As the author of two contemporary fantasies and one magical realism novel, I enjoy blurring the line between the real settings in my novels and the stuff I make up.
Real settings provide a foundation for the magic of my imagination whether they’re well-known locations such as Glacier National Park or personal locations such as the house my parents owned in Eugene, Oregon when I was in kindergarten.
However, the trickster in me wants the reader to always be in doubt where reality begins and ends. When people tell ghost stories around a camp fire, the stories often begin with: “Many years ago in these very woods on a summer night just like this one, a monster watched a patrol of Boy Scouts cooking their evening meal.”
Suddenly, everyone around the camp fire starts hearing strange noises in woods—perhaps it’s just the wind, or perhaps it isn’t. When I set my contemporary fantasy novels Sarabande (2011) and The Sun Singer (2004) in Glacier Park, I not only had a lot of photographs and reference materials helping me make my descriptions accurate, but also the benefit of knowing that many of my readers will have been there or seen pictures or TV programs about the area. (I also had my memories of hiking a good many trails in the park.)
So, is there magic at Many Glacier Hotel in Swiftcurrent Valley? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Garden of Heaven
In Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey (2010), I used well known locations in Glacier National Park such as Chief Mountain and Many Glacier Hotel. For my own personal amusement, I also used the starter-house my parents owned on Alder Street in Eugene. While I barely remember the house, I do have pictures of it. My readers, of course, don’t know anything about an obscure street in Eugene, but they have heard of the town. That’s why I used the name in this stream-of-consciousness, vision quest sequence in the novel:
He woke up in the centre of the prairie where the land lay like a calm sea and the black mountains were small in the west. On his mind there was a predominant thought, ‘I am east of the sun and west of the moon,’ and though that was true, for it was sometime past noon, the thought was on his mind in a strange déjà vu way, pulling him he knew not where. His memory danced like a frail aspen leaf in the north wind until he was carried southwest by south on more or less a straight course past the grey ice of Api-natósi, the north fork of the Flathead, the Kootenai National Forest, the Bitterroots, south of Couer d’Alene Lake, the boiling confluence of the Columbia and Snake, the Cascades, to Eugene and Alder Street, to the little buff-coloured house with the blue roof and white picket fence and a snowman to the left of the driveway, and then inside to a room bluer than the roof where an inviolate circle of light from the lone lamp encompassed mother and child, she in a chair reading aloud from an old tan book of stories, he sleepy-eyed beneath covers hearing about trolls, witches, winds that talked, a castle, and a prince, the stuff that dreams and futures are made of before seasons matter and life hardens the soul.
In a vision quest, the real and the unreal are often tangled up. I always want the reader to wonder which is which. In this passage, most readers will recognize the real places such as the Snake River and the Cascades even if they’ve never been to the area. I added “Alder Street” just for me because I’m a spinner of tall tales that are occasionally true.