We’re in Prague and the square is bustling with noisy tourists, crammed beneath the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, jostling for the best spots, waiting for the show to begin. We blend in, completely unnoticed. We could be plotting a real murder.
I raise my iPad, click on video, and do a 360 to get in the entire square. A mime dressed all in white (hmmm . . . sometimes ideas just pop into the scene!), waves into the camera. I’m aware now that people are watching, but I doubt they suspect I’m gathering information for a book.
Often I’m asked, “When you’re writing a novel, at what point do you visit the site?” I’ve learned that it is best, at least for me, to wait until I’ve got a good first draft. I’m not an outliner, so it’s important to be aware of the exact places I want to visit before setting out to explore. I often discover aspects of a scene that are not at all what I’d imagined. The Grand Hotel Praha, for instance, is not as grand as I’d expected. I had the killer taking a shot from an upper floor but, as it turns out, the hotel is a mere three stories. Even with the information available to writers online (including a web cam on the hotel’s website), I’d pictured it differently.
We visit a church on Karmelitska where the world-famous Infant of Prague resides. I’m a little nervous when I realize we are sitting in full view of what may or may not be a surveillance camera as we whisper back and forth, attempting to determine if climbing over the communion rail for a better view will, as the sign warns, really set off an alarm.
We spend the next several days roaming, crossing back and forth over the vendor-lined Charles Bridge, photographing the spires and towers of Prague, visiting the Letna Park, where a pivotal scene in my “work in progress” takes place. We peer into shop windows and photograph myriad marionettes. One or two of these will appear in the story, though I hadn’t realized there might be so many choices—witches, clowns, skeletons, mermaids, devils, angels, Charley Chaplin, Don Giovanni.
Another question I’m sometimes asked: “If you are writing about real places and historical events, how obligated do you feel to stick to the facts and when do you fictionalize?”
I always attempt to get it right. I stick with the facts, but use my novelist’s creative license with the unknowns. When I wrote about the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries in Paris for my first novel, THE SEVENTH UNICORN, I was delighted to discover the designer of the tapestries remains unnamed. When I wrote about Renaissance art in Florence for THE LOST MADONNA, I didn’t invent artists, but I did invent a painting lost in a flood. Hanna, my fictitious character in THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR, becomes involved in authentic historical events in pre-World War II Munich and Berlin.
Good fiction, I believe, will convince the reader it’s real. Authentic setting, even if the author invents it, is essential to a successful novel. I enjoy writing stories set in real places and feel fortunate to be able to visit these cities. I’d love to take you along on a journey to Prague.
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