Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Paula Altenburg: Navigating a Fictional World

Thanks so much for having me here today. I thought I’d share with you all how difficult I find it to get setting details accurate.

It’s a joke in my family that I have absolutely no sense of direction. I can’t find my way back to my hotel in a strange city. My oldest son worried about that when he went off to college: “Mom’s going to be lost without me.”

It’s true. From the time he was five he’s been telling me where to go.  

I was once on a business trip in the US with one of the VPs of the Canadian company I was working for at the time. He handed me a map. “I’ll drive. You be the navigator,” VP said.

“Ummm...” (Bit of silence on my part.) “I can’t read a map.”

(Incredulous blinking of eyes on his.) “You’re kidding me. Who in this day and age can’t read a map?”
Me, as it turns out. I once got lost in the woods during orienteering in high school. The teacher spent an hour trying to find me. “I don’t understand how you got lost in the woods,” she kept saying. “The woods weren’t even on the map.”

I ended up holding the road map steady while VP read it at red lights. When we finally reached our destination, he was completely frazzled. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor.

So why, as an Atlantic Canadian, I decided to set a story in the American West is a mystery even to me. I blame Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.

Here’s the world I know:

Here’s the world I’m writing about in Black Widow Demon (Book 2 in the Demon Outlaws series):

I thought, “I have Google. How hard can it be?”

You’d be surprised. And I’ve actually been to Nevada. Several times.

To play it safe I decided I’d better make my story a dystopian demon western so there would be some leeway with regard to actual fact. It’s a good thing I did. When my editor came back with a description of the world for the cover, and mentioned a couple of place names for the artist, I discovered I had my world completely upside down and backward. One set of characters had gone off in a totally wrong direction.  That made my life difficult in the third book, Demon Creed (May 214).

So if anyone would like to have a little fun, you can leave review comments about Black Widow Demon that say “Good book but would have been better if author could read a map.” I won’t take it personally.
Is there anyone else amongst you with a terrible sense of direction? And out of curiosity—has anyone ever read anything that led them to believe the author hadn’t looked at a map?

No need to name names. A yes or no will suffice. J


Mary Kirkland said...

Oh that is just too funny. I am horrible with directions, horrible. I once picked my mother up at the airport here in Las Vegas and instead of ending up at her house..I somehow got turned around in the complete opposite direction and ended up out in Henderson. I loved Black Widow Demon ;)

Paula Altenburg said...

Thanks, Mary! I have to admit, I love Blade a lot.

And Lee, thanks for having me here today!