13 February 2011

Just missed being in the stories...

A quick break from my genealogical ramblings:

A few weeks back, I was reading the latest Stephen Hunter "Bob Lee Swagger" novel, Dead Zero, and discovered that some of the climactic scenes take place very near where I lived in Washington, DC back in the late eighties, on P Street NW, up near Georgetown University. The action follows down P Steet, from the edge of the university grounds, past my old apartment and out onto Wisconsin Avenue.

Maybe more surprising, this is the second time I've found myself reading a novel where a scene or two are set, not only someplace in a town where I've lived (not so surprising, given how much we've moved around), but within a block of a place I once called home, where if it hadn't been fiction, I could have seen it happen from my window.

The other one was John Sandford's Heat Lightning (featuring Virgil Flowers), a couple of years back. Sandford's a Minnesota writer, and his novels almost all are set in Minnesota, so a lot of familiar places show up. But this one starts off with a guy (and his dog) getting shot in Stillwater, on South Third Street, half a block from where I lived for a while back in the early eighties.

That got me wondering: How often does that happen? How many people out there are reading books and suddenly find the author taking them into their own neighborhoods, right down their streets, or out front of their houses? And maybe more important, when they do that, do they get it right?

Sandford did--he described the area just as it looks these days. Hunter did okay until he got down to Wisconsin Avenue, then addresses didn't match the locations and I'm pretty sure the convenience store where the scene ended was fictional. But P Street sure rang true!

So here's the question: If these stories had taken place during the times when I was living in either of those two locations, could I claim that I was an unseen character in one of the houses the characters passed in the respective books? And if I were, would I be © John Sandford or © Stephen Hunter now?

I've turned up in a couple of comic books over the years, so I know I "exist" in the fictional DC Comics universe, but would I have been part of Bob Lee Swagger's or Virgil Flowers' fictional worlds as well?