I may write about psychotic killers and telepathic powers, but my books are always grounded in reality.
Take Preying Game, my latest Decorah Security novel. It all started when we attended a wedding in Chestertown, Maryland. It was a three-day extravaganza, held at a stately Georgian mansion with beautifully manicured gardens, located on a multi-acre estate along the Chester River. The place was so cool that almost as soon as I got there, I started thinking about using it for the setting of a book.
I admit to sneaking in a few changes. We were there for a wedding, but I wanted to make it the home of a guy who kidnapped and held women in an underground complex that I invented next to the main building. But why was he holding them, and what was his plan for them?
Since I write romantic suspense, I didn’t want him doing anything yucky like making them sexual slaves. (Although I did pull that off in Dark Moon.) I decided he was forcing them to get into top physical shape so that he could make them worthy prey for his “big game” hunts on the estate. Yeah, he was a real nice guy.
And I did have to make a few changes to the environment as I went along. My hero, Jonah Ranger, is telepathic, and he picks up my heroine’s distress call on the radio of an old car he’s fixing. Alice Davenport has sent out a desperate plea for help, and against all odds, Jonah picks it up.
My first change was the name of the town. I have a rule that if I’m going to say something awful about a place, I choose a different name. So Chestertown became Carvertown.
Jonah strengthens his telepathic connection with Alice and manages to project himself to her prison. But since she’s in an underground complex, she can’t give him any clues to where she’s being held. Finally Jonah, in his telepathic form, gets upstairs. And because I needed him to see something out the window that would guide him to her location, I invented a rock formation that doesn’t exist in the Chester River. But it is in my Carver River—a big boulder that looks like a giant upside-down boot.
My friends who hosted the Chestertown wedding loved that I’d used their venue for my story. In their honor, I came back full circle. After the bad guy gets what he deserves, one of his relatives takes over his property—and turns it into a location for weddings and other big celebrations.
I love weaving real details into my paranormal stories. And in this case, I had to choose those details carefully to hide a big secret from the reader. Because the guy is a hunter, I researched rifles and decided on a Mauser for his weapon of choice. I also needed a topic for him and Alice to talk about when he forced her to have a lunch with him. He initiates a literary discussion on Thomas Hardy and Hemingway that comes from my own college classes on English and American literature.
I include those real details to bolster the world I’ve created. What makes you believe the paranormal elements in a story? Or are there books where you never buy into the weird premise?