Where did Sunriver go?

Upriver Ranch, the Oregon resort community where the murder takes place, is fictional. But Upriver seems to be located right on top of a real place called Sunriver. So why didn’t the author, who seems so wise in other regards, not just say Sunriver? Well, I had several reasons.

Fiction is meant to exercise the imagination. Just as the reader pictures the characters in the book as someone they don’t know but would be an interesting person to meet, I felt readers would enjoy a setting that is slightly different from what they can find on Google Maps.

I think to tell a good story you need to put in everything you need and leave everything else out. Suspects is more focused, I think, if there is only one community instead of four (Sunriver, Crosswater, Caldera Springs, and Vandevert Ranch). The story only needs one golf course, not three, and doesn’t need an airport or a waterpark. I think Craig Johnson made the same kinds of decisions when he created Durant, Wyoming for the Longmire series instead of simply describing Buffalo, Wyoming – the real town that Durant is based on.

Also, there are things I can only do with an imaginary community. The hero, Dan, practices his mountain biking skills on a short course he adapts from an elk trail back in the woods. There might be enough wild forest at Vandevert Ranch to do this but unused land like that would be hard to find in Sunriver or Crosswater. Next, I wanted the Deschutes River Trail to come into Upriver but, in fact, it doesn’t come anywhere near Vandevert Ranch or Crosswater.  Further, I wanted Upriver Ranch to have a gatehouse but neither Sunriver nor Vandevert has one.

In its own way, Upriver Ranch hopes to join a long list of imaginary places that readers have come to know and enjoy – Yoknapatawpha County, Twin Peaks, Empire Falls, St. Mary Mead, Macondo, Pemberley, and, of course, Absaroka County.

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