My upcoming Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series with Midnight Ink stars 27-year-old river ranger Mandy Tanner and is set in the real community of Salida, Colorado, where Mandy lives. She works for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) patrolling the whitewater sections of the upper Arkansas river, pulling people out of the river as needed--some of whom are dead. ;-)
The series will debut with Deadly Currents in March, 2011, and I'm finishing up the manuscript for the second book, which I've tentatively titled Wicked Eddies. I had some final location scouting to do for that book before I turned it in, so my husband and I headed out to Salida from our Colorado Springs home the Friday before last to check out some sites. Wicked Eddies kicks off in Chapter One with Mandy finding the dead body of a fly fisherman in an AHRA campground along the river. I'd chosen the Vallie Bridge campground from the list of campgrounds on the park website because it was along a quieter section of the river more popular for fly fishing than for whitewater rafting and it was a primitive tent-only campground.
The first photo shows the campground from the bridge that crosses the river from highway 50 to the day use area connected to the campground. The day use area has a couple of picnic tables, pit toilets and changing rooms, and a parking lot. Campers are supposed to walk into the campground along a path from that day use area, or if they are traveling by boat, there are wood posts sunk into the ground near the river for boats to tie up to. There's also a nice man-made eddy showing in the photo as a line of white rocks in the river, providing a quiet pool for boats to swing into and beach.
As you can see, the campground is deserted, on the busiest weekend in Salida--the weekend during which the First in Boating on the Arkansas (FIBArk) festival was taking place. Perfect! All the other campgrounds I checked along the river were teeming with people, RVs and whitewater boats.
The second photo shows a tiny me standing by the river, where Mandy will be when she first gets out of her raft. The third shows the view Mandy will have from that spot. The large trees are Peachleaf Willows, and the far one in front of the back fence of the campground is the one under which Mandy will find the body.
The fourth photo shows me pretty much where Mandy will be when she sees the body. It will be hidden in a dark, shaded depression behind the tree so people going by on the highway or river won't notice it, and Mandy will smell it before seeing it. Again perfect!
The fifth photo shows the brush near a stile separating the day use area from the path to the campground, a perfect place for the killer to throw something away that gets found later. Everything was fitting nicely with the scene I'd already written from photos of the campground posted on the AHRA website.
The only problem was that the AHRA campground map didn't include county lines. I realized after we got there that the Vallie Bridge campground is in Fremont County, not Chaffee County. Mandy works with a detective from the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office in Deadly Currents. I wanted her to work with the same detective in Wicked Eddies and had already written him into a lot of the scenes. What to do?
Well, as the title of this post says, I moved the county line about 10 miles south in the book so the campground will be in the jurisdiction of the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office! This is fiction, after all, even though I am setting the series in real Colorado locations.
I'm sure I'm not the only fiction author who has conveniently distorted reality when it serves the plot. And I've done it before. To avoid slandering an existing business by setting a murder or drug deal or some other nefarious activity there, I have created imaginary businesses in the real towns where I set my fiction.
Have you read a fiction book set in a real location you're familiar with, where something in the book wasn't real? Have you written a fiction book set in a real location where you're changed something to fit your story. Tell us about it!
PS. I've posted a companion post to this one at my blog that shows pictures of the FIBArk festival and of the Book Haven bookstore in Salida that hosted me for a signing that evening.