The Quest For Authenticity: How Far Is Too Far?

We are so pleased to welcome the talented Marie Sutro the nest! This award-winning, best-selling writer has been described as “one helluva author” and we couldn’t agree more. Today the author of the newly released Dark Obsessions discusses setting the perfect setting.

Sometimes the hardest part of writing a book can be the quest for authenticity. While drafting my new release, Dark Obsessions, a furry friend reminded me that sometimes dedication to getting it right can be all wrong.

Full of vast expanses of remote forest, the Olympic Peninsula was the perfect setting for my thriller. Having only gazed at its green shores from the decks of passing boats, I could have relied on traditional research methods for filling in the gaps. Yet the greater the word count climbed, the more I worried that without actually seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and meeting the people, I would not be able to accurately recreate the feel of this magical place.

I was about halfway through the first draft when the need to find out for myself prompted me to book a flight to Washington. Type A that I am, I went armed with a detailed itinerary for a step-by-step through my protagonist’s journey. With the goal of obtaining as broad an understanding as possible, I planned to stay at resorts, hotels, and even a tiny cabin.

In the final days of the trip, my brain buzzing with new ideas, I ventured down a long gravel road to my final destination. Sitting in an open lot with a few others of its ilk, was my tiny cabin. It was nestled between the Pacific and the mighty Olympic National Forest and could only be accessed by a set of glass sliders which afforded beautiful views of the ocean.

Eager to log some serious word count, I happily settled down on my little deck and started hammering away on my laptop. Once the sun gave up for day, I moved inside with some Land O’Lakes hot cocoa mix and a box of Wheat Thins.

It was about an hour later when the bear arrived. I would never have known he was right outside my window if he had not roared load enough to wake the dead. Despite the interruption, I was happy to let him do whatever it was bears do at that late hour.

It was when he decided to climb the steps onto the deck and nose around outside the glass doors (which were only a few feet from where I was sitting) that the intrepid author spirit began to wane. With only a few inches of glass separating me from a very agitated visitor who ranted in growls and grunts, I seriously questioned whether the quest for authenticity is all its cracked up to be.

Now that the book is out in world, I’ve been thrilled by the consistently positive feedback about the setting. However, I often wonder if it would have been as good without the thrill provided by my furry friend. Next time, perhaps I’ll stay home and keep my nose in a book where it belongs.

Readers, do you have a favorite book setting? If so, why do you love it? If the setting is real, how close is it to your real-life experience?

About Marie:

Marie Sutro was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, which served as the setting for her debut novel, Dark Associations.  As soon as she learned to read, she developed an insatiable appetite for books.  With each new story, Marie became more fascinated with the transformative power of words.  The magic she discovered in those printed pages sparked an ardent desire to write, which continues to this day. 

Bestselling author and recipient of the IBPA Ben Franklin Gold Award for Best New Voice in Fiction,, Marie remains committed to sharing the knowledge that has brought so much joy to her life.  She volunteers with California Library Literacy Serviceshelping adults improve their reading and writing skills.  Marie is also a member of Sisters in Crime, where she has served on the Board of her local chapter.

About Dark Obsessions:

THE DARKEST WOODS HIDE THE DARKEST OF OBSESSIONS…

In the darkest corners of Washington state, Kate Barnes will come face-to-face with an adversary so ruthless and powerful that it will take everything she has to save herself, let alone a group of innocent victims.

21 thoughts on “The Quest For Authenticity: How Far Is Too Far?

  1. Yikes! That bear appearance sounds super scary–but pretty amazing, too! Hope it ended up in your book!

    My Sally Solari series is set in my beloved Santa Cruz, where I’ve lived since I was 17 years old (another yikes!), and I love being able to channel all the fabulous memories I have of the place and put them in my books.

    Congrats on the new release, Marie, and thanks so much for visiting the Chicks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leslie, I saw a piece on the news last night where an otter in Santa Cruz had commandeered a surfer’s board. It was hilarious (the otter didn’t give up)!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just saw the video. That otter has staked her claim and was not going to relent. Glad the bear didn’t feel similarly about my rental car. If so, it would have been up to the agency to retrieve it!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Santa Cruz is spectacular! The diversity of ecosystems in such a relatively small location is incredible. Such an outstanding spot for a series given the range of settings.

