By Bob Sanchez
My first foray into fiction began out of my experiences with the Cambodian community in Lowell, Massachusetts. The idea was to tell the tale of a young Cambodian woman’s odyssey, with emphasis on the Khmer Rouge atrocities and the Thai refugee camps. I read almost a dozen gripping memoirs and talked to a few of the refugees, although the language barrier created a serious problem. Overall, I’d accumulated enough detail to flesh out a decent mainstream novel.
Or so it seemed. What were the sights and smells like? The bugs, the plants, the animals? What was it like to have your feet in the rice paddy or to pedal a bicycle barefoot on a bumpy road? What did the inside of a home look like? I could pick up some of these details from books, but my novel may have suffered most of all because I’d never been to Cambodia or Thailand and could never convey the rich detail the story deserved.
So what to do with my ton of research? Write a mystery about the Cambodian community in Lowell, where I’d been a thousand times. Then I could get away without the same level of detail about Southeast Asia, because that’s not where the story’s action is. One of my readers of Little Mountain told me she’d lived in Thailand and said my details were accurate.
In writing my noir detective novel, Getting Lucky, I spent many hours haunting Lowell’s mills and canals. My novel doesn’t have porn in it, but a tacky little smut shop is part of the story. My writers’ group, especially the ladies, goaded me to do research and teased me without mercy when I took their advice. It helped the story, though.
How important is it to know the location in your story? That depends. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct procedurals were set in the city of Isola, which everyone took to be New York City. But he could describe the burg any way he wanted. My good friend and mystery writer, David Daniel, received a fan letter from a Lowell cop saying that his story was good, but his character couldn’t have taken a left from Merrimack Street onto Dutton Street because Dutton is one way in the other direction. That one detail wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re writing about a real place, you might want to be careful about the liberties you take.
Thanks for hosting me, Blood-Red Pencil!
Learn more background on Little Mountain.
Please post a comment for a chance to win a Kindle version of Little Mountain. And thanks for visiting!
Buy a copy of the book by clicking http://tinyurl.com/littlemountain