Until last week, I hadn’t been back to South Louisiana in something like four years. Way, way too long. So long that I had written and published two novels during my time away.
Which–don’t get me wrong–I’m not bragging about. Four years since I last visited family and friends in the great state of Louisiana is four years too long.
But it did lay the foundation for an interesting experiment. Walking the streets of Eunice, visiting the public library there on the corner of 2nd and Park, driving down highway 13, crossing the railroad tracks that Sadie Lee jumps her little Toyota Corolla in Tattoos and Tans . . . I got the chance to visit the setting of characters I created.
The whole visit to Acadiana was rad, but the opportunity to walk through my own personal world of fiction was really something special.
There’s a lot I could say about how my fictionalized version of Eunice and the Cajun prairie that surrounds it matches up to the reality I walked, drove and saw with my own eyes last week. I could talk about, you know, how “close” my written rendering came to the real deal. That would seem to be the primary curiosity, wouldn’t it? Sort of like what you tend to do when the movie version of a book you like comes to the big screen. You sit back and judge–how close did they get?
But the thing I took away from the experience doesn’t have much to do with accuracy. What I came away with is a feeling of . . . I’m not sure what the right word is. Liberation, maybe. Or permission.
I got it! The word that best describes the feeling is license. As in creative license. That’s really the sense I came away with. It’s not about accuracy, I came to realize. It’s not even about being “close enough” to reality on the page. What it’s about is bringing the fictional setting to life and turning the characters loose within it . . . about using your impressions and memories as a foundation, a springboard for your imagination.
A pretty basic point to make, I know. But I am grateful for the experience. My Louisiana reunion was good for me in a bunch of different ways (and you’ll probably hear more about it in the coming weeks). One of those ways is that it made me a better writer.