"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

If it's fiction, does that mean it's not true?

They say the worst liars are the people who blend a lie in with the truth. You can assume, with people who lie all the time, that they are lying each time they open their mouths. But when they tell the truth most of the time, but mix one lie in every once in awhile, how do you know which statement was true and which one was false?

When I started writing Freezer Burn, I knew I wanted to set it in Placentia. Call me crazy (no, it's okay, I've been called worse), but I knew which house I wanted Benny to live in, knew Peri's neighborhood, knew where they'd have lunch and get takeout and get gas in their cars. I've lived in Placentia since 1984, albeit in three different houses. If you'd asked me five years ago why, I'd have told you it was purely accident. Nowadays, I call it an instinctual accident. Let's face it - Placentia is a teeny little 'burb in north Orange County, engulfed by other, bigger 'burbs. But every time I needed to move, I looked around at the neighboring cities, then my gut called me home to Placentia. It's where I belonged.

The good thing about setting a fictional story in a real place is, you know the place well. I can drive you down real streets and take you to real places without having to make up new names. The bad thing is, you're afraid people will take umbrage if you don't represent their town well.

Some towns are huge and can take the heat. I doubt if anyone in Chicago reads J.A. Konrath's books and thinks, "That hoser - the way he tells it, Chi-town's littered with the bodies left by all the serial killers." Even the Irvine and Newport Beach areas of south Orange County don't whine that Dean Koontz is making them sound like they're all in imminent danger of some supernatural evil. As a matter of fact, they kinda like Dean down south.

When I was dropping people and clues and bodies around Placentia, I confess to a small worry. What if the Placentia citizens don't want bank managers with gambling problems, or sociopathic day care workers living in their borders? (Note: these are just examples, not actual characters.)

So I mixed things up a bit. For example, I set quite a few scenes at the Homeless Intervention Shelter, or HIS House. I am proud of our community serving the homeless in this way, and the setting fit in with a character who is down on her luck. But I gave the home a big grassy backyard, and I completely made up the interiors. Benny's house is in an actual location, but I changed the name of the church next door, and I took the basic house and exaggerated the style.

Now, of course, I'm wondering if I should have stayed more true to life, or should have renamed Placentia, like Sue Grafton in her Kinsey Mulhone series. She renamed Santa Barbara to Santa Teresa, except that everyone who reads her books knows it's really Santa Barbara so what was the point?

Anyway, whether you are a reader or writer, which do you prefer? Can you take your reality with a teaspoon of fiction, or does it bother you to know a neighborhood and have the author change a restaurant's name? I'd really like to know.

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of things today:

1. I have a short story in the anthology series, Missing, from Echelon Press. Proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and it's ON SALE NOW. Buy it and read a bunch of cool stories by good authors, and earn some good karma by helping a worthy cause!

2. Has Karen Syed (publisher and queen of Echelon) got a deal for you! TODAY ONLY, buy ANY book/download for $3 or more from http://echelonpress.com/directory.htm and receive a FREE download of your choice! Don't wait!

3. This Friday (Feb. 6) is National Wear Red Day in recognition of women beating heart disease. So put on your red hat, or ruby slippers, or scarlet letter, and send a picture of yourself to Karen (echelonpress@comcast.net) for her wall of honor. C'mon, it'll be a fun way to call attention to an important health issue.

4 comments:

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I enjoy reading stories set in my hometown, Boulder. When they go eat at Jax Fish House I'm right there with them.

I'm setting my current book in Boulder, in 2065.

It might not make many friends with the locals.

Dana Fredsti said...

I set MFH in Emerald cove, which is a fictionalized version of La Jolla. That way I could make it as close to real as I wanted...but play with the facts when it suited the story!

Rebecca Camarena said...

I wish I knew how you got yourself out of your cubicle as you say in your profile. I work in the cubicle environment, but moving forward with writing. If only....

Gayle Carline said...

Rebecca - I wish there was a magic wand to wave over your chains and set you free, but there isn't. My hubby agreed that we could survive on his income while I stayed home and 1) wrote, 2) looked after our son, and 3) tended to my horses. My son was in 6th grade at the time (he's 16 now), but these years have turned out to be more crucial than his infant days, just to be in the same room with him when he has a question about life.

Keep writing, and good luck!

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