Author Katie Schultz has some interesting thoughts about writing “place-based fiction” in an energetic blog called “The Writing Life.” I stumbled on them, and her, while wondering if there were other people who enjoyed setting their fictional stories in actual places.
Clearly, of course, there are. Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Steinbeck should have come immediately to mind, Faulkner too as these writers were a staple in my middle and high school years. (I confess a fondness for pulpier novels nowadays, particularly Florida fiction writers Carl Hiaasen, Randy White and (gulp) Tim Dorsey, but that’s another post.) It’s just that I get so excited at times writing about people’s actual stories and places in the context of my make-believe ones that it never occurs to me that doing so is “burnt-over ground,” so to speak.
Schultz, who is a mentor to writers far and wide, describes her process simply. She buys maps, borrows library books, then pins what she’s learned about a particular place on butcher paper before actually visiting. At least that’s my take of the February 2011 piece I found while Google-searching the words “place-based fiction.”
Her approach initially sounded sort of old-school, given what’s available on-line. I’d have no more idea where to buy a map than a home-made candy bar nowadays, though I do have a personal librarian who is an absolute peach in getting me what I need for W. W. Ronin’s next adventure. The more I thought about it however, the more I realized I was doing nearly the same thing when writing W. W. Ronin Westerns.
My historical fiction books–the Ronin series of Westerns–are set in northern Nevada. And each of them is the benefit of hundreds of dollars of books, many of them out of print, personal visits and interviews, too. The first three books put me on a four-wheeler in the mountains above Carson City in order to get a good look at what used to be the old Bigler Toll Road, from Carson City to Lake Tahoe. A couple of days later, I tipped a man $20 to take a twenty-minute peek at the supposedly haunted remains of an old social club in Virginia City. More so, I’m the only person I know who has ever been in the basement of Bowers Mansion. All in a day’s work, so to speak.
I’m working on the sixth and seventh in the series now. The fifth is with my editor, who is crazy enough to actually read my books in the raw. She sleeps with me, too. I’m that lucky. She’s my wife of course, and while I don’t pay her for services rendered, I’m grateful that the people at the Forest Grove News-Times and the Hillsboro Tribune do.
But listen. I’ve got a detective novella on my desk as well, which takes characters Tommy Valentine and his wife Babbs from Penns Grove, New Jersey to Hanalei on the island of Kauai. It’ll be another year or so, I imagine, before it’s finished. So I’ll need you to buy a few more books to pay for the plane…