I’ve come to writing fiction from a curious place. In college and for many years after, I worked in journalism where reality was everything and accuracy was paramount — contrary to what many people think of the media these days.
The first time, way back in 1980, when I sat down at a typewriter — yes, folks, a typewriter — to try my hand at writing a romance, I spent a very long time staring at the blank page wondering where my notes were. Where, for instance, were the facts of the story? Where were the quotes? When I mentioned this to a friend, they laughed. “You get to make them up!”
I can’t tell you how long it took me to get used to that concept, that I could create an entire fictional world in which people said and did exactly what I told them to. Men, especially. What a joy there was in that!
Over the years and more than 100 books later, I’ve created a lot of fictional communities, but the truth is that even now, they’re based solidly in some aspect of my reality. The setting for Amazing Gracie, a reissue of one of my favorite books, due in stores December 29 is a perfect example. Though the town itself is pure fiction, it is most definitely surrounded and influenced by real places.
The Victorian house which Gracie desperately wants for a bed and breakfast is, in fact, loosely modeled on Riverhurst, a lovely old Victorian on the river in my childhood summer home, Colonial Beach, Virginia, where I still spend half of my year. Riverboat, which Kevin’s aunt delights in visiting to bet on horse races, actually exists in Colonial Beach, though the building has changed since the story was written thanks to the devastating effects of Hurricane Isabel a few years back.
I love this blending of reality and fiction. I think it adds to the atmosphere of a book. Locals, who can readily identify certain landmarks, seem to take a certain pride in recognizing things from their neighborhood. Folks unfamiliar with the area seem inspired to visit.
In one of my series, also set in a small riverside town in Virginia, the local cafe is called Earlene’s. In reality, in Colonial Beach, we have Lenny’s. Yet whenever my goddaughter comes from Ohio to visit with her family, she insists we have breakfast at Earlene’s.
Of course, there’s a danger in blending reality and fiction. When mentioning real places, I do it only in the most positive light. You can be guaranteed if I’m being critical of a place, it doesn’t exist in reality. The same is true of people. I don’t use real ones, though I may have my thoughts about who inspired certain characters. I will never in a million years own up to it.
So, I encourage you, if you read Amazing Gracie and fall in love with the town, come to Colonial Beach next summer and I promise you’ll spot many of the sights from the book. I can’t, however, promise you’ll meet anyone half as sexy, though, as Kevin. If he were around, I would have snapped him up long ago.