depth was the Abbey of New Clairvaux - see its Wikipedia entry here.
I'll talk some more in future blogs about how New Clairvaux's existence informed my understanding of Father Ambrose's world.