Rebecca Behrens books
Rebecca Behrens books
Rebecca Behrens books

The White House Social Fall Garden Tour was an incredible experience for a lot of reasons: meeting the very cool and accomplished other attendees; hearing White House administration staff and officials speak on a variety of topics; viewing the beautiful gardens; and, you know, getting to explore the White House, or at least its grounds! But it was also a very special day for me because I got to visit one of my settings in person (and it was a setting I thought it would be unlikely for me to ever experience firsthand).

Writing When Audrey Met Alice and revising it (many times), I spent hours researching the White House: poring over every photo I could find; reading books and websites and blogs; watching films and TV shows set and filmed there; studying maps and floor plans. Although I hope the WH I created in my story is authentic, it’s definitely a fictional place. Despite all that research, I still had to make tons of stuff up. Sometimes that was because I just didn’t have access to information and other times it was in the interest of good storytelling.

My brief visit to the White House grounds gave me some of the firsthand knowledge I couldn’t get from my research: How the area smells; what the ambient sounds are like; how open or closed the outdoor spaces feel when you’re in them. I got a taste of the oxymoronic atmosphere: the White House is serene at the same time it’s bustling. There are people everywhere working (administration officials, secret service agents, landscapers and groundskeepers, etc.), but it feels very calm and controlled (at least to a visitor). I witnessed the security procedures for guests, from the info you disclose prior to your visit to the metal detectors to scanning a badge to let you leave.

One of my characters has a joyride in a golf cart at the WH.
I saw the vehicle in this photo and pictured her on it. Awesome!

I also uncovered some details more directly related to my writing about a fictional and a historical first girl. When asked a (pretty benign) question about the habits of Sasha and Malia, the administration staff politely declined to answer–they maintain the privacy of the girls, even when it comes to matters like “do they like eating their vegetables from the garden.” I have to admit that I was really pleased at that response–it’s great that the WH staff are so protective of the rightful privacy of first kids! (I know my characters would have appreciated that.)

Some settings are easier to visit than others and some downright impossible–a fictional planet, the 16th century, the inside of a volcano. But whenever possible, it’s important to visit the places that inspire our stories. Not only for the authenticity it can give one’s writing, but for the way it can energize and reinvigorate. Looking ahead to edits on my book, I can’t wait to incorporate some of what I experienced last Friday into the book. I’ve totally reconnected with my setting, and that’s a wonderful thing.