When it comes to writing, I lean toward realism, both in my characters and in my settings. That’s just my thing. I like doing research. And I’m a stickler for accuracy. I really hate fudging facts to make them fit. But what happens when things just don’t line up the way you want them to?
My latest novel, which I’m just wrapping up, takes place in northern British Columbia along Highway 16. This highway has a troubled history and it plays a pivotal role in the story. The problem is, there are only a specific number of small towns along the route. And in terms of location, none of them worked out perfectly. One was perfect in terms of atmosphere but too far away from the area where I wanted my crime scene to be; another was close to the right marshy area but didn’t have the amenities I needed.
I must have spent days studying satellite maps of the area, searching for the best spot to ditch a car where it wouldn’t be found for two decades. I uncovered lots of places where the topography was ideal but none near the town I had originally chosen as my home base.
Finally it occurred to me, d’uh, why not create a fictional town which combined everything I need? Plenty of authors do this, especially when it comes to smaller towns, so I’m kind of embarrassed that I didn’t think of it before. In fact, as I discovered, writing about a real town is not the same as writing about a large city like Toronto or Vancouver; it’s far more personal, and I worried about misrepresentation or getting something wrong or pissing someone off.
And so blue-collar Alton, BC, nestled in the Bulkley Valley, population 3200 was born. For me it turned out to be the best solution. Alton satisfies my need for realism, because it’s essentially a real place but situated in slightly different surroundings, while allowing me the creative flexibility I need to make the story work. I only wished I’d done it from the beginning.