Start with reality and make it fictional

By Sally Carpenter

In writing a book, why reinvent the wheel?

In 1991 I went on a weekend cruise to Nassau aboard the SS Ecstasy of the Carnival cruse line. This particular cruise had special activities for a small group of Monkees fans, including a private concert with Peter Tork and James Lee Stanley.

Fortunately I saved every scrap of paper and photo from that event. I had the ship’s newspaper with the daily schedule of events, a map of the decks and rooms, and pictures of the island. I’d even written an account of the weekend for the Monkee Business fanzine (no longer in publication).

So when I began writing my latest Cozy Cat Press novel, “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” I dug out this information to use in designing my fictitious cruise ship. I started with the Ecstasy’s layout and made adjustments in the rooms to accommodate my story. I used my photos of Nassau to select scenes for the action, such as the Water Tower. I used the ship’s activity schedule to plan the events aboard my ship. I even incorporated some of the details from my fanzine article.

In researching other cruise ships, I learned that many ships have public areas decorated according to a theme, such as the Chinatown Lounge aboard the Ecstasy. I designed my ship, SS Zodiac, according to an astrological theme with such places as the Sagittarius Showroom, Leo Lounge, Gemini CafŽ, Libra Casino, Scorpio Disco, etc. This made for some fun and silly places with tacky decor, the sort of thing my protagonist hates.

Trying to stay authentic has its drawbacks. In an online review, a reader criticized me for placing my protagonists, a brother and sister team, in separate luxury suites instead of down below in the crew quarters. First, my protagonist would never bunk in a tiny windowless room. He’d stay in a suite with a private balcony even if he had to pay extra for it. Second, grown men don’t share rooms with their adult sisters (I wouldn’t do it with my brothers). Third, it’s a fictitious ship on a make believe cruise line with its own way of operating. As long as I don’t break the laws of physics, I can bend the rules to suit my story.

My other two books are also set in places I knew well. The realism helps the reader get lost in the story and think, “This could really happen!”

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