Off and on for the past fifteen years I’ve been working on my magnum opus–a multiple book series on an actual event of domestic terrorism. Fifteen years may seem like a long time, but for twelve of those years I had a full-time and demanding job plus an actual social life. That, and the research was not only extensive but sometimes mentally taxing.
I composited real people into fictional characters but stuck to the history as it’s known in public records. I changed the names to protect the innocent–and to disguise the guilty. I filled holes in the historical record with fiction, but fiction extrapolated from the research. In all that time, the only thing I didn’t change was the location of the event of domestic terrorism.
I’ll digress a bit to again recommend that writers participate in critique groups. Not only do you get an honest appraisal of your craft, but you get the reactions of readers–both needed before you think about publication. Locate a critique group and join one. You’ll find it useful beyond measure.
Book one of this series is going through my critique group, and the comments and suggestions have been just what this series needed. And a key comment was about keeping the location historically accurate. When the critique group members started making suggestions about plot, I kept having to respond, “But the reality is this or that.” My critique group quite rightly pointed out that by sticking to the actual location, I was boxing myself in.
At first, the thought of changing all the references to the actual location was daunting. Book one isn’t an issue; it doesn’t even come up in that. It’s book two and three where the first veiled hints get dropped, and in book four that particular setting is critical. So, I debated long and hard with myself about whether or not to change it and came to the only logical conclusion.
I changed the location, moving it one state north then one state east. Sounds simple, right? Not. There are hundreds if not thousands of allusions to this location, including physical descriptions of buildings, locations of streets and landmarks, and dialogue. Doing a global search-and-replace won’t cut it. It means yet another methodical and thorough edit.
And maybe that was the point all along.
All fine and good, but when you’re planning to publish the series so that book four appears in the month of the twentieth anniversary of said event, it’s not so convenient. Convenience, however, isn’t a consideration. The art and the craft of writing are the major considerations, so I’ll do it. I’ll grumble a bit–well, a lot–but I’ll get it done, in the knowledge it was the right decision for the story I want to tell.