Sunday, August 21, 2011

WELCOME TO JEFFERSON COUNTY


I moved to a small town in Humboldt County, California almost ten years ago, and I’ve wanted ever since to write about Humboldt’s amazing geography, its scenery, its history, its economy, and mainly its people. The trouble is, I write fiction—mystery fiction—in which people get killed and things sometimes get ugly. I didn’t want to paint my home town and my home county in a bad light, and I didn’t want to get in trouble with friends who don’t understand the difference between “normal” life, where conflict is to be avoided or quickly resolved, and fiction, where conflict is required and even relished.

So how could I celebrate this remarkable place, this land of rocky coastline, rugged mountains, and forests of towering redwood trees; this gentle balance between meadows full of peaceful dairy cows, fishing harbors, town squares, friendly taverns, and Victorian houses; a land rich with the history of lumbering, salmon fishing, and Native American culture? Not to mention the illegal cash crop for which Humboldt County is best known. Can’t leave that out.

Problem: I don’t want to tick off the authorities. Do I want the county sheriff, the city police, or the town council to get their feelings hurt by this newcomer, this mystery writer, who thinks law enforcement can sometimes be inept or corrupt? No way.

Problem: I don’t want to do a lot of research on the history of Humboldt County and try to get it right but inevitably get it wrong in the eyes of some local historians, because the history of this county is to a large extent a matter of contention.

So I’ve done what we all do in this business. Made it up from scratch. Forget research. Forget the facts. I kept the salmon fishing and the logging and the Native presence and the scenery. I kept the mountains, the redwood forests, and the rocky beaches, the town square and the friendly bar. But I have peopled the place with fictional characters who have somehow become realer to me than the people I meet on the streets, roads, and trails when I’m not writing.

Novelists get to do that, and it feels powerful and fun. We are historians of feuds, fights, and fanfares that never happened. We tell the truth about a bunch of lies. We dial up the drama of “reality,” in the interest of entertainment. And sometimes people get hurt. Some even get killed. Too bad. Some people fall in love. That’s nice, unless it’s also too bad. Love and death. It happens to us all.

And in fictional Jefferson County, California, up in Redwood Country between the rocky Pacific shore and the Jefferson Alps, you’ll find love and death in high gear. I invite you to come and visit me in Jefferson County, by reading my new mystery novel, Behind the Redwood Door, in late November, when it will be published by the wonderful folks at Oak Tree Press.

30 comments:

Anne K. Albert said...

"I have peopled the place with fictional characters who have somehow become realer to me than the people I meet on the streets, roads, and trails when I’m not writing."

So true! My characters are also real to me. They are friends and sometimes people who feel like family. They make me laugh, make me cry, make me cringe, and shake my head. And sometimes they find a dead body or two. ;-)

Who could ask for more?!

Beth Anderson said...

Nice blog, John! I hope to visit there someday. I just moved to the upper northwest, Washington and it's as if I've been here all my life, except for the winding mountain roads. I, too, will have books set here in the future. Best of luck with your upcoming one, I can't wait to read it.

C.K.Crigger said...

Excellent post, John. I've been known to invent whole towns and set them down in my little corner of N. Idaho, E. Washington. Protect the innocent. Isn't that what we do when writing crime? Like you, I use the natural setting, but have the freedom to invent characters, (maybe composites of the locals? They'll never know.) settings, and events. Isn't writing fiction fun?

Carol
Two Feet Below

Alice Duncan said...

Oh, yeah! I have Pasadena, CA, in some of my books, but since they're set in the twenties I can get away with it. I have another series set in Roswell, NM, but I call it Rosedale :-)

Marcia Meier said...

Wish I could be there for the reading, John. I know the novel will be a smash hit.

Marja McGraw said...

I loved your line about telling the truth about a bunch of lies. I never thought about it, but you're absolutely right.

Wonderful blog, and it always helps to know that other authors have the same thoughts I do from time to time.

Angela Roe said...

Makes perfect sense to me! I try to take the things about my environment that I love and drop them into a made-up town filled with made-up (mostly) people to minimize the complaints of inaccuracies. It works well for me!

john M. Daniel said...

Thanks, everybody. I think many writers are inspired by real settings, yet most of us are willing to sacrifice historical and geographical facts for the sake of a good yarn--and also to stay out of trouble with the local authorities.

