After writing insurance texts all day, I find it relaxing to spend time writing fiction, such as my mystery series about Dr. Fairchild, an Ohio religion professor who dabbles in odd events. Frequently I write about places I’ve never visited; I’m always surprised when I eventually do get there to find that it was just as I pictured. My research was correct!

In Valley of the Gray Moon, I wrote about a little Georgia town called Cohutta; it was so small I was certain no one would have ever heard of it. To my surprise, three weeks after the novel was published, Marla Maples made the news in some situation involving Donald Trump, and the media swarmed Cohutta looking for traces of Marla. Yikes! So I actually visited the place, and it was exactly as I’d described it.

Now when Dan Brown wrote his latest novel, Inferno (Doubleday, 2013), he set the theme of the story in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy version of Hell. I am certain Brown has never been there, but I must admit that he is certainly familiar with Dante’s description of the place, and with Botticelli’s painting of Dante’s vision. That is what makes Brown’s novel so frustrating—Dante’s Hell has nine circular layers, and Brown drags his readers through all nine of them, scene by gory scene. Most of the book takes place in Florence and Venice, Italy. I’ve been those places, and the fictional Dr. Robert Langdon, a Harvard arts professor and “symbologist,” certainly saw a lot more in the Renaissance art and buildings of Florence than I did. Same for St. Mark’s in Venice.

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