Thursday, July 1, 2010

Moving a County Line for my Opening Scene

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.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Love the photos! Really gives a sense of the set up of the location. I take a lot of photos of places I use and post them to Facebook. My readers love seeing where the books are located.

I use both real locations and fictional ones, depending on the purpose and ease of research, but I never use a real business if it involves the murder directly. If it's just a place where characters are shopping or eating, etc. I love to pick real places that readers can see and visit (and they have!) I've never moved physical boundaries, however. As writers, we have a lot of leeway with bending things to our need, but be prepared for readers to call you on it. :)

Peg Brantley said...

I used to live in Salida. Thanks for highlighting a nice community in Colorado.

My fictional town, in both my complete and current project, is near Aspen. As such, I have a little freedom within the town limits, but I'd better get it right when I'm talking about Aspen or Denver or the drive in between.

I was born in Canon City, another small community, near Supermax prison. Visiting relatives (in Canon, not Supermax *wink*) frequently as a child, helped me get a little of the flavor in my new story as well.

Combining fiction with reality seems to work for me. And I wouldn't hesitate to move a county line a tad if necessary.

You go, girl. And good luck on your new series!

Terri Bischoff said...

Several years ago I was reading a series that was set in the town where I went to college. The author changed some roads around and it bugged me. That didn't stop me from reading her books.

Perhaps the county line move could be addressed in the front or end pages of the book.

Cricket McRae said...

Nice photos! I love how you've figured out the exact place where Mandy will find the body.

As for moving the county line, you could mention doing so in the acknowledgements if you're worried about it. I set my mysteries in fictionalized versions of real towns so that people who are familiar with the area(s) recognize pieces of them but can't really call me on changing things around for the story.

btw, Craig Johnson unapologetically moved the entire Cheyenne Indian Reservation from Montana to Wyoming for his Walt Longmire series. I mentioned it to him once but it doesn't bother me.
Hearth Cricket

Darrell James said...

Enjoyed the photos, Beth.

I never use real business names. More often than not my central story location is fully ficitonal but set within the geography of real places (surrounding cities, towns, etc.)thatplay a lesser role in the story.

I enjoy it when authors gprovide notes at the end of a book that gives insights into their decisions on such things.

Carol Grace said...

Beautiful pictures. It's tricky using a real town where real people live who will find any tiny mistake you make. But it sounds like great research fun for you.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Fun to see the photo! I agree that the best way to handle it is with an author's note. I think readers understand the need for deliberate fictional license, but if you don't mention it, some will assume it's an error.

Old World Murder is set at a real historic site, but I took some license in order to simply things for readers. Almost all of the historic structures are real, but I did fabricate one because of the way it's used in the plot--I didn't want visitors asking site staff about the building where such-and-such happened. I explained all of that in the author's note. The site director and other historical society staff reviewed the manuscript, and were fine with that.

Can't wait to read it! I was a river guide, way back in my college days.

Beth Groundwater said...

As most comments have suggested, I plan to mention in the acknowledgements that I deliberately moved the county line. I'm glad to hear that Craig Johnson did something worse, moving a whole Indian reservation, because I do enjoy his books, and that move hasn't detracted from his tales one bit.

Kathleen, where did you do your river guiding? I may use you as a resource in the future!

Peg, I was just in Canon City today, rafting the Royal Gorge with my family and other friends. I'll post about that trip later on my personal blog. Now, we're off to a Whiskey and Beer tasting at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center!

Bonnie said...

Hi Beth,
My novel is set in the middle of Washington State along the mid-Columbia River. I had an advantage of living there for a year working on a contract so I was familiar with the area. However, when my co-author and I were finally picking "the spot" for our fictional dam, I was on Jim's sailboat a long way away from our location. So, I got online and fired up Google Earth and zoomed in. Found the perfect spot with the basalt cliffs we needed and a narrow area in the river for a dam. Emailed my old boss at the company I contracted to and confirmed it was a good spot for a dam. And off we went.

David King said...

In my Colordo based novel, it was neccessary to upgrade Estes Park's Sheriff sub station to a fully operational facility, expand jurisdiction, and change the flow path of a creek. I think that's okay but I will confess in my acknowledgement. I will, however, do research and be accurate in diagnosing some psychological problems.