Historical Perspective

mobile phone and booksI read a book before, during, and after RWA Nationals. I’ve met the author, shared a few meals with her. Enjoyed the book. Mostly. It’s the first in a series and represents a shift in genres for her. Really liked her characters, her voice, and overall, the plot.

Here’s the rub. It was a historical. I don’t often read historicals. I’m a historian by education and interest. I’m married to a historian. And we reproduced a historian, who then converted her fiance to the dark side and HE became a historian.

I have a background in British history, American Civil War history, and both Oklahoma and Native American history. I’m decently read in a lot of other areas, too. We have two 4×8 bookcases that’re nothing but historical reference books. There’s a reason I don’t write historicals. I’m a stickler for the history being correct and sometimes, that history plays havoc with a book’s plot. And sometimes, the author just gets it wrong.

Regency England. Not my period but I’ve been known to read romances set in that time. I’ve also been known to stop reading and go research if something in the story seems…off to me. Which brings me back to that book I read. It wasn’t a Regency. It is a western. Yeah. That’s something I know a leetle bit about. *makes itsy-bitsy sign with thumb and index finger* Guns. Horses. Outlaws. Settlers. Ranching. Peace officers. And Indians. Especially Indians in Oklahoma. Did I mention I know about Oklahoma, too?

See? We aren’t…Kansas. The majority of Kansas is flat. If you get up around Kansas City, the topography changes to granite hills. But head west? Flat all the way to the horizon and once you cross over in Colorado, it’s still flat until you can see the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

Oklahoma has hills. And mountains. We have rivers and lakes. Buttes and canyons. Forests, grasslands, and red clay. And most of the Indians who settled here were civilized. Lawyer Guy’s ancestor was a lawyer who argued against Removal in front of the US Supreme Court. He made the Trail of Tears in chains. They didn’t wear breechclouts, go bare-chested (except maybe when working), and the ladies did not wear buckskin dresses. They lived in real houses, in real towns. Hello. Five CIVILIZED Tribes. Ring a bell? I’m part Chickasaw and part Cherokee. LG is Muskogee/Creek. We have three of the five covered.

So back to the book…yeah. Oklahoma, though eventually the author did properly refer to it as Indian Territory, given the dates (we didn’t make statehood and become Oklahoma until 1907), she painted the state as a flat, tornado-ravaged expanse with little water (okay, we have been in a drought and there was that whole Dust Bowl thing in the 30s, but…) and then she made the Cherokees into…something they weren’t. She made them into a common stereotype.

I’m not an advocate of Wikipedia as a serious research tool, but it can be a handy source for quick information. Case in point, the Cherokees. Here’s the WIKIPEDIA LINK just for the capitol. Read it. The book was set in the 1880s. Yeah.

Rant almost over, I promise. If you’re writing a historical, do your research! If I didn’t like the author, her voice, and her characters, the book would have been a DNF for me. Granted, it was only one chapter but that one chapter tossed me out of the story so fast I almost didn’t get back in it. From that point on, all the little niggling things I could have overlooked started to really bug me. And now I wonder if I’ll read her next book. This is not a good thing for an author looking for readers.

So. What about the rest of you? What nit-picky things irk you about a book?

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About Silver James

I like walks on the wild side and coffee. Lots of coffee. Warning: My Muse runs with scissors. Author of two award-winning series--Moonstruck and The Penumbra Papers, Red Dirt Royalty (Harlequin Desire) & other books! Purveyor of magic, mystery, mayhem and romance. Lots and lots of romance.
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10 Responses to Historical Perspective

  1. Janet says:

    You make a very good case for all historical authors (me included – your case/rant is duly noted). When I read, I take everything with a grain of salt (I love salt anyway) – if something is a little off, I’ll go with it…BUT, as you said, the story has to be great (the characters, the plot, everything). If not, then the book will probably be abandoned for those reasons (with the historical inaccuracy as a close second).

    So, I guess what I’m saying is my ‘nit-picky’ thing would be the story – no story, no reading!!

  2. Liza says:

    I get nit-picky if I’m reading a book set in city I know and author doesn’t place a site in the right location. I’ve seen it multiple times in books set in Nashville and It drives me crazy. I’m more forgiving with historical romances if I don’t know much about the time period. I love history, so I have been known to read about a time period after reading a historical romance to learn more and found out errors at that time. If I love the author and the story, I usually can overlook issues while reading.

    • Silver James says:

      Good grief! I even use Google Maps street view in places I’m familiar with! It’s just so easy. When writing contemporary, I’ve been known to *actually* drive a route my character is following in order to get the timing right. Anal? Me? How’d you guess? šŸ˜†

  3. If the writing’s good, I can forgive a lot of things. But there are times… Once I was reading a book and it was like the writer didn’t even care that the Salt Lake Valley has a very specific topography – that even a hundred years into the future wouldn’t change much. He had his characters do stuff and I kept thinking ‘my god, you can’t go that way’ and ‘no, that’s not possible’. I finally gave up. Sure, we can’t all afford to go everywhere and do everything, but sheesh… Google Maps, people. Mapquest? Bing? Whatever. Get down on street level and see the lay of the land.

    As hard as I work to get things right, it ticks me off when published authors get it so wrong. (And the times when I’ve gotten something wrong? I got slapped so hard my ancestors felt it.) Bah.

    :endrant:

    • Silver James says:

      I second that rant, B.E.! I remember when my CP got her first cover. Her story is set along the Trail of Tears. She had to argue with her editor about dress and mannerisms. She finally pulled the “My historical consultant said…” card. When she got the cover, it had a teepee on it. A FREAKING TEEPEE. Another editor went to bat for her and got the cover redone sans the teepee. I mean…really? šŸ˜›

  4. jblynn says:

    If a story bores me, it’s an auto DNF for me.

  5. ban says:

    And that’s why I don’t write historicals either – I would loose myself entirely researching everything (’cause I have to get it right too.) I’ve got my current story set in a specific area I’m familiar with and I have current, recognizable landmarks but I’ve also gone a little out of bounds, creating my own town and adding places, like a housing development where there isn’t one and a den of shifters in the middle of the woods …
    I think a little leeway here and there, strictly for creative purposes, is acceptable but getting the topography of an entire state wrong is just … wrong.
    I think jblynn is heading in the right direction. If a story is bad, it doesn’t matter how historically accurate it is and if a story is great, we’re a lot more forgiving of errors.

    That said, sometimes, the errors are just too obvious and annoying to pass over. I don’t know that I’d be able to read another story by that author. I can see finishing the first ’cause you were already into it and involved with the characters but knowing ahead of time she’s gonna make mistakes that throw you out in the next would have me avoiding #2.

    • Silver James says:

      Uhm…I wouldn’t know anything about getting lost in research. *whistles sinnocently* I’m actually very forgiving unless things are so totally wrong that I can’t get past them and want to stop reading to write the author a scathing letter. I don’t. Usually. šŸ˜†

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