My time in the shed this morning, while the rain lightly taps on the roof, is being spent going on a journey, many journeys, to places, several places, I have never been.
In a few weeks, my memoir The Consequence of Stars is officially released. I’ve been working on book launch details, making travel plans, working with my editor on distributing some ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy). This is the work many writers don’t necessarily enjoy. I don’t dislike worrying about hiring a bartender for the Chicago launch party at the Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois or trying to find a reasonably priced place to stay in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood when I head there in late May for a reading and an appearance at the Book Expo. But it’s not writing. Not what I’d rather be doing. I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. But writing would be better.
But is this true even if I’m faking it?
Through it all, I am making time to write. And this morning in the shed, I continue the work on a new novel. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the first draft. A large part of the story is based around a reluctant road trip and much of this fictional journey is heading to real places I have never been.
This is the “faking it” part.
I don’t work from outlines or plot plans when I write. I let the story come to me and then edit the bejesus out of it when it is time. This means this fictional road trip is taking me to places I know and want to be in the story, but I’m also heading to places unknown, places I know nothing or very little about. The question is this: How do I write about those places in a true and authentic way if I have never been? How do I weave these places seamlessly through the story? Can that be done? In a novel, in fiction, is it imperative to have been everywhere we write about? Am I faking it?
In my two earlier novels, every town and stretch of land in those chapters I had, at one time or another, experienced in person. Been there; done that. Traveled those roads. Been in that coffee shop, that bar, along that road, that track, and that path. The fiction came directly out of the real experience. But this novel, well, that’s not exactly the case.
Am I cheating? Must I have been everywhere I write about?
This morning, I wonder if I’m being true to myself, true to the reader. I’m hoping to diffuse this worry by doing loads of research on the places where the story takes me. I’ve studied and read and watched videos and eyed hundreds of images. I’ve talked to those who have been there. It’s slowing the writing, but it is, I hope, making up for the fact that I have not traveled to more than half the places in the story.
Still, I feel guilty this morning. Should I?
Imagination is a wonderful thing. But reality and authenticity is equally as important. That’s my take. So, I study and I go on mini mind trips to new places every day and I pretend I am there with my characters, with the windows rolled down, driving along a stretch of America I have never known, yet, a stretch I am desperately trying to imagine.