      Nature always offers so much inspiration – in the case of my furry friend, sometimes it can be too much! 😉 Thanks for the congrats and for the opportunity to be a guest chick!!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for your post, Marie. It touches on an interesting subject.
    I think authenticity is great, but we’re writing fiction. That means we make stuff up. The world in my Natalie McMasters books is based on the real world, but it is not the real world. or Natalie’s home town, I have chosen to use a Southern state capital named (unimaginatively) Capital City. It is based on a real city and contains elements of several others. For example, Nattie’s school, State University, based on an actual university, has a major hospital on the campus. The university it is based on does not. I have also used actual places in the books, but they may contain things that are not present at the actual place. The books are contemporary, but Joe Biden is not the president. However, Bill Clinton is a former president. I could go on.
    The important thing with setting is to make the reader feel like they are there along with the characters. So it’s important that my fictional city looks like, feels like and smells like an actual Southern city at the time I’ve chosen to write about.
    However, I don’t want to make mistakes. For example, you can’t silence a revolver. The space between the cylinder and the barrel makes that impossible. My technology must work like the real thing, or I must have a darn good explanation as to why it does not. If I’m describing a 1966 Ford Mustang, I’d better have sat in or driven one, or looked at some pretty detailed videos. In a nutshell, I don’t want a reader to think I’ve done sloppy research.
    It’s all a balancing act geared to keeping the reader’s head in the story where it belongs, and not on me and my imperfections.
    BTW, the bear is great! It better be in the book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was just about to say, I hope the bear appears! (In the book. Not in real life.) And Tom, I’m always impressed by your meticulous research for your works. I like the name Capital City, too.

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      1. As I told Tom, unfortunately the bear didn’t make it into this story, but I owe him a future spot. I’ve got to make good on it. He’s not the kind of guy you can bait and switch. Thanks again for the opportunity to be a guest chick!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. You are so right Tom, it is quite the balancing act. I took a similar route with Dark Obsessions (i.e. set the story in the Olympic Peninsula, but the town where most of the story takes places is fictional.) It’s fantastic when you hit that right blend of fact and fiction!

      (BTW: Sitting in a ’67 Ford Mustang is my idea of fun research.)

      The bear was great (and certainly best appreciated from afar). Alas, he did not make the final edit for this book. He is certain to appear in the near future as he made an indelible impressions. Perhaps a feature in a short horror story!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for being here, Marie! Congrats on your latest book!

    I like both fantastical other-worldly settings & locations that are true and close to home. In my newest series, L.A. Night Market Mysteries, I get to write about the larger Los Angeles area and create my own fictional planned community.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ohmygosh, Marie! Way to leave us hanging about your bear encounter! Did he just go away? Did you race outside bellowing, bigger than life, and scare him off? Did he carefully unlatch the window, sneak through and open the fridge? (I’m reading a Mary Roach book where she talks about the bears in Aspen who do just that. They can pull out one egg from the carton and leave the rest. One yanked a screen door off, then gently leaned it against the house like you or I might do. Fascinating stuff.)

    As for me, I tend to set books where I’ve lived because I don’t want to make those irritating errors about something blooming out of season or whatnot. I’m impressed by your diligence! Plus, it sounds like oodles of fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of those stories and more were spinning in my head at that moment. f only, I’d had the guts to rush out there. If for nothing else but to attempt a meaningful chat. He seemed a bit perturbed and I figured it was best to give him his space.

      There is more to the story, including a part involving John Denver’s Greatest Hits album. It is best told (or perhaps best understood) over drinks, so I’ll save it for a trip to CO!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks so much for visiting Chicks today, Marie, and welcome! Very nice to meet you. I am still shaking over your bear encounter story. Like Becky, I want to know what happened IRL. Congrats on your new book and hope you enjoy many future trips for authenticity! Where do you plan to go next? My husband is from WA State, and my sister has lived there for about 50 years. I am rethinking any cabins in the woods, lol. My husband encounters bears regularly when he camps during fishing trips. You’ll find me back at the lodge.

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  6. Marie, thanks so much for visiting. I get having to do some in-person research. I dragged my family to Louisiana at Christmastime in 2015 so I could experience the Christmas Eve bonfires on the levees in person.

    Re: bears, friends in Tahoe said bears there have figured out by watching humans that the good stuff is in the fridge. So there are countless incidents where bears break into cabins to “paw” through the fridge!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christmas Eve bonfires on the levees sound awesome!

      Yes, I’ve seen videos of the bears opening fridges and cars. From now on when selecting places to stay, the proximity of bears and their skills will feature more prominently in my decision making.

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