Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Games authors play

I've been reading a book set one county over from us here in the U.P. Cache of Corpses is apparently the third book in a series written by Henry Kisor that feature a deputy with the "Porcupine County" sheriff's department. Why Kisor felt the need to change location names is a mystery, but he does. Like many other authors, he indulges in minor name changes that seem to serve no useful purpose. I know there's a long tradition of creating fictional locations in literature -- Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County springs to mind -- but if you're going to tell the readers that your mythical county is abutted by Lake Superior, Houghton County, and Gogebic County, why not just keep right on using Ontonagon County instead of changing it to the utterly ludicrous Porcupine County? Anyone who knows the western U.P. is going to know it's Ontonagon County as soon as they read Kisor's description of the old county poor farm (an impressive ruin standing spitting distance from M-38; see photo above), and anyone who doesn't know isn't going to care. Was he worried that if he referred to Ontonagon as Ontonagon the people who run Syl's Cafe would sue over his description of the edible but not particularly good food at the loosely disguised "Merle's"?

I don't get it. I can understand authors who live in a community playing games with place names and trying to establish a fair amount of daylight between their work and whatever inspired it, but when the author is a FIP* who falls into the summer people/occasional tourist category? Why not just call places by their proper names instead of making up ludicrous crap like "Coppermass"? It makes no sense for the author to call places like Matchwood, Topaz, and Bruce Crossing by their actual names and then make up something for White Pine and Silver City, especially when the fictional names are just a notch off the real ones (Lone Pine and Silverton, respectively).

Alternatively, if you're going to make up names, come up with ones that mesh with the way the other counties in Upper Michigan got named: pick something Ojibwe (e.g., Gogebic, Ontonagon) someone notable (Schoolcraft, Baraga, Houghton), or something mineral (Iron). But Porcupine? Give me a break. That's just laughable.

As for the overall quality of the book, although I'm not quite done with it, I think it's safe to say its merits fall right in line with the food at Merle's: mediocre but tolerable. There's a fair amount of condescension laced through his descriptions of the locals, he gets a lot of the local color wrong -- how he can describe a typical U.P. wedding reception and not include a mention of the old ladies doing the chicken dance is beyond me -- and the flannel shirts we Yoopers wear are Union Bay, not Pendleton (seeing Yoopers described as wearing Pendleton was definitely a WTF moment). I also found its basic premise to be highly implausible, but I've read worse. Would I recommend to other mystery buffs? Probably not. If this had been a book I'd made the mistake of purchasing instead of checking out from the library, I'd toss it into the St. Vincent de Paul box rather than pass it on to either of my daughters.

As for why the Poor Farm photo, it's the setting for the first chapter of the book.

[*FIP = fucking Illinois prick. One of the many things Kisor gets wrong. He calls them FIBs. As long as I can remember, those asshats with the Illinois plates have been FIPs in northern Wisconsin and the western U.P.]        


  1. [*FIP = fucking Illinois prick. One of the many things Kisor gets wrong. He calls them FIBs. As long as I can remember, those asshats with the Illinois plates have been FIPs in northern Wisconsin and the western U.P.]
    FIBs are fucking Illinois bitches. But I guess he used bastards instead.

  2. Seen one porcupine the whole time I was at Sawyer. Now, killed some snoe-shoe rabbit and ruffed grouse out by Ishperming or whatever...

    I concur with your feelings about writing historical fiction.


  3. I found your blog via Blog Fodder. Especially enjoyed looking through your book list. I spotted a few of my own favorites but many I have not read. If I ever get the stacks of unread books that taunt me each time I walk past them read, I will return to your list to see what tempts me. Enjoyed your comments in this blog about inserting fictional place names among real places! Lyn Fenwick, an author struggling with subtleties of narrative nonfiction--Is it history or historical fiction???

  4. I had no idea there was so much interstate name calling going on!

    I agree that as a local it is irritaing when writers get things wrong. I read a book set nearby he used the real name of the city, but the writer had a waitress at a Carl's Jr. which is a fast food place.


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