The publication of the second Quill Gordon mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away is drawing near, and during the lull before the storm, I’m trying to think of answers to the questions I know I’ll be asked about it.
Most of the action is set in an establishment called Harry’s Riverside Lodge. As described in the book, the eponymous Harry founded it after World War II, and for a quarter century it was a destination point for fishermen, duck hunters, and philandering politicians, not necessarily in that order. Note that this was back in the days before iPhones, blogs and press scrutiny of the sex lives of elected officials — a time so long gone that it now almost seems like Regency England.
Based on my experience with the first Gordon mystery, The McHenry Inheritance, one of the questions I know I’ll be asked is whether or not Harry’s is based on any specific place or Harry on a specific person.
It’s Called Fiction for a Reason
Nearly every work of fiction has a disclaimer on its copyright page saying that the persons and places described therein are imaginary and that any resemblance to real persons or places is entirely coincidental. There are excellent legal reasons for making such a disclaimer, but it’s one of those things that’s strictly but not entirely true.
Some works of fiction are clearly based on recognizable current events, but in most cases the draw on real life is more subtle. The late Harry (he’s dead by the time the story begins) and his establishment aren’t based on any one person or place. Rather, they are drawn from places I’ve been in a half century of fishing, from places I’ve read about over the years, and from a lot of stuff I just plain made up, drawing on my personal experience and reading.
For example, the idea of a hunting/fishing lodge being a louche getaway destination came from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, probably two decades ago, about the closing of a legendary joint in far northern California. The story reported that on weekends in duck-hunting season during the 50s and 60s, the bar was an un-navigable mosh pit, and prostitutes were brought in from a larger city and established in the second-floor rooms, where they did a thriving business.
A Little of This; a Little of That
From that kernel of an idea, I moved the place a couple of hundred miles to the south, added politicians from Sacramento, and took out the hookers, though the latter decision probably demonstrates that I am unfit to write a best-seller.
The bar at Harry’s with its large fireplace is drawn from any number of such places I’ve been over the years, as is the scenic painting over the fireplace. The cabins on the rolling lawn near the river are drawn from memories of places our family stayed on vacations more than 50 years ago. In fact, they probably couldn’t be built today because of mandated setbacks from waterways, but as I said, this is fiction.
In the end it’s on me, as the author, to make this imagined place called Harry’s seem real to readers. I put a lot of time and thought into creating a description and atmosphere for it, and I enjoyed every minute of the effort. I can only hope that if you read my book, you, too, will enjoy your stay at Harry’s and the people who were part of the story.