What’s Real and What’s Not?

A former student recently asked me if I’d ever killed a student in one of my Nick Hoffman mysteries.  I told him not yet. He, of course, had his own candidates from one of the courses he was in: students who complained about too much reading.

I thought of his question the other day when a friend at the gym told me he’d just read my mystery Hot Rocks, set at an upscale health club like the one we were standing in, and he said with his face aglow, “Where’s the line between truth and fiction?”  He had loved the book and was eager to know.

I told him about the starting place.  My fictional town is Michiganapolis, a blend of the state capitol Lansing and the home of Michigan State University, East Lansing.  My town is Michigan’s State capitol and the seat of the “State University of Michigan,” and while there might be some geographical similarities, I don’t have to stick to any actual street maps.  Nobody will ever be able to confront me and say my sleuth Nick Hoffman couldn’t have made a right turn on a certain street or gotten from one part of town to another in whatever amount of time I chose.

“If it were really Lansing or East Lansing, I’d be stuck to the facts and that would bore me.  This way, the world is all mine.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not doing world building.  It’s not Westeros in Game of Thrones.  There aren’t any White Walkers.”  And then I thought of some of my vicious administrators and faculty members and said, “Well…”

“But what about the people?”  He was sure he recognized some of the characters in the book, a lot of which takes place in the club.

Here again fiction overruled fact.  I took an already lush health club and made it even more  sybaritic, giving it a different name, layout and colors.  And all the people who appear in it are truly fictional.  Writers are magpies, I explained.  So bits and pieces of people I know and have observed show up in my fiction, but nobody in any book is a one-to-one transfer from reality to fiction.  That wouldn’t be interesting to me.  The fun’s in the transformation.

Nick Hoffman loves to cook, and my friend said that when he was reading the book, he thought, “I want to have dinner at Lev’s house!”

I smiled. “Sorry to disappoint you.  I tend to keep things simple.  And sometimes I just order pizza, because, you know, I’m real, and my sleuth is fictional.”

Lev Raphael’s 8th Nick Hoffman book Assault With a Deadly Lie is now available on Amazon.




5 Responses

  1. I love the thought of writers as magpies, Lev. And of course we are. For my second Mary Wollstonecraft mystery I felt I had to get the street names right because she was a real person. I spent hours poring over 18th-century Paris maps! In my Vermont mysteries, though, I did as you suggest: made up the name of town and road where her farm appears. A lot easier for a writer!

    • Thanks, Nancy.

      Paris would have changed dramatically from the 18th century to the city we know today with its Grands Boulevards; so many streets would have disappeared or have new names. Sounds like a fun project!

  2. A true master of the craft of writing can convincingly offer the reader a setting that is, at once, familiar and new. The balance, it seems to me, is precarious: inch too far to one side, and the environment feels foreign, unrelatable. Lean toward the other and risk a bland, boring, uninviting place. Your novels, Lev, have all excelled in seamless integration of the real and the imagined.
    I can’t wait to read your next novel!

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