Monday, November 2, 2020

Just the Facts, Please

Recently I’ve been working on a family project including family stories and legends. Sometime back I plugged in the name of a notorious ancestor and what I found surprised me. I found two blogs about this man and both were a figment of someone’s imagination. The information in the blogs said that this ancestor was Italian and that he was a force in the Mafia in Old Los Angeles. First of all, he wasn’t Italian. Secondly, although he wasn’t a particularly stellar citizen and he was in a questionable profession, he was not involved in the Mafia. This blogger hadn’t done his research but had, instead, made some assumptions based on my relative’s surname. (Immigrants often changed their names or changed the spelling when they moved to America, and this man was of one of those.)

When I’m working on a book I do the best research I can on nonfictional subjects. In A Well-Kept Family Secret, part of the story took place in Old Los Angeles. I researched what was going on back in the day. I read newspaper articles, obtained information from an archaeologist and used family history as a basis for the story. The story was very loosely based on the above-mentioned relative. I researched books dealing with the late 1800s and early 1900s. I even interviewed a few people who’d lived through that time. Needless to say, the interviews took place a very long time ago. 

On another front, Old Murders Never Die takes place in a long-abandoned ghost town. In the interest of accuracy, I researched everything from old cook stoves and washing machines to the way people talked and lived. Thankfully, I received a comment from a woman who works as a steward for ghost towns. She said I had everything right except that the town would have been a lot dirtier. While that’s a good point, I didn’t want my protagonist to spend the entire story cleaning while stranded in the ghost town and trying to solve an old crime.

I have a relative who came home from World War II and became somewhat of a recluse, living in the mountains and only coming down when it was necessary. He was actually one of my favorite people, and I was so used to his lifestyle that it was years before I realized he probably had PTSD. That realization brought on research for a book titled, The Silver Dollar Connection. The men in this story are memorable. Believe it or not, I was able to include some humor in the story. My relative would have appreciated that.

Readers are smart. They know the type of material they enjoy reading, and it’s often something they have knowledge of, which is why they enjoy it. If the writer gets it wrong, a reader may very well let them know.

I’ve read a few books where you simply knew that the author was fictionalizing every word because they were so off the mark. It’s not just history, but includes how a business is run, what terminology is used in certain situations, whether it’s a gang member talking, a cop speaking or a mother of twins bragging about her kids. Very few readers want to read a story that has no basis, at all, in fact.

My latest book, The Accidental Gumshoe, was particularly fun to write. I had to learn about slang terms from 1920 and how people dressed and thought. I needed to create a character who would have fit comfortably into that era.

I try to include lightness or humor in most of my books, and because of that sometimes things aren’t as realistic as they might be. However, the basics are researched. Sandi Webster, my favorite protagonist, is a private investigator. While a real P.I. wouldn’t be able to get away with some of Sandi’s antics, there wouldn’t be a story if I didn’t fudge a little (or sometimes a lot).

So there you go. Fiction needs to be combined with fact. Don’t fudge with something that can be researched. An author should be as accurate as possible while still telling a good story.

Now you have some idea why most writers research their projects, sometimes even to the smallest detail.

Until next time, have a good week and check your facts before making a statement.

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  1. I feel the same way, Marja. There's enough misinformation in the world today. As writers, we have an obligation to check the facts.

    1. There are readers who will correct us if we get it wrong, so I guess we'd better get it right -- or as right as we can. : ) Thank you for commenting, Pat!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Madeline! I'll try for something lighter next time. : ) Thank you so much for stopping in!

  3. I agree that research is an important part of writing. I've read books with inaccurate information and at that point I didn't want to read any further. I actually pointed one out to the author who was a friend, or I should say a former friend. Authors can be very touchy about their novels. Needless to say, the author didn't bother to fix it. Too bad, because it could have been a great novel.

    1. I understand, Evelyn. I've read a few books like that and ended up putting them down because there was so much misinformation. I want the characters to come across as real and I want the facts to actually be facts. Thank you so much for stopping in!

  4. Great blog, Marja. I agree, research is necessary and I love all the authentic research you put into your books. I love to learn when I read fiction and I especially loved learning all the 'slang' words in your latest book. Great writing!