Were you describing real places in this book? What do you consider the benefits and consequences of using real places?
You know I was just talking about this subject last week with a local woman who had read 18 Seconds and tells me that she knows not only the doctor that I was writing about in the first chapter but she was pretty sure that she knew the property that I was describing -- with two stone pillars in front -- on Route 711 in Westmoreland County. I drive up and down Route 711 quite a bit now that I live near it, but at the time that I wrote 18 Seconds, I was drawing from my memory of one trip when I was a kid. I’ve been told that I got the character of Sewickly, Pennsylvania exactly right, and I’ve never been there.
I mix real places that I know with real places that I don’t, and I pepper it all with some fictitious names of places that are real (for example, the fictitious town of Waterdrum in Last Breath is a vamped-up version of a real place called Ohiopyle). The clear benefit of using real places in fiction is to give the reader a point of reference. A little bit of truth lends a lot of authority to a story, just as a little bit of truth lends a lot of authority to a lie. I am not talking about credibility here - this really is fiction and I know that people who pick up a book know the difference. The point is a little bit of fact can go a long way. And fans have fun with it. Recently I received a photo of a book club standing on the boardwalk at Wildwood, New Jersey, all holding a copy of 18 Seconds. It was fun and creepy for them to look under the boardwalk with my villain in mind. They’re waiting to get Sherry’s travel itinerary for the next book. On the not-so-positive side, I would like to put a disclaimer on the jacket of my books: DO NOT USE THIS BOOK FOR DRIVING DIRECTIONS; IT IS FICTION. Maybe one percent of the readers who live where the story takes place will take issue with the geographical accuracy of the book. They get so stuck in the reality of place that they can’t enjoy the story. For everyone else, if the author is doing his job right and pulling the reader along, each reader gets an idea of the place and then fills in the missing pieces of place with things and locations that they know.