Saturday, November 17, 2007


My first series is set in the real city of Revere, Massachusetts, where I grew up. Besides making trips back there myself, I garnered great support from family and friends when I needed to know whether a particular avenue is one-way or what kind of trees line Tuttle Street.

I thought it would be easier to set a book closer to where I live now, so I set the fourth in the series in Berkeley, California, one city over. It wasn't that much easier. I still had to go there with a notebook and camera to get the details right. Ditto when I set the eighth book in New York City. I wrote a lot of it while I was visiting, taking pictures and writing a daily log. Still, I had details to research from a distance. How many ponds in Central Park? How many subway stops from Times Square to Bloomingdale's?

I take these details seriously, but even so now and then I make an error.

Mystery readers may be too picky, however. We are writing fiction, after all.

Here's an example: I set a crime in the Revere Public Library—a reader on a mystery list pointed out that I'd given the library a director and an assistant director, whereas the real RPL has no assistant director. Really!

And here's my favorite. You've heard it many times if you've ever been to one of my book signings. I "erected" a nuclear lab in Revere and staffed it with scientists to work with for the periodic table series. One reader never mentioned that amazing "error," but complained that I had a character stop at a Starbucks and Revere has no Starbucks. Go figure. (Is Starbucks more odious than nuclear waste?)

How fussy are you—writers and readers—about getting it right? Do you have any errors to share?


Ellen said...

In mysteries, it is not that important to get it right. What you absolutely must do is avoid getting it wrong.

Something that "ain't so" is either a clue, or a mistake. The reader who thinks it's a clue gets very crabby upon reaching the end and finding it was just a mistake.

Kathryn Lilley said...

You might put off regional readers who are familiar with that location. Others probably won't know, or care. I think we're like filmmakers--our primary task is to create believable entertainment that compels the reader. When I think I'm going to bump up against a "fact," I create a completely fictional city, for example, so that no reader will come back and say, "Aha! City A is a FIVE hour drive from City B, not TWO!"

Deb Baker said...

A group of librarians once told me that many readers like to GO to the places we write about, so I do everything I can to get it right.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Good point, Deb. I used to write YA mysteries for a well-known series under a pseudonym. Years later, I ran into a woman who told me how she and her mother had spent hours with a map, trying to locate the (fictional) city of River Heights! I kind of went, "Aww....that's so sweet!" I felt kind of bad, too, that they'd gone to all that effort. But it said something about what the stories meant to her as a child. Funny thing is, even when I read the same series as a child, I never assumed the stories were "real" in any way! Even when I was nine years old I knew that fiction was fiction. (My mom must've clued me in.) I do make a big effort to get "knowable facts" straight. My favorite example of a mistake in fiction was an author who referrred to Snow White's castle at Disneyland as "Cinderella's Castle." A reviewer rebuked her for the mistake on public radio. One definitely wants to avoid those types of things!

Camille Minichino said...

I forgot about people looking up the sites, Deb!
I have California friends and in-laws who do that when they're on the east coast, but they know Revere is real.
BUT for all I know an anonymous reader is looking around too!

For better or worse, I've responsible for several people eating a cannoli for the first time.

Sheila Connolly said...

Interesting problem. On the one hand, it's good to know that people are paying attention to what you say. On the other, what're the odds of your thousands (?) of readers actually being familiar with the town you describe, down to the streets and the kind of trees there?

And there's another aspect. What if you do know a particular town, live or have lived there, still have friends there--how much can you say without offending someone? If you're going to make nasty comments about a place, it had better be fictional; if you're using a real place, say only nice things.

Anonymous said...

If it's someone's "place in the sun" to catch an inconsequential error, so be it. The important thing is that they found the cannoli bakery! xoxoxxo