Monday, October 1, 2012

But The Building Was There When I Wrote The Damn Thing!

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

Writing and reading humorous mystery novels involves a lot of suspension of belief. After all, how many dead bodies does a real paralegal encounter in his or her career?  Not many, I can assure you. In fact, in my nearly 40 year career in the legal biz, I've encountered exactly ZERO. Yet, Odelia Grey, the middle-aged, plus size paralegal star of my Odelia Grey mysteries, stumbles upon the dead with disturbing regularity.

And when Emma Whitecastle of my Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries has an enounter with a surly ghost, do readers rise up and scream, "That would never happen?"

Thankfully, not.

But when it comes to other details in my books, I like to make them as realistic as possible. I might put an occassional warehouse or store where one doesn't exist, but most details in my novels are as real as I can get them and I enjoy the challenge of weaving fact and fiction together. If fact collides with fiction, it's usually fact that will win and the fiction will be revised.

A tour guide for Julian
When I wrote my first Ghost of Granny Apples mystery, Ghost a la Mode, I went into great detail about the town of Julian, California. Reading the book is almost like taking a guided tour of the town. The names of the restaurants, hotels, and streets are exactly as they would be if you visited Julian today. The cemetary is where it should be; even some of the grave markings. The hotel room at the Julian Hotel where Emma stays is spot on down to the comforter on the bed. In the book, Emma and Phil Bowers have their first kiss in a public pay toilet behind City Hall.  Guess what? There really are public pay toilets behind City Hall.

But if you go looking for Granny's homestead or the Bower's Ranch, good luck. Those are totally fabricated. Although one reader who lives in Julian thought she knew exactly where they would be from my description of the roads, and she was correct. I drove around Julian until I found the perfect location for those places and took a lot of photos. Other readers have visited Julian and reported back how much fun it was to retrace Emma's steps - yes, even to the pay toilets!

If after reading Gem of a Ghost a reader was inclined to visit Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, she would be able to take a tour of the Old Jail, eat at the same restaurant, or stay at the same hotel as Emma.

And the same goes for the Odelia Grey books. In the recently released Hide and Snoop, Odelia visits the Olympic Spa on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles. I've been to that very same spa many times.

I'm even a stickler about timing. If Odelia is going from point A to point B on the Southern California freeway system, the freeways are accurate, as are the travel times and traffic jams. She doesn't magically make it from Orange County to the westside of Los Angeles in 20 minutes.

In my pursuit of details, I've called many police and sheriff stations to get the facts right. After all, if a body is found in Laguna Canyon, who has jurisdiction? Turns out it depends on where in Laguna Canyon the body is dumped. I've called the Avalon Harbor Master. Newspapers. I've e-mailed former police officers and doctors. All in the pursuit of getting it right.  And I love the research behind the details, especially when I travel to fun places like Catalina and Las Vegas.

I may write fiction, but I'm not into being too far-fetched, except for those pesky dead bodies.  As much as possible, I want readers to read a book and say "I know that place! I've been there!"

But reality can also bite you on the butt.

When I first wrote Curse of the Holy Pail, the 2nd book in my Odelia Grey series, the finale took place at the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, California. By the time the book was being edited for publication, the museum had been moved to Branson, Missouri (it has since closed in Branson). I could have kept the location and inserted an editor's note at the back, but instead chose to revise the ending to make it more realistic. When the book was published by Midnight Ink the finale took place at Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Who knew they would up and move an entire museum!

1 comment:

Vikki Jeanne said...

I try to make my details in synch with reality, too, but when I wrote *The Wading Place,* I researched many Indian tribes without being comfortable with using any of them for the storyline for fear of offending someone in these politically correct times. Subsequently, I made up my own tribe and even some of the words they used though I borrowed and tweaked certain rituals and ideas from real tribes. I have been amused and surprised by how many people have commented on my *well researched* book. I accept the compliments because I *did* research: I just adjusted what I found and injected a huge dose of imagination! :) ♥