What I'm reading: The Desert Hedge Murders, by Patricia Stoltey
Somehow, there seems to be a lot of synchronicity in the blogosphere. Recently, there have been posts showing up at various sites discussing how closely an author needs to adhere to the facts.
Of course, we all want our books typo free, and accurate in terms of mechanics. When I see errors in books, I have learned enough about the process not to assume the author is solely to blame. There are copy editors who should be catching things, and sometimes, changes are made that the author isn't aware of. Some 'helpful' editor might change a foreign phrase, thinking it was wrong, when in reality, in context, it was correct.
Or, the wrong version of the manuscript goes to print. I can speak from experience there. My galley corrections somehow never made it into print in one of my books, and I'm not sure when they'll get the correct version out. That's the flip side – they're a small press, and their focus is digital books, so they can make corrections without having to sell out a 100,000 book print run.
Authors do not make good proofreaders of their own work. The eye sees what it expects, and the author has probably read the work dozens, if not scores, of times. In When Danger Calls, the head of the company, Blackthorne, Inc., is Horace Blackthorne. Yet until I saw the printed ARC, he was Horace Blackstone the first time he was introduced. I'd missed it on every read, and both my editors had missed it as well.
I was reading a book recently where a character saw the "break" lights on the cars. And someone was waiting with "baited" breath. Or the book where a character put "peddle to the metal."
How much does it take to throw the reader out of the book so far that they don't come back?
That probably depends on how good a storyteller the author is, and how compelling the characters are.
Sometimes there are minor hiccups. If a character makes a choice, and you've got a different solution, maybe that will make you stop reading for a moment and think about it. I was reading a scene where the characters had been interrupted once too often by the telephone in the bedroom, so they took it out. Perhaps the author was trying to find a reason for his character to have to leave the bedroom, and this was his solution. In my household, we simply turn the ringer off the bedroom phone. It seems a simply way to handle the rude awakenings. Thus, when I read the 'no more phone in the bedroom' scenario, I stop for a moment to think about my solution. Does it spoil the book? Of course not. But any time you slow the read, you're giving the reader an excuse to put the book down.
Sometimes an error tells the reader the author is lazy. If you're using a real drug, take a minute to research what it looks like. People who are familiar with the medication will know if you say it's yellow when it's blue.
Why does a flight from Hawaii land at the International terminal at LAX? Last I heard, Hawaii was part of the US.
Thumbing the safety off a Glock? That's the most common error made by writers dealing with firearms. I can skip over that with little more than a snicker. I don't know much about handguns, but I do know a Glock doesn't have that kind of safety.
I also know that it's "Canada goose" not "Canadian goose," even if "Canadian" sounds better. And that those big goldfish are "koi" not "coy" (although maybe they're coy koi.)
A cell phone that has a different ring tone every time it rings? I know you can assign a ringtone for various callers, but then you'll know who they are. If the author does that, then do it all the way. Don't have the person wonder who's calling. (Or are there now "random rings" available on cell phones?)
In writing my books, which deal with aspects of law enforcement, I do my best to get it right. Knowing what you don't know is often the hardest part. Thinking you do know something and not checking the facts (like assuming all semi-automatics have a safety you can thumb off) can get you in trouble.
But what about the death of a prominent politician in a car accident that's declared due to his being drunk because the cops smelled alcohol. Excuse me? That's a real stopper for me. No autopsy? No blood analysis? Where are the media?
Lee Lofland's book, "Police Procedures & Investigation"* has a great chapter called, "C.S. … I Don't Think So" which reminds readers that television is a medium of entertainment, not reality. Yet I had an editor once tell me that if I was going to write about police work, I should write what the readers believed to be true, not the way it really was. Since they watch television and read fiction for entertainment, they expect both to agree.
I don't fully agree. I had the pleasure of sharing a ride with Detective Mark (Homicide) Hussey to the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America meeting on Saturday. (As an aside, he became a grandfather for the second time that morning.) Not only did he answer my multitude of questions about police procedure, he was kind enough to read my short story for police accuracy. I feel I owe that to my readers, and if it doesn't match what they see on television, I try to find a way to explain it on the page, without stopping the action.
Harlan Coben said, "It's fiction. I get to make stuff up." But the choice of what stuff to make up might be the difference between endearing or alienating a reader. What sorts of tolerance do you have? What bothers you enough to spoil a read?
*And don't forget, I have a copy of this excellent reference book to give away in my July contest. Be sure to enter. Details on my website.
Tomorrow, my guest is author Bess McBride. She'll be talking about family. And graveyards.