My guess is that fantasy authors rarely visit the actual places inside their books. No one I know has night-fished for mermaids in a flooded delta beneath three moons or crept through catacombs where soulless monsters entomb captured heroes in the crypts of dead kings. I’ve never actually found a secret torch-lit passageway that descends to a dragon’s smoky lair. Most of us journey to those realms only in our heads (unfortunately, I might add).
Of course, we draw from genuine places and experiences to create our worlds. Then we tweak and embellish to enrich our settings and grow the magical elements that give our genre its name. Stretching the ordinary beyond the borders of our imaginations is part of the craft; rendering it believable is our obligation to readers.
I just finished the third draft of another book, The Sorcerer’s Garden, and I’m letting it rest a bit before tackling the next pass. This is my first fantasy novel set partially in modern times. It’s one of those tales where “reality” tangles with both the world of the unconscious and a writer’s fantastical pages. What is real is a matter of experience and choice.
Portland, Oregon is the present day setting, and I used the famous Pittock Mansion (built in 1914) as my primary location. The internet is full of detailed images and floor plans that I accessed for building my story. Then yesterday—rather after the fact—I visited the mansion for a “behind the scenes” tour.
Upon entering, I had the eeriest sensation of walking through the pages of my book. I saw what Madlyn saw when she first entered the marble stair-hall, and I stood in the kitchen where Pagan ripped lettuce and brewed pots of perfect coffee. I lingered in the writing room where Dustin held his brother’s unfinished manuscript, his eyes brimming with regret, and when I entered Cody’s room, I knew exactly where Madlyn sat as she read to him by his bed. In the music room, I caught Lillian’s view of Mt. Hood from the piano where she arranged everyone’s destiny with the same precision she arranged her roses. I traveled the twisting corridors of the cellar where Warson’s creatures dragged Cody across the stone floor. And I saw the doomed king standing at the stair-hall rail as he bid his daughter farewell for the final time. It all felt so disorienting, what was real and magical as tangled as the story in my book.
If only I could visit all my fantasy worlds…