If you research your writing intensely, as I do, it seems inevitable that fiction must approach reality. If the location is described intimately and accurately, if the culture of the people there is truly transcribed, if the political possibilities are assessed accurately, might not events occur similar to those that befall the protagonists, all unknowing?
This was the case with events described in my third novel of the Zack Tolliver, FBI series, ZACA.
I enjoy trail running. The activity takes me to places I might not otherwise reach and the beauty and uniqueness of my surroundings often stimulate ideas for my novels. Such was the case while running trails off the upper reaches of Colson Canyon near the Santa Maria Valley. From two routes, one of which hugs the summit ridge above steep cliffs descending to the east, the other a long winding descent down Rattlesnake canyon, I had glimpses of what I suspected were marijuana grows––uniformed rows of a slightly different green color from the oaks and mazanitas surrounding them, located in virtually inaccessible places. I found bits of black tubing such as is used for irrigation and even once jogged nervously past two men taking pistol practice near their parked pickup. All this, I should mention, within the national forest. On one occasion, I found a box of cartridges, apparently dropped during a hasty retreat.
The idea for the plot to ZACA developed from these runs. The specific action stimulated by these experiences begins in Chapter Nine of the novel when Chief Barnard drives Zack up the rough road to the head of the canyon, then leads the hike along the ridgeline. They rappel down the cliff side in order to reach the marijuana grow while overhead a helicopter hovers and lawmen descend to the scene of a murdered man. Thus begins a chase along a hidden trail I named El Camino Burro.
The book was published in 2015. In 2018 Spencer Cole, writing for The Sun told of a nine-month initiative by the County Sheriff’s Department along with federal authorities in the Los Padres National Forest to raid illegal cannabis grows in remote areas just east of Santa Maria, where this segment of my story takes place.
“Deputies and officers used helicopters to drop into the illicit sites,” the article states, “due to the rugged terrain that makes the locations otherwise extremely difficult to access…There were really no trails other than the ones growers made…The growers were tough to apprehend due to the noise the approaching helicopters made and the growers’ knowledge of the terrain that surpassed that of the investigators.”
The description of the terrain is an exact fit for the locality I used for my fiction. The necessity for helicopter descent into the area, the growers’ escape along hidden trails, the lack of arrests all are described prophetically on those pages of ZACA.
I was excited to read the news article, to see reality mirror my fiction. I see it as justification for solid research even in fiction and becoming familiar with the locality within which the action takes place. For me, in those moments, the extra effort and time proved more than worthwhile.
To read ZACA, follow this link.