Google is wonderful. For a person writing thrillers, it’s a critical resource. Need a Russian phrase? No problem. An overhead view of a village like Hainburg an der Donau in Austria (my second novel)? Google Maps has you covered. The uniform of a Florida state trooper? Google images. But … there is no substitute to actually having been there, having heard, having felt, having smelled.
I’m reading the end of a draft by a marvelous writer, Tim Mahoney. (Extended sidebar: If you’ve been feeling inundated by screaming headlines about today’s madness … an entirely new chapter beyond yesterday’s … take a look at realnews.ink. Mahoney is a newspaperman, and he aggregates the news that matters. No Kardashians, no triple repeats of the latest presidential silliness. Stuff that one might look back on a few years from now and say that was important.)
And now, back to the story at hand: Tim’s story takes place in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. He was there. Of course, I know that, and therefore am more inclined to believe the picture his protagonist paints. But I can’t help thinking that an author can’t know when to mention the heat and humidity, when to comment on the exhaust from the motor bikes, without having been there. Or maybe it’s writing with the confidence of deep knowledge. In any case, his good writing plus having been there has taken me out of myself and into the story.
In my second novel, I needed a place for an important event to happen (no spoiler … the book may yet get published), and the speed of the Danube current (google search) and the rate of progress of a lovely riverboat (ditto) called for the place to be Hainburg an der Donau. I needed to have action in the hospital (google maps) and the police station (ditto). I wrote Hainburg into the story and was quite pleased (well, after Tim and a cadre of other writers tore the draft apart). Then I had a chance to go to the town itself.
I’m not sure why I changed the few words I did. I left the hospital inaccurate but changed the police station to be just as it is. An my constable benefitted from a friendly discussion with the constable on duty.
Maybe it’s just that I now believe what I wrote is real.