I write the Murder-by-Month mysteries set in the real town of Battle Lake, Minnesota. I was living in Battle Lake when I started May Day, the first in the series. The town was an inspiration to me, both an attractant and a repellent in a way that only a small community can be. I wanted to vent about the gossip, praise the sense of community, explore the humor, mine what caused me and so many other small town refugees to end up right back where we started, or close enough.
I might be dumb, but I'm not stupid. All the locations where people are murdered are fictional. All the real locations I describe in only positive terms. Almost all the characters are fictional, amalgamations of thoughts, experience, and imagination. The rare occasions I use a real person's name in the book, it's by request, and they're never the bad (or dead) guy.
And so tell me why, whenever I do a signing in or around Battle Lake, I have so many people convinced that I've written about them, or their friend, or their relative?
Have we met? I'll ask.
No, they'll say. But you must have heard about me because there I am, the friend of the killer, all the way through the book.
Do you have the same name as the friend of the killer? I'll ask.
Look like them?
No, but she's married to the town accountant and so am I. And I want to know who told you he's been cheating on me.
Yikes. I've heard some version of this story at least five times. It's flattery, my friends tell me. You've written such archetypal small town characters that people actually feel they know them. But I can't quite get there because I hate that someone feels like my books expose them, no matter how unfounded that feeling is.
Giving the town a fictional name would have lessened that reaction, certainly, but I never even considered the idea. Battle Lake is a magical place, and I knew the books had to be set there. It wouldn't be as good of a series if they weren't. And so, I write on, certain that even if I create a character who is a one-legged, black-eyed, Albanian, red-haired National Geographic photographer, at my next Battle Lake signing, someone with red hair will be there asking why I put them in my book.
Is this a problem? What causes it? Anyone else experience it?