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  • Mike Murphey

Borrowed, imagined or real?



The house on the cliff commands the attention of just about everyone sailing below through Thulin Passage. You can’t see a place like that without thinking, “My God, what would it be like to live there?” and “What are the people like who do?”

While impressive, seeing the house in a photograph doesn’t do it justice. To fully appreciate it, you must understand the view. This house faces to the southwest, where all the weather comes from in this extreme northwest corner of British Columbia. It looks over miles of ocean and islands in Desolation Sound, the body of water between the British Columbia’s mainland and Vancouver Island. Think of the Rocky Mountains, but with an ocean.

We sail in this part of the world for a week each fall, chartering through Cooper Boats out of Powel River, B.C. Our first stop is always the little harbor at Lund where we have clam chowder, then purchase the last of our provisions—wine and a marvelous Canadian rye whisky distilled by J.P. Weiser—and go on our way where we first encounter Thulin passage, a narrow channel between cliffs and islands. As you near its northern throat, the house appears.

The year that I began work on my coming-of-age novel Section Roads, it occurred to me, “I’m writing a book. I can let anyone I want live there.”

For purposes of the novel, this is the house in the prologue—Hezekiah “Buddy” Boyd’s summer residence. Buddy managed to rise above all the injustices and indignities imposed upon him by the little Eastern New Mexico town where most of the rest of the book takes place to afford this haven in what he considers the most beautiful spot in the world.

That’s one of the fun things about writing. You can appropriate almost anything or anyplace and use it for you own purposes.

I did the same thing in constructing another of the book’s settings. Several critical scenes, including a couple of murders, take place in a three-story house built on the pretense of a southern manor. "A Greek Revival edifice displayed four massive columns extending to an overhang above the second floor. Smaller columns from the second floor supported the base of a narrow third floor porch, a low iron fence shaping boundaries of a widow’s walk accessed by a set of French doors.

"A first-floor veranda spanned the house’s main entry, complete with rocking chairs and low tables. The lord of the manor could sit and sip a mint julip while surveying his domain.

Shelby had seen this house—set back from the roadway among a grove of elms—each time she passed along the paved road that served as an unofficial demarcation between town and country. Everyone regarded the place as regal, although from a distance, Shelby realized, you couldn’t see the decline that had set in."

Anyone from my home town will know the place. It just sits there, looking mysterious. I’ve always thought it would be a suitable location to murder someone.

I’ve never been inside, but I constructed an interior to suit my needs.

Another thing I borrowed and twisted to my purpose is a scene involving a shooting and a haunted house. This scene is based on an actual event concocted and carried out by a girl I grew up with in that same home town. While we knew each other for most of the eighteen years of our lives, we went out on a date only once. I think it was the spring of our senior year. I can’t remember exactly where we went, maybe a concert or a play, but over the course of the evening she told me what she’d done, which I thought was brilliant. The first time I borrowed her shooting was for a short story that appeared in New Mexico Magazine many years ago.

I’ve used it again as a pivotal scene in Section Roads with a fair amount of creative license applied. Be advised that in real life, nobody got hurt and she was nothing like Christie Hammond. She was kind, beautiful, and had a wonderfully creative sense of humor.

Not all of Section Roads is borrowed. Much of it, of course, is imagined. Much of it is not. I suspect almost any novel has biographical elements. Few writers can remove themselves completely from their books. Wondering which scenes are based on reality, and which scenes aren’t is part of the fun of reading a book like this one.



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