Because everyone has a say

And it seems to be Correct for everyone else to have an opinion apart from the person who made the review—and that’s a little unreasonable. 

I rarely bother to comment on disgruntled authors who are unhappy that I didn’t find their book particularly appealing, primarily because in the four years of Speak Its Name‘s existence I’ve only had two authors that I can remember who exploded in public, and one other who emailed me privately. I’m happy to say that 99.99 of the authors I encounter in Gay Historical Land are quiet and professional—and if they meltdown over something as silly as a subjective opinion then they do it in private.

One of the points that people seem to make when I point out that the historical aspect of a book isn’t entirely historical is that they make the excuse that it’s fantasy. And as such, it doesn’t matter whether or not facts are true.  So—that’s a point—is fiction automatically fantasy?

In a way, yes.

Because the minute you change the world just the tiniest bit by introducing someone into it that didn’t exist then you’ve changed the universe and it is an alternative universe created by you. Even if you are writing a fictional account of a real-life person, then you can’t possibly know what happened for every second of that person’s day and from time to time you’ll invent—thereby creating a fantasy version of What Really Happened.

BUT. That doesn’t give an author a bye, an excuse, a loophole to then say—when a reviewer has noticed that perhaps his research is not all it should be—that "it’s fantasy anyway, so it DOESN’T COUNT."

No. The second your invented characters start to interact with the world outside his head, then he has to encounter the correct era, the correct clothes, the correct manners, the correct mindset.  How much of this appears in your book is entirely up to you. I know that some people don’t want to do "all that research" – but a modicum is needed.  If you are going to use that excuse then get your publisher to use an A.U. label,or fantasy. Do what Langley did with "My Fair Captain" and have your Regency or whatever in space! Even Dreamspinner, who have a "historical-lite" "Dreams" line only really give their disclaimer along the lines of what gay men might have got away with, or how others may have treated them. In all the books I’ve read from that line, generally the historical facts are pretty sound.

What annoyed me about this particular book is not that the author didn’t do any research, but that it looked from the outside that he’d just bunged in a lot of stuff he thought he knew about the Victorian era, but didn’t do the simple checks required. I don’t see why he got annoyed with me pointing this out, because it was true. What annoyed me as much as that the publisher could have easily have checked too—something I think an editor should do—they always always have with my books. You don’t have to be an expert in historical editing to just check a few facts. That’s all it would have taken—and the book would have been much better!

Similarly, sticking M/M on a book doesn’t give the author free rein to discount any research.  M/M as far as I can grok it is now used for a shorthand for gay romance. It’s not a separate entity where "anything goes." The authors of detective M/M will be expected to have a viable plot, weapon, motive, opportunity, sleuth(s) and some kind of denouement. I’m quite sure that if a M/M author used the wrong ammunition with a particular gun, or had the wrong symptoms for a poison, someone would point it out. Sticking M/M on your detective fiction does not excuse you from getting the genre wrong (and the detective crowd as just as rabid as any fans). If you were to write (and why isn’t someone) an M/M set in a hospital, the author would not get away with wrong procedures, wrong treatments, blah blah -  so why shouldn’t it be the same for historical fiction? Why are historical authors considered "nitpicky" when medical authors are just "knowledgeable"?

I KNOW that I take research in historical books seriously. A lot more seriously than many readers, and that’s fine

If you (as a reader) don’t care one iota whether the Penny Black was launched in June 1840 not February, that married women couldn’t start their own business before the laws changed, or that Dracula wasn’t published in when Ambrose Standish was in prison (you see, I don’t let myself off any lighter than I do others) – then that’s entirely your affair.  I understand that. You just want a good read and a good story. And THAT’S FINE.

BUT. I also think, that as a reader you deserve that the facts you are reading, even if you don’t notice or care if they are correct or not, ARE as correct as they can be.  Not only does the writer give you that respect, but you aren’t likely to make a tit of yourself at dinner parties when you trundle out the facts you learned in an historical book.

© Copyright 2011 Erastes, All rights Reserved. Written For: Erastes
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