Maps and Fiction

I’ve been working on a novel the last month that takes place on Coronado “Island”, a long narrow sand spit just west of San Diego proper. It’s connected to the “main land” via the infamous Coronado Bridge (third highest suicide bridge in the US) or an isthmus at Imperial Beach to the south.

I’ve been there once, visiting a friend who lived in Navy housing at the Navy Amphibious Base. I remember the island as a cluttered small town with plenty of traffic in the California sunshine. It seems to me there was a roundabout before we got on the bridge returning to the airport and I know I caught a glimpse of the red cone roof of the Hotel del Coronado. That’s about it.

Bridging Two Hearts takes place at the Hotel del and in the village. As I’ve now written 60% of the story, I think it’s time to go down and refresh my memory and check my facts. So off we go.

It’s curious how when you write a book, you run into all sorts of people who have an interest in your subject matter. The optometrist fitter, a guy at church, my walking partner, relatives and a dear friend, all love Coronado and are enchanted I’m writing about it. I’ve been picking their brains about local sites I can include in my story to make it seem more real.

They’ve got plenty of ideas, but no one can seem to remember any names. I laughed as someone described “this park,” and I fired back with, “Tidelands Park?”

“Was that the name? I don’t really remember. Why do you know?”

My church friend couldn’t remember the name of his favorite pizza restaurant, he even fired up his smart phone. “It’s near this beach . . . Coldstone’s is not far away.”

Me: “Is it by the ferry landing? Coldstone’s is up there.”

“Ferry landing? I’m not sure. There’s this little beach. How do you know?”

How do I know? I have access to Google maps.

And so do you if you’re reading this on the Internet! (That is NOT a shot from google maps, here. Click on the link instead.)

Other than the vague stories from my friends, everything I know about Coronado comes via search engines. I’ve spent a lot of time at the Coronado Visitor’s Center web site. I should bookmark the Hotel Del Coronado website, I’ve been there so much.

I’ve  hunted for the homes where my characters live by examining local real estate websites. I’ve learned the bar where Navy SEALs like to hang out, discovered all sorts of activities that take place during the year my characters can participate in, and found a terrific spot for breakfast. Frankly, it’s a little disturbing all the things I’ve been able to find out from this very computer.

But it’s the map that has been the most helpful, enabling me to see what the main street looks like–through the “traffic” view feature. I can plot where in Coronado my characters should live to be close to their places of employment. I’ve learned where they probably would go out to dinner, and how long it would take them to drive through Imperial Beach back to San Diego. I can look closely at the bridge and guess at how high the barriers are. I’ve found the fire station and discovered the city pool is not far away.

Checking on a fact from one of the SEAL memoirs I’ve read, I actually saw the rock cropping just south of the Hotel del, where so many men have struggled during Hell Week.

A friend who vacationed in Palm Springs described a book she enjoyed that took place there. “It was so fun to read about the places the main character went to, and then find them ourselves when we were in town. You could follow his route, walk down this street and turn right here. It made our vacation so much more fun.”

That’s why I like to meld maps with fiction. It’s a great way to add verisimilitude—hard truth–to your story in a soft way.

Happy reading!  I’m at the beach today–if you look real close you might be able to find me!

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5 Comments

  1. Love this! I’m going to tweet it!

    Reply
  2. Great, practical advice. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. I am in Coronado right now and it is very odd yet exciting to see in the flesh all the places I’ve written about.

    And you know what? My husband is very surprised, but I don’t need a map!

    Reply
  4. I tend to pour over maps too, only mine date from the 18th century and there’s still a lot of imagination required to fill in the blanks. Just yesterday my eyes roamed the dirt lanes of Schenectady NY, circa 1750, for an hour at least, trying to imagine, trying to SEE.

    How fun to be in the place you’ve studied and poured over on line. It must almost seem like you’ve been given borrowed memories of Coronado.

    Reply
  5. J Voss

     /  February 5, 2012

    I love maps so much that it is actually a plus for me when a work of fiction sends me to the library in search of historical maps. Books set in lost lands and vanishing empires are some of my favorites. Hope you have a great trip!

    Reply

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