I recently read a historical romance by a multi-book NYT bestselling author. I won’t name her here, but I’ve read her stuff before and have liked it well enough. This particular book, though, was saved from being thrown across the room only by the fact that I put my back out on Friday, and it was altogether too much trouble to get upstairs to choose another book from my TBR pile. In the end, the story was okay, but I had to wonder how an experienced author like this one somehow got through writing and editing the book and the editing process with the publisher without catching several instances of “I’ve done my research and now you’re going to pay.”
This particular issue bothers me as much as lazy or non-existent research about easily-researched topics. I think I’ve posted before about one book that drove me crazy by having a character, set up as the expert, explain the rules of hockey to another and get them wrong. And another by a British author who hadn’t checked BC’s geography and had characters take a train from Victoria to Whistler, which was supposedly in the Rocky Mountains.
“I’ve done my research and now you’re going to pay” (a phrase I first heard from Diana Gabaldon, though I’ve no idea whether she coined it) can be just as frustrating.
For example, at one point in this recent read, the hero attempts to prove to the heroine that women are as easily addled by arousal as men by seducing her with a kiss. In the middle of the suggestive conversation that leads to the kiss is this, quoted here for illustrative purposes: “Taking her arm, [hero] drew her to a more secluded area of the kitchen garden, behind a pair of pergolas covered with scarlet runner beans. They stood next to a glass forcing house, which was used to compel plants into flower before they might have otherwise. A forcing house allowed a gardener to grow plants and flowers irrespective of the prevailing weather.”
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the middle of seducing someone or being seduced, the specific use of the building by which I’m standing isn’t going to be at the front of my thoughts. Having the explanation of a forcing house there – twice, really – threw me right out of the story and made me uncomfortably aware of, and frustrated with, the author when I should have been lost in the story.
Research mistakes and giving too much explanation of things the reader might not understand are easy mistakes to make as a writer, I know. It’s one of the tough jobs of writing, making the research invisible to the reader, whether s/he knows what you’re talking about or doesn’t. I just hope that if I ever do it, I’ll spot it or someone else will while I can still fix it. Because when research is plain wrong or is presented at the wrong time as blatantly as it was in this book, it interferes with my suspension of disbelief and ruins the story for me.
What makes you want to throw books across the room in frustration?