Making Things Up

As fiction writers we make things up. My WIP is set both in Tahlequah and in Bethesda, Maryland. I’ve given Bethesda a couple of new restaurants, businesses and a new art gallery. In Tahlequah, I’ve done the same thing–a new restaurant, a new non-profit, etc. I’ve also given Cherokee Nation a couple of departments that don’t really exist as well as a hotel in down town Tahlequah.

On the other hand, I’ve checked with several sources to make sure that historical events, tribal history, traditional practices and language are accurate.

I’ve set a completion date for the first draft of my novel–May of this year. I want my readers to know what is real and what I’ve made up. How long and how detailed of a disclaimer should I write? Should I have added new businesses and restaurants?

Some of my characters have my ancestors’ names and some of these names are common in Tahlequah. I feel I need to stress to readers that the characters in the novel are fictional and resemblances to actual persons purely accidental?

Input from your own experiences will be greatly appreciated.

Claude Mary


4 thoughts on “Making Things Up

  1. Claude Mary, I’ve set a lot of books in real places, using real businesses and adding a few of my own. In THE ASSASSIN, set in Tulsa, I used Utica Square, St. John, the river park, the police station, the jail, some restaurants, etc., in great detail, but the Vietnamese restaurant owned by a drug dealer was made up for obvious reasons.

    One problem I had with an editor on that book: my cop hero leaves the police station downtown and drives to his parents’ house by St. Francis in afternoon traffic and comments that it took him twenty minutes or whatever. She wanted me to change it to half that. It was a weird request, because regardless of how long the trip actually took, it was covered in ONE sentence. (I had another editor tell me that “Sixkiller” didn’t sound Oklahoma-y, and a copy-editor years ago who asked me to move Houston a hundred miles closer to Dallas because “it sounded better.” Sheesh!)

    When I read a book set in a city I’m familiar with, I want the basics to be accurate — downtown in the right place, proper (major) street names, shopping in the right areas, history, etc. I want the right “feel” for the place. I want to know that the author has actually been there or done serious research. But I also expect her to make up places/streets/areas of her own as the story demands.

    As far as names, I once googled some of my past character names and the cities the stories were set in and found bunches of people with the same names. I don’t even think about it anymore.

  2. What was the editor thinking? Hmm, like a lot of publishing folks, she wasn’t particularly familiar with much of the country. God love her, she’d lived all her life on the east coast and, like too many people, had some rather strange preconceptions of Oklahoma. (I love meeting people who think that there’s nothing here but cowboys and Indians, everything outside of Tulsa and OKC is prairie, we all grew up on ranches and riding horses and OU is our only claim to fame.)

    Something you might consider doing when you sell your book is writing an author’s letter at the end. I’ve seen them before when authors have taken a bit of license with geography or history or whatever. Or you could just smile slyly and tell everyone, “Why, yes, you are in the book, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.”

  3. I hate to tell you this but you left out the oils wells and the herds of buffalo we all have on our ranches… .

    I like the idea of an author’s letter. I like reading these in some of the novels I’ve read. They make me feel I have a link to the author.

    Claude Mary

  4. Oh, you’re right — if we’re not ranchers, we’re all either rich oil people or the hourly-wage goobers who work the oil people.

    Have I ever mentioned that one thing I’d like to do before I die is own some buffalo?

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