Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fiction vs. Reality in Writing Novels

View from behind the Roaring Fork in northwest Austin.
Note the rocks from the old quarry above the water line.

Is It Imaginary or Real?

In Where Love Once Lived, there is a scene where Brian takes Karen to a fancy restaurant to say goodbye. Up until this point, he has tried to win her back. Now, after discovering his life has been a lie, he decides to move to Germany. He'd rather lose her than have to tell her the truth about his past.

I knew this scene had to be done in a restaurant so that the characters' reactions to each other would be constrained by common courtesy toward the other diners. My writing instructor, Bonnie Hearn Hill, had told us repeatedly that restaurant scenes were to be avoided because they were so overused. To counter the objection I knew I would hear from her I created an imaginary place that was so unusual it made the scene seem more unique.

The Imaginary Quarry Restaurant

Brian's friend Matt had converted a used up rock pit from a blemished, worthless spot on Earth to a verdant garden full of life. With God's help, Brian's life was in the process of changing from a loveless one to a love-filled one. Here is an excerpt of the scene before dinner:

Matt’s Quarry restaurant overlooked a rock pit that he’d turned into a lush garden by adding a thick layer of arable soil followed by a variety of trees, bushes, cacti, and flowers. People came from around the country to see the garden, making it difficult to get reservations for the restaurant, especially when the flowers were in full bloom. Matt had saved them a table with a view, and the special lighting installed in the garden below made it easier to appreciate the garden’s beauty.

Before their meal arrives, Karen threatens to walk out if Brian doesn't talk, so he placates her and decides to wait until after dinner to tell her he is leaving.

When they reached the end of the ramp and were on a flat surface, he took her hand with fingers laced. Her pulse felt synchronized with his as it traveled up his arm. He searched her eyes to see if she felt it, too. She smiled and pulled him closer. They walked silently until they got to the barren area he’d told her about. White jagged rock told the story of what it was like here when workers cut the limestone blocks from the earth. Several huge blocks stood nearby, serving as examples. The rocks smelled musty.

“This is what the whole area looked like when Matt bought it.”

“Quite a contrast,” she said, not letting go of his hand.

Brian looked at her in the light of the garden. She was so lovely.

“Yes. Think of all the dirt Matt hauled in to cover the rock and prepare for new growth. It’s even prettier here in the spring when the flowers bloom.” He wanted to be the one to show her the flowers. “All this used to be outside the city limits. The quarry was closed for years, the land marred like this, until Matt came up with the idea of building the garden and restaurant.”

“Great idea,” she said. “He reclaimed the land here, brought new purpose to it.”

“Yes. He’s modest about it, though. He said he got the idea while visiting Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada. I haven’t been there myself, but he said they restored the land there and made it into a garden.”

It was cooler in the garden, so Brian pulled her close. Was it to keep her warm or to feel her warmth? Whatever the reason, it felt natural to hold her close once again. The thirty years they were apart seemed like mere days. He held her tighter, knowing this would be the last time they’d be together.

The Real Quarry Restaurant

The imaginary Quarry Restaurant was based on my memory of living near an abandoned quarry near Highway 183. The area has since been engulfed by the city of Austin. Recently I noticed a restaurant sign nearby that mentioned a view of the quarry. Not long after that, Celeste and I went there to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

It is called the Roaring Fork. I looked it up online and found there are two in Austin, one in San Antonio and one in Scottsdale, Arizona. The ad stresses wood-fired cooking and American cuisine.

The old quarry is now a lake with condos and business offices circling it. There was a high fence at the location of the restaurant blocking the entrance to the trail around the lake and a sign indicating the area was private. Runners and walkers came by, presumably residents of the condos. There was also what looked like a recreational park across from where we looked out. It had a swimming and what appeared to be a boating area. The rock sides rose above the water level as a reminder that it was once a working quarry.

The Food?

The food was exceptional, but so was the price. It was fine for a once a year celebration such as ours, but not a place I would go often.

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