My guest today is the awesome Ariel Tachna, talking about her new novel The Path, which she researched up close and personal on a trip to Peru. 🙂
Integrating Fact into Fiction
by Ariel Tachna
How many times have we as writers made one comment or another about including someone who annoyed us in a book as revenge? How often have we modeled a character after a friend or loved one… or enemy?
It’s so easy to do. After all these are people we know well enough to do justice to. The challenge changed for me when it came time to write an entire book based on something that really happened, and recently. Last August, my husband and I spent a week in Peru hiking the Inca Trail. It was the hardest thing I have ever done but also one of the most rewarding. I saw amazing things and met inspiring people. It came as no surprise, then, that I wanted to write about it and share that with my readers. Except I wasn’t writing about some generic setting I could move to another location to protect the innocent. The Inca Trail can’t be anywhere other than between Piskacucho and Machu Picchu. The guides and porters can’t be anyone other than Quechua Indians. Sure, I can make Benicio from Cancha Cancha when our guide Leonardo was from Ollantaytambo originally. I can create a fictional travel agency instead of the one we actually used, but how do I separate my real trip from the fictional story I want people to read about?
Part of that comes from the romance. Our group of fourteen had six couples, two singles, and of course our two guides, but nobody met and fell in love (although Smith, our other guide, talked about a guide who had fallen in love with and ended up marrying a tourist in his group). So any romance I wrote into The Path was fictional. Smith and Leonardo were hilarious together, but they weren’t in love with each other. And from the pictures they had on their phones, they both had girlfriends to hold their attention when they weren’t on the trail together.
Part of making it fictional comes from drawing on the stories Smith and Leo told us about other groups they’d gone with instead of writing only about what happened while we were actually there. The climactic sequence at the end of The Path is based on an experience Smith shared, embellished with my own imagination, of course.
The rest of it, though, was accepting that it was okay to describe our experiences where they fit into the greater story. The tourists teaching Benicio to play bocce ball really happened. I really stood at the Sun Gate watching the light come down the mountain and into the valley and cried. In the end, it isn’t about fact or fiction. It’s about believability and the emotions of the story. Maybe some of the events didn’t happen or didn’t happen to me, but the experience of hiking the Inca Trail did, and I like to think that will carry over to my readers.
All his life Benicio Quispe has dreamed of being a guide on the Inca Trail. He gets his chance when the top travel agency in Cusco, Peru hires him. Alberto Salazar, his assigned mentor, fits Benicio’s idea of a perfect guide, but he’s also everything Benicio never dared to dream of in a boyfriend.
Alberto learned a long time ago to be discreet about his sexuality. It’s a necessary sacrifice to keep the respect of the guides and porters whose help is critical in a successful hike. So he pushes aside his attraction to his new junior guide and goes on as usual. But when a group of old friends arrives to hike the trail again, they convince him a relationship with Benicio is worth pursuing. His newfound resolve is enough to get them on a first date, but no amount of courage can change the attitudes of their family and friends. The risks on the trail are easy compared to finding a path through the challenges keeping them apart.
Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their two dogs. Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with France, where she met her husband, and India, where she hopes to retire some day. She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.