I love doing research. One of the joys of writing is my freedom to choose subjects that interest me, then read, surf the Internet and travel to find out everything I need to know. Okay, sometimes I just want to know things because I do. I know, as I’m delving deeper and deeper that I will never use the facts I’m uncovering, but I just can’t seem to stop. It’s either too much fun or early signs of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’m not taking any bets.
In June I had the pleasure of visiting Asheville, North Carolina for a week. Asheville is not unfamiliar to me. As our children were growing up our family spent portions of nearly every summer in Western North Carolina, and a son moved to Asheville the moment he was able, where he worked, completed college and began his own business. Now he’s a tried and true member of the community, with an extra bedroom for his mom when she needs an Asheville fix. Grown children settling down in beautiful places are one of the childbearing bonuses no one mentions.
When I was planning my newest series my brainstorming buddies, aware of my connection to the city, suggested Asheville as the setting. I knew they were right. Asheville is picturesque, multicultural, and unique. The things I didn’t know could be discovered, plus I have my son and old friends who will be only too glad to answer questions. So in June, I set out to see if my optimism was founded. Would I be able to do a credible job of representing the area?
Authors are faced with many tasks when they begin a story. One of them is how true to life they’ll need to be. Here’s an example: The first scene of my novel takes place in a park on a playground. I wrote the scene before I made my trip last week. I described a typical park, with just enough detail that I thought I’d be safe. But no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find all the elements I’d used in just one park. The elements were there, but split between two parks I visited. So, do I name a real park to give the scene more authenticity while simultaneously setting myself up for emails that say: “There is no Blankety-Blank in Doo-Dah Park?” Or do I simply name a section of the city and hope nobody’s that picky? This is fiction, after all, and my merger of two will not defund the city’s parks and recreation department.
Or how about discovering that Trust and Luck, two nearby townships with names that fascinated me the moment I heard them, aren’t laid out exactly the way I envisioned them. Can I move actual townships? Just a little? Redesign roads leading off them? Expand their boundaries? What must I be true to? What can I fudge?
These questions will haunt me as I write. But they are small problems compared to the big one that makes most authors break out in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. What about all the things I think I know that I really don’t? All the mistakes waiting around the corner because I’ve never thought about them? Those blithe convictions that are teetering on a mountain ledge as I’m leaning over to erroneously name distant peaks, none the wiser?
I do love research. I do love Asheville. I do love fiction. I’ll throw all that in the cast iron kettle of my imagination and stir and stir. The result? A pack of lies or a sterling depiction? We shall see.