A few weeks ago, I did a signing at a local bookstore where, the following night, author Rick Bragg was scheduled. If you've never heard him speak, treat yourself the next time he's in your town and go hear him. That guy has got some stories to tell. Anyway, the next night I drove out to see him, and as soon as I walked in the store, the manager ran up to me and said, "I'm so glad you're here. Two ladies who thought your signing was tonight are over there getting your books."
Both were delightful, mother and daughter, and I was having a great time talking to them until something the Mom said sent a chill up my spine which shot immediately into my stomach and lodged, jiggled and gurgled uncomfortably, like I'd eaten too many green apples. "We both loved the setting of your first book so much," she said, and here comes the jiggle part, "...that we took our whole family down on vacation to see the places you wrote about."
Gulp. "Ah-blee, ah-blee-uh...huh?" Not sure those were my exact words as I was distracted by roiling waves of nausea and twinges of fear and guilt.
The thing is, my books are set in a somewhat magical forest. Not magical like a Disney movie. The trees and little animals don't talk or sing in English or sew dresses or anything like that. But odd things happen there, due to a small population of ghostly beings and possibly other supernatural entities as yet unknown. I do use a real place, Dismals Canyon, and some of its unusual features as inspiration for my make-believe forest, and both it and surrounding areas are indeed beautiful, just as I say in the books.
The problem is, writers lie. I especially lie about places. Some people like to write and read about places they know well, say, a certain city with certain parks or landmarks in the book. That's not what I do. I take the best or most interesting aspect of many places and swirl them around to create an imaginary place I hope the reader will find appealing. What I do is more like an abstract painting, rather than a real-life map with grids and everything just right.
So I worry that visitors to the places that inspired me will be disappointed. I feel guilty because I'm responsible for sending them on a trip to see something that isn't there. Or, isn't all together in one place. Or, might be only in my head. Once I get deep into a story, it's hard to tell anymore.
This is on my mind tonight because just yesterday, I got an email from an old friend who also decided to go down and visit the forest with a few buds. Eeek! Okay, okay. I can handle this. It's fiction. Readers understand that fiction means not real. They do. Of course they do. They know I lie like a dog when it comes to writing.