Fooled You

I’m thinking about April Fool’s Day today — and about the difference between playing straight and fooling people, the difference between true and false, the difference between nonfiction and romance. It’s not just on April 1st that we play around with those!

The whole thing comes particularly to mind now, as I’m trying to fit together my memories with the here and now reality of eastern Nevada. My current work in progress is placed there, and since I had a break between quarters at the college where I teach part-time, I flew west to Utah, where my sister lives, and the two of us have driven half a day further west and are spending a couple of days wandering around the place where my fictional world is established.

So how true does my fictional world have to be? I’ve invented a town, — there are those who can write about real places, and do it well, but I don’t think I’m one of them. For one thing, I need the freedom to have streets and houses in places they might not actually exist. But my town has to feel real to people who live in the surrounding area. I can’t exactly dump a shopping mall in a place that relies on a somewhat updated general store.  Or vice versa!  When I say the desert, sagebrush and all, comes up to the edge of town, that had better be close to reality. After all, you don’t want people to feel you’re about to shout out, “April Fool!”

So here I am, with my sister, driving down long ribbons of narrow highway in places where I can’t imagine freeways will ever exist, empty space stretching to distant mountains on both sides. There are people living here, but not on the sides of these roads. Some people do live in the scattered towns, but there are also dirt tracks leading off into the emptiness. In reality — as in my imagination — there are people living at the ends of those dirt tracks.

It’s my job, my delight, to imagine the lives down those tracks. Right now, I’m lucky enough to be seeing real ones. But as April goes on, my memory of the sagebrush, the tracks, and the vastness of the space will get jiggered into the places I need them to be while I write in suburban Michigan, with cars driving past my house and people’s voices outside.

Truth or fiction? What is your writing life like? Where do we place the line as we write? Is it more fun to escape, or to stay with what’s familiar?

Isn’t that the pleasure of being a writer? We create a world half real, half imagined, that readers can dive into — and only as they turn the last page gradually return to the reality of whatever their lives might be.  Which is, I suppose, a kind of April Fool.  So happy April Fool’s Day to all of us.  May that line between reality and our imaginations remain deliciously blurred!

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5 Responses

  1. I have a small town that is fictional in East Texas – that’s where my stories for Superromance are set. That being said, I do use real places – cities and towns nearby in order to root the reader to the local. I also have part of the first one set in Vegas. I mixed real places like the Bellagio with fabricated places like 39 Palms – the fancy restuarant they eat in.

    I think it’s easier to fabricate towns because you don’t get them wrong.

    Happy April Fools!

  2. I like fabricated towns too. Usually I take a ‘real town’, change the name, change the streets, etc. Since I’m such a visual person, the concreteness of using something real helps me.

  3. Yep. I do fabricated towns. or if I use a real town, I fabricate my hotel. Such as in my wip, the first chapter is in Vegas and they’re in a hotel I created.

    the rest of the story is set in small town, backwoods Arkansas. I’ll cite it around real towns, but I haven’t decided which ones exactly.

  4. Interesting to see what everyone else does! Just got back last night, and my mind is still full of the beauty of the middle of Nevada — far enough north from Vegas and east of Reno, etc. so that it’s empty and spacious and has the most gorgeous mountains. I’d forgotten the mountains.

    Since more of my WIP takes place in the open spaces I was enormously encouraged to see that they still exist — even found a ranch that looks something like the massive ranch I’m planning. Without being out there I would never have realized that the long-standing ranches have well-established trees. Windbreaks, I’d imagine — that and maybe just wanting something around taller than a building, something that isn’t a mountain!

    Glad to see I’m not the only one with fabricated towns. Have to go back and rewrite some, because I have my town two hours from Ely, and you cannot go two hours away from Ely in any direction without going through mountain passes. So this research trip worked out well . . .

  5. In the story I am currently writing, I am using a real town, but the name of it will be different. The names of the businesses in the town will be named differently as well. I love getting into the story like that-actually going to the city where your story takes place and having a look around! It makes me want to write more!

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