Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You Know What They Say About Assumptions

What I'm reading: Sleepless in Scotland, by Karen Hawkins

Thanks, Marvin for holding down the fort while I was running around all day yesterday.

In prep for moving, we've been getting estimates on moving our worldly goods from Florida to Colorado – eventually. Since we need the money from the sale of the house before we can buy, we don't have anywhere to live out there (aside from some imposition on the kidlets). Movers are happy to store your stuff until you're ready for it.

Since we don't know where we'll live, we don't really know which furniture will fit in a new place. Plus, the d├ęcor aspects of Florida vs. Colorado have to be considered. That which works here isn't going to look right in a mountain home. Our prospective buyers want to keep a lot of our existing furniture, which is fine with us.

But movers charge by the pound. While we're happy to ditch the bedroom set, dining room, wall units, and lots of kitchen accoutrements, parting with books is much harder. And books are heavy. I checked the USPS website, looking to see what the options were. I discovered that you can send books and other media, as long as that's all that's in the box, at a price of about 1/3 of what the movers charge per pound. Our daughter and son-in-law in Colorado said they'd be willing to store boxes of books until we find a place.

Phase two: Packing books. We had some existing boxes, but I'd filled them long before I ran out of books. Needed more. The sturdiest boxes around are liquor boxes. One of my RWA chapter members works for ABC liquors. No brainer. She brought 20 boxes to Saturday's meeting. We packed books. And more books.

Our plan: take a few boxes to the Post Office every few days and mail them. So, I set out with 3 boxes of books and lugged them into the Post Office. Only then did I learn that the USPS will NOT ship anything in liquor boxes. The clerk said that information is on their website, but it never occurred to me to look for it.

When you're writing, the same thing can happen. The hardest part of research is knowing what you don't know, and finding the answer. When you have no clue that you don't know something, errors will creep into your work.

One of the most common mistakes in people writing mysteries, or any story involving firearms, is to have a character thumb a safety off a Glock. The basic assumption: Semi-automatics have safeties. Glocks are semi-automatics. Ergo, Glocks have safeties. Not so – they do have safeties, but not the kind you thumb off.

When I was writing Finding Sarah, I was meticulous about researching things such as what time the sun would set, and what stars would be visible at a specific area in Oregon. I knew I didn't know that, because I don't live in Oregon. The on-line Farmer's Almanac is a great resource. Likewise, when my character walked down Main Street in March, I needed to know what street trees might be in bloom, so I asked my sister-in-law, who lives in Salem.

Later in the book, I needed a way to thwart Sarah's escape. I decide the most believable option would be to give the villain a car with a stick shift, so when Sarah got away, she couldn't drive his car. As a private joke, I made the car a Highlander, since I cut my writing teeth on Highland fanfiction. However, not being a car person, I had no clue that stick shifts weren't an option on any car. I assumed you could get any car you wanted either way. Luckily, a critique partner had a Highlander and knew they didn't come with a manual transmission.

Not knowing what I didn't know could have led to an embarrassing error (given that my editor was an Australian, I doubt she'd have caught that).

If you're shopping, you're going to check prices, sales, and maybe Consumer Reports or a similar publication. When you're writing, you have to consider that your basic assumptions could be way off base, and do your homework. About everything. You know what they say about making assumptions!

What resources do you use when you do research, either for writing or just life in general?

Like this post? Please share.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great point here...making assumptions is a dangerous thing! Good reminder to always do our research homework.

Your story reminded me when I went to the post office to mail wine to my dad for Father's Day. Ohhh boy. I had no idea we weren't allowed to mail alcohol! But they definitely let me know where I'd gone wrong.

I can't imagine moving from FL to Colorado! Wow...that WILL be a change.

Mystery Writing is Murder

darkangelauthor said...

Any and all resources, Terry! Like you, I turn to people wherever possible for first-hand experience/knowledge, and after that to books and the Internet (being very careful about my sources in the latter). Too funny about the liquor-boxed books...sounds like something I'd do. Good luck with the move -- does this mean the house sale is final?


Kathy Otten said...

Wow, that's quite the move you're planning. I've done some pretty bizzare moves in my younger days, and I'm not moving anymore. No matter how deep the snow gets.
I always try to double, double check my research, but one of my biggest fears is that I'll muck something up and the readers will throw my books at the wall.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth, not long ago it was a FELONY to ship wine into Florida (the distributors didn't want anyone intruding on "their" territory.) It made me cry, because my brother worked for Jordan Winery and we could have had some great deals.

Linda - the sale won't be final until we sign the closing papers and deposit their check, but things are inching forward. I just hope all this packing won't jinx it. But no way could we do it all last-minute.

Marie Tuhart said...

Good luck with the move, that's a big one. Thanks for the post office info, never thought about they wouldn't ship anything in a wine box.

I do my best to research the heck out of my books, including talking to people who live in the area.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy - we've been in this house for 22 years because we hate moving. But we don't want to live out the rest of our lives in Florida. Our last big move was Los Angeles to Miami in 1973.

And even when you get it right, things can change after or during the publication process. I have a scene in my upcoming Nowhere to Hide set in a restaurant that went under. But I guess that saves worrying about needing permission to use it!

Terry Odell said...

Marie - I actually worked harder on details for the book set in Orlando because I used the real Sheriff's Office for my hero's job. But I find contacts anywhere I set a scene, just to make sure I don't make too many major goofs.

Marvin D Wilson said...

You're welcome for "holding down the fort", lol. And good points made here with this post. I do a lot of internet research, also will interview people if I'm writing something I have little or no experience in and need first hand knowledge.

The Old Silly

Terry said...

Liked the liquor box story. I hate it when that happens.

I worked in journalism for a while and the saying about assume was big:) It was drilled into us. It's amazing how, even after five editors have gone over a story, some mistakes slip through, many of them made by the editors, in fact. But I research fanatically and still worry about mistakes.

Like you, I talk to people, in my case, ones who lived and remember the time frame I'm writing about. Very helpful. Also, I use the library and the internet, although I'm careful about the sources on the latter. I needed to know the network TV schedule for Thursday night in 1964 and it was online. So it can be a great help.

Mary Ricksen said...

I use any reliable resource I can find and you know that's hard!
I hope your new home is all that you dream it will be. Have a good one!

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent post and so true.

Florida to Colorado is a huge move in every way. But you'll be fine. If I survived a move from Texas to New York City, you'll do the same going in the opposite direction.

Maybe you'll even use it in a novel.

Terry Odell said...

Marvin - thanks again

"other" Terry - the Internet is a valuable resource, but it's very easy to find wrong information

Mary - thanks!

Carol - I still haven't gotten around to using my trip to South Africa in a novel, although I accumulated lots of "characters" while on tour.

Jemi Fraser said...

I think I would have sat down & cried at that point (with the boxes of books). How depressing!

What an excellent point - I'm finding myself doing so much research as I do my read through of my Steampunk ms.

GunDiva said...

The GLOCK error is one that makes me in-freakin-sane! I was glad to see you mention it :)

I'm sorry, but I had to laugh about the liquor boxes, 'cause that's what would happen to me.

Terry Odell said...

GD - that's the most common mistake regarding firearms according to several expert workshop presenters.

Nicole said...

still no boxes yet...