Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

I jolted awake this morning from one of the dumbest dreams I’ve ever had. I woke up absolutely convinced that I had to tell the show this weekend that I couldn’t do it because I was already booked elsewhere. Not only that I was booked, but that I had an opening night. I woke up thinking, “How am I going to tell them? Who could I recommend to cover me?” before realizing, “You idiot, if you were about to have an opening night, you’d be in previews this week and would have had to be replaced for daywork yesterday, etc., and you’d kind of notice.” How moronic can you get?

I’ve got the coffee on, and, hopefully, I can get out of the haze. That’s the part of the dream I remember. Whatever else was going on, I don’t feel as though I’ve gotten any sleep.

Which is not a good thing, since I have to do the matinee today and teach a double session tonight.

Day work was fine yesterday. The trains weren’t running too badly; I took a slightly earlier train to make sure I got there on time.

After work, I met a friend of mine for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other for months. She lent me her laptop a few months ago with my computer pitched a fit and I was on deadline, and, finally, I could give it back to her. She’s about to go into production for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang AND she’s in nursing school. Quite a heavy load for anyone to bear. But she’s always positive and organized, so I’m sure she will be fine.

After our Thai food, we went across the street to the St. Andrews Pub for a beer. The St. Andrews is a Scottish pub, and one of my favorite places in the city. Whenever I work a show at the Belasco, I’m in there constantly, because it’s right across the street. They have a good range of Scottish beers, most of the staff is from Scotland, and the food and atmosphere are both great. One of the bartenders who worked there when I first started going – during the revival of Follies ­– is still there, and it was good to catch up.

I remember when something happened by what show I worked on at the time.

For the record, I had the Fraoch Heather Ale -- one of my favorites, and that's the only place in the city to get it.

What’s nice about having dinner with this friend is we can have actual conversation – it’s not just small talk about “this happened” and “so and so said that”.

After dinner, I came home and tried to work on Widow’s Chamber. I’d counted on having all day today to work on it, and that’s just not going to happen.

A friend asked an interesting question in writers’ group last night, about how accurate the research needs to be in historical fiction. She’s feeling bogged down by the research in her WIP. I tried to explain my position, but I don’t think I was particularly articulate.

I think it’s important to capture the spirit of the time, the rhythm, and the cadence. If you’re going to use historical events, yes, you’d better be accurate. Because there will be someone out there who knows a great deal about the time and will be insulted if you get it wrong. I think if you don’t, you break your trust with the reader, and, ultimately, you lose the reader.

I think there are times you can bend some of the times in order to maintain the integrity of the story, but it needs to be an obvious choice and not come across as carelessness. I know I’ve stretched the truth a few times in Widow’s Chamber and I’ve rearranged certain events in Cutthroat Charlotte. I also make a point of mentioning that I’ve done it in my remarks, either on the website, or, when they are turned into novels, in an introduction. I don’t want to lose the reader’s trust.

It’s kind of like when someone who’s never been to New York City writes a piece set there and gets all the streets wrong. Or sets something in a basement in Long Island home in a particular town that I know for a fact has no basements. I’m not going to read more of this person’s work because: 1) why didn’t the lazy SOB do the work? and 2) if the person’s got it wrong in something as easy to check as a street name, why should I trust this person in anything else?

If I’m going to put down my hard-earned money, I want something I can trust. I want to know the person has done the research. Why should I give my money, and, just as importantly, my time, to someone who’s lazy and didn’t take the time to research? Also, a big peeve of mine is paying for a hardback and then finding typos. It drives me insane and I always write to the publisher about it. I don’t write to the author, because nine times out of ten the author fixed it in the galleys more than once, and the changes were never put in. You can’t just run a manuscript through spell check. It actually needs to be read and fixed.

The most common type in the past five years – I’ve found one in about 60% of the books I’ve read – is using “warn” instead of “warm”. It drives me nuts.

If it is a deliberate twist and I can see the motivation and the integrity behind it, I’ll buy it. Sometimes, those can be delightful.

At the same time, if it reads like an academic journal, the piece is going to lose me. Historical research needs to be used the way one spices food – with some restraint.

Often, I’ve read an historical novel and gotten so interested in the time period or place that I’ve gone on to do more research on my own. That’s when the author’s really done it – created an engaging piece that makes me want to know more, not overwhelmed me with the detail (some writers seem to think, “damn it, I spent eighteen months doing this research, the reader is going to know everything I know”), and told a crackingly good story.

So I better get moving. I need to get work done on the western before I leave.

Devon
www.devonellingtonwork.com
http://www.keepitcoming.net/widows-chamber.html
http://www.keepitcoming.net/tapestry.html
http://keepitcoming.net/angel-hunt.html
http://www.keepitcoming.net/cutthroat-charlotte.html
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3 Comments:

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Lara said...

Devon,
Ha ha! *I* used to be in the "I-spent-eighteen-months-researching this-and-I'm-putting-in-everything-I-found" mode! After last night's discussion (in which you DID articulate nicely what you meant, imo) I have decided to just write, and add in the authentic details later...and I understand your "reader's trust" point. That's something I think all writers should feel inclined to keep.
You're an inspiration! :-)

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger Michelle Miles said...

As someone who is starting her first historical, youre response was great. You are an inspiration. :)

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger Eileen said...

You are an inspiration to me, as well!

I believe that research in writing fan fiction and staying true to the characters will win a reader's trust, or lose it.

Writing fan fiction, especially "Lord of the Rings" fan fiction, is challenging and rewarding for me for this very reason. There are multitudes of fans out there who know more than I do. :) For me, I'm willing to do the work because I love the genre. I think that's where it all begins. This gives me the passion to do the work.

As an ardent Billy fan, I can relate to your affection for a wee Scottish accent. :)

 

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