Now that the introductions have been made, let me tell you a little bit about the big guy. He graces the town of Alexandria, Minnesota, home of the Runestone Museum. (At the time I took this picture, he stood in the street near the museum, but he’s since been moved to a park.) In the early 90s, we took a driving tour of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota and ended up in Alexandria specifically to see the runestone, which I’d read about in a guidebook.
The main feature of this small museum is the Kensington Runestone, discovered in 1898 in the roots of a tree on the Olof Öhman farm near Kensington, MN. (15 miles southwest of Alexandria.) From the moment it was unearthed, this runic artifact, dated 1362, has been controversial. Some claim it’s definitely real, some it’s definitely a hoax. No matter which you believe, it’s a fun place to visit. You can check out the controversial stone as well as enjoy the exhibit on Norse history, the Native American exhibit, a Minnesota wildlife display, and an exhibit on early pioneer life.
What does this have to do with writing, you may ask. The other day I was reading Apple Turnover Murder by Joanne Fluke and ran across a reference to the museum. The daughter of one of the characters was going on a field trip to see it. When I read that, I got all excited. I’ve been there, I thought. I know exactly what she’s talking about. I surprised myself with my reaction to the mere mention of a place I'd visited once.
The book is set in the fictional town of Lake Eden, Minnesota, but somehow the mention of a real place that I’d been to made me sit up and take notice. Odd though it may sound, Lake Eden seemed more real to me.
That got me thinking. Should I be using more real places in my books? My own mystery series is also set in a fictional town—Vista Beach, California. I mention Los Angeles County and Malibu, but nothing as specific as a local museum. Now, I’m wondering if I should occasionally mention a museum, a park, a theater—somewhere that people could actually have visited.
I’m curious. What you do you all think? I don’t know if my reaction was an anomaly or if others have a similar one. Does the mention of a real place in a book set in a fictional town make the story more real to you? Or does it not make a difference?