Kit Sloane said...

I live south of John in Northern CA's Lake County. We have the smallest population of any CA county, a beautiful lake, and lots and lots of grapes and scenery. It's high desert country and I love it. (High desert means it ALWAYS gets cool at night!)
The first book of mine that was published, FINAL CUT in 2000, is set here. Two ladies in their eighties paid a formal call on us! They lived on a 600-acre ranch at the end of our road. I was amazed by the two sisters. They kept interrupting each other to comment on one or another husband with "oh, I never liked him," and "What was his name again?" and when they left I said I had to put them in one of my stories.
One of the little ladies fixed me with steely blue eyes and said, "Fine. Just don't make us VICTIMS," and, though they'd passed away before the book came out, I didn't make them victims at all! I think they would have enjoyed the scary characters they became!
I did use their property and descriptions of our beautiful country, as well.
Fiction is fun!

Kit
www.kitsloane.net

Lesley Diehl said...

And that's the fun of writing, isn't it? You can create your own world leaving jsut enough room for your reader to add his or her own imagination. It sounds like a good read.

Augie said...

John, congrats on your newest novel, I will be looking for it. You are so right, one never wants to victimize the town where they live mainly because of backlashes or hurt feelings as well as disclosures, but we are writers and fiction is our 'cup of soup,'but we have to be responsible and respectable. The series that I'm working on will affect close ties, but I made sure that the names were changed and fictionalized many situations. I'm sure the reader will be able to somewhat identify themselves, what can I say 'truth at times is bitter-sweet.' Keep plugging those words out for I love reading stories placed from the NW.

jrlindermuth said...

It's wonderful to have this god-like power to adjust history and geography (and anything else) to suit our devious purpose. Best wishes for success with your book.

Barbara Hudson said...

I look forward to reading your new project. I've only been in this neck of the woods 5 years and don't have forever to research the actual history either. Might as well create your own reality in your yarn since that's what we do anyway. I enjoy your style and humor and insight. Keep up the good work!

Jackie King said...

Great blog, John. Sounds like a place I'd like to visit sometime. For sure I'll visit it in your book.
Jackie King
Author, THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE

john M. Daniel said...

Many thanks to all who left comments. It seems we all value a sense of place, and we all write of what we know, even if we rearrange the furniture a bit to keep out of trouble.

Paula Petty said...

Congratulations on your book, John. I would love to visit there. Great blog.

Theresa Varela said...

Congrats on your book, John. Sometimes real happenings in towns are bizarre enough to make great fiction but that wouldn't do if we want to buy milk at the local deli. Enjoyed your blog!

Aubrey Holderness said...

Greatly enjoyed your blog, John. You definitely have a way with words. Perhaps you should consider being a writer!!!

I recently completed a novel set in my wife's home town and included a prefatory inscription as follows: "This book is dedicated to my wife, Mickey, who knew many of the fictional characters in this story!" It seems we all write about what we know, modified by what we imagine.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Did a great job with this post, John. In my Rocky Bluff P.D. series the setting is on the CA coast somewhere between Ventura and Santa Barbara, but it's a fictional spot as is the police department.

My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series is set in a place like where I live, the southern Sierra, but at 2000 feet so I'd have better trees.

Isn't writing fiction fun?

Larry said...

I know what you're talking about, John. My next mystery novel was to be set in Seattle, a first for me, though I've lived here for forty years. But I needed to move the University Medical Center downtown, next to the large community hospital, so Seattle became Emerald. No choice. Once that happened, though, it became a lot easier to write the story: it was *my* city, and I could do whatever I damn pleased with it, and the people who lived there.

Definitely looking forward to BEHIND THE REDWOOD DOOR.

WS Gager said...

Great post John! I can't wait for the blog tour and you to visit my blog. You hit the fun of writing in taking something with a grain of truth and turning it into a pearl!
Wendy
W.S. Gager

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Patricia Gligor said...

John,
I think you resolved your "problems" quite nicely. I love fiction and, although I personally feel that my settings, characters and plots need to be believable, I adore "poetic license" where a writer can tweak the truth and create whole new worlds!

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john M. Daniel said...

Dear friends, thanks again for all your comments. It's been a pleasure hearing from you, and I'm taking your ideas to heart.

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Nice blog, John! I hope to visit there someday.you write well about CA.

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