After reading The Mud of the Place a friend told me, “I’ve never met any of these people, but I feel like I could run into any of them in the grocery store.”
Maybe my favorite compliment ever, not least because it captures so perfectly the weirdness of writing fiction about a place that really exists. Mind you, the place that really exists, exists differently for each one of us — I blogged about this in “My Martha’s Vineyard” — but when you add fictional realities to the mix, your head will start spinning if you think too hard.
Cynthia Riggs‘s mystery novels are all set on Martha’s Vineyard, but you know it’s not the real Martha’s Vineyard because on the real Martha’s Vineyard murder is rare and each of Cynthia’s books features at least one body dead by murder most foul. Other than that, however, her Martha’s Vineyard is so drop-dead authentic that her fictional sleuth, Victoria Trumbull, is actually the title character of a guidebook — Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard — that will take you to some real places and won’t get you lost.
My aim is to tell some truths about Martha’s Vineyard by making things up, but the things I make up have got to be plausible. Several of the Mud characters go to Makonikey. You can go there too, but you won’t see what they see. I modeled the Martha’s Vineyard Chronicle office on that of the Martha’s Vineyard Times, but I gave the building an extra story, and no Chronicle staffer ever worked for the Times.
In The Squatters’ Speakeasy a nonexistent organization called the Friends of Affordable Housing (FAH) sponsors a benefit art show and sale at the Ag Hall on Memorial Day weekend. The Ag Hall really exists, as does Memorial Day weekend, but I stole the art show idea from the (real) Friends of Family Planning, whose 25th annual art show and sale was this weekend. Since I just finished drafting a chapter about the preview party that opens FAH’s art show, I decided to head down to the Ag Hall to see what the real (?) thing looked like.
Late on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the foyer was quiet. In my chapter, a lavish buffet bisects the room from back to front. There’s a cash bar in the rear left corner, an affordable housing display in the near right, and an artist with big paintings and a bigger ego just downstage from the bar. Yes, I could see it. I could see it all. It works.
In my version, a band is playing and people get up and dance. No one was playing or dancing yesterday afternoon, but look what I found in the middle of the dance floor.
Several of my characters have artwork in the FAH show. I didn’t see Shannon’s barn painting, or Giles’s arrow series, or Mama Segredo’s watercolors, but I did find the wall they hang on.
I paid particular attention to prices. Were mine reasonable? For the most part, yes. At $150, however, the ticket price for my preview party was too high. I’ll probably bring it down to $75 or even $50, which is what Friends of Family Planning’s tickets cost.
The Friends of Family Planning show features the winning posters in a contest for students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. What a great idea. My Friends of Affordable Housing might have to steal it.
My art show, I decided, needs more ceramics, more jewelry, and more fabric art. Oh yeah, and a few of those white benches.
I had no intention of buying anything, of course, until my eye lit on Deborah Hale’s ceramics, particularly two mugs with a lovely sea-green and blue glaze. The price was much too reasonable, so of course I bought them — and drank my tea out of one of them this morning.
Don’t be surprised if they wind up in the novel.