Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Road Trip!

Blechta writing

After a summer that was far too busy with my outside work to do much of anything except look longingly out windows at the beautiful weather, I'm finally taking a week off. Yes, don't tell me that I should have gone up to Alaska to hang out with all the crime writing types at Bouchercon. With a book coming out next spring and deadlines beginning to loom large, I have to get serious about finishing research on it.

Now, the odd thing here is that I furiously wrote the book last spring in 11 action-packed weeks. Don't ask me how I did this, because all I remember at the end is that I felt like someone had hit me repeatedly in the face with a shovel. But finish it I did!

Then all sorts of "outside" things started bombarding me: my duties as president of Crime Writers of Canada, organizing a celebrity book reading at the Toronto Reference Library (a really large and ultimately thankless task), various gigs with the band I currently tootle on trumpet for. Before I knew it, summer was drawing to a close and I had this HUGE research gap in my novel staring me right in the face.

Let me explain a bit. The last third of the book is set in Northern California, in and near a little city called Portola. Never hear of it? Neither had I until I decided this would be the setting. I did a fair bit of research on the Internet about the place and its nearby environs. I even found someone who'd driven through it and actually eaten a meal there. My good friend and fellow author, Simon Wood, help out with a bit of extra knowledge since he lives more nearby to Portola than I do (California as opposed to Ontario).

All this is to day that I have never visited the place I've written about. Having almost made that mistake once before with _Cemetery of the Nameless_, I'm not about to mess around and fake it. With my luck, this new novel, _A Case of You_, will finally achieve a big breakthrough and get reviewed in the _New York Times_ and it will turn out that the reviewer is a Portola native. Having gotten a whole whack of things wrong, this reviewer would then gleefully tear my novel to shreds -- and I wouldn't blame her/him. In my opinion, a writer has an unspoken covenant with readers not to fake things. In crime writing you can lie all over the place (and should) in telling your story, but if you're going to write about real places, you darn well better know what you're talking about. The more I write, the more I believe this.

So next week, it's off to Portola I go. I fly into Reno on Tuesday and will spend Wednesday and Thursday in Portola and the hills behind it, getting the flavour of the place and what it looks and feels like firmly planted in my head. With what I learn, I will then have to fix all the things in my novel caused by my temporary faking of the place. I only hope that I haven't written myself into too many corners. There are some very specific things I need for my story and I _think_ they're in Portola and the hills. My one really great fear is that I will discover that they aren't there. With the shortness of my trip, I don't have much time to find alternatives. That's a pretty frightening prospect.

The only way out then is to lie completely and make up a town in Northern California and that's always something fraught with its own dangers.

Wish me luck!


Vicki Delany said...

Thank you for organizing the event at the reference library. In fact if you get a copy of In the Shadow of the Glacier and read the acknowledgements you'll see that you are not entirely unthanked.

Rick Blechta said...

Yeah, Vicki, but you "get it" and so many other people don't. (That's one of the pleasures of working with you!) Thanks for the kindness.

And I am certainly looking forward to reading your latest.