The fictional Otters Island in Patricia Wants to Cuddle is closely modelled after the true gem of the San Juan archipelago, Orcas Island.
For thematic purposes, I had to give Otters a bit of a dilapidated Texas Chainsaw Massacre make-under, but the bones are the same: stunning greenery, an LGBTQ-inclusive atmosphere, a charming downtown, and a mountain on one side of the horseshoe. In real life, Orcas is my favourite escape from Seattle. So when I needed a remote location to serve as a sort of ‘locked room’ for a reality show gone wrong, it immediately came to mind.
I took the name for Otters Island from my favorite place to stay on Orcas: Otters Pond B&B, where I have indeed eaten some of the finest breakfasts of my life, including this Dutch baby pancake.
In real life, the owner is a fantastic chef, but she does not – as far as I know – have as many secrets as my fictional innkeeper.
In the book, the island’s population is predominantly LGBTQ; I describe it as being a sort of faded lesbian version of Provincetown.
The real Orcas has quite a large queer presence – Pride flags abound – but it’s not exactly a lost gay oasis. For inspiration on that front, I drew from time spent in places like the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which I visited for my first book, Real Queer America. I’ve long been interested in highlighting rural queer havens, precisely because these hotspots get so little attention relative to major urban gaybourhoods.
Washington State has the largest ferry system in the country, connecting the mainland to various islands.
The route to Orcas Island is one of the most scenic – and nowhere near as creepy as the opening of Patricia. Here’s a photo taken off the stern on a recent visit.
‘Trees.’ I probably typed the word hundreds of times in Patricia.
It’s hard to find old-growth forest in Seattle. Only a few pockets remain. But on Orcas, you can spend all day walking among Douglas firs that are hundreds of years old. To me, they’re more than just fantastic horror set dressing; they also serve a thematic purpose, symbolising a pre-digital history to which we will never return. The trees of Orcas were there long before anyone photographed them for Instagram and I hope they’ll be there after we go extinct.
My true arboreal obsession, though, are the Pacific madrone trees, which feature prominently in Patricia.
(Here in Seattle, we spell it ‘madrona’, not ‘madrone’, which became a talking point with the US copy-editor. I stuck with my city for the book, but for this diary, I’ll use the proper name.) These red-barked trees tend to grow on cliffsides like the ones found throughout the San Juans: they like salt water and sunshine, just like humans do. This is one of my favourite madrone trees on Orcas Island, found in a quiet grove in Obstruction Pass State Park.
I mean, come on. This place is just gorgeous.
If I were a character in Patricia, this is where I’d want to get murdered: Cascade Falls.
Without spoiling anything, a climactic scene in Patricia takes place in a tower on the top of Mount Resilience (which in real life is called Mount Constitution.) You can see why I find it so unnerving – the tree cover suddenly stops, and then this ageing structure juts out of the grass.
I made it much, much taller in the book, as is my right.
A lake on Otters features prominently both in blog posts exploring the history of the island and in the events of the present-day reality show. On Orcas, it’s called Mountain Lake, which is a fairly generic name, don’t you think? An editor would probably flag that if I tried to put it in a book. Anyway, here’s my brother near the lake.
Fortunately, he did not disappear while hiking around it.
Who knows what you’ll find in the woods of Otters Island?
You might even encounter an author who’s currently losing sleep over her next book. Hopefully the trees can whisper some inspiration.
Renee should be thrilled to have been chosen as one of the final four contestants in The Catch, the world’s biggest reality show. But now she has arrived on the remote, wooded island for the final show, Renee begins to wonder if there’s something wrong. Is she taking a bigger risk than she realised?