Do you have a specialist subject or some arcane body of knowledge? Have you ever seen it used to power a novel? Did the author get it right? Does it affect how you feel about their writing in general?
This morning I’ve been reading the comments on one of my favorite blogs with a mixture of awe and fascination.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of Ilona Andrews’ writing, and one of my favorite free weekend treats is to read the latest installment of One Fell Sweep, the third book in their self-published Innkeeper Chronicles (click here to read my thoughts on the second book, Sweep In Peace). The books are posted free as a weekly serial on the Innkeeper website as they are written. Then they’re taken down, edited, and published for sale.
The heroine of the series is Dina, who runs a magical Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas. In the current story her goal is to help a melancholic endangered alien species survive the murderous attentions of a bunch of ruthless feathered otherworldly crusaders whose mission is to wipe them off the face of the galaxy.
Team Dina is a fabulously entertaining community including a stiff-necked knightly vampire; a hotstuff werewolf with scary fighting knowhow; a top-notch chef with quills, claws, and a raging artistic temperament; a retired tyrant with cannibalistic tendencies masquerading as an aristocratic old lady; a hard-nosed local cop who has no idea what he’s facing; Dina’s sister, the widow of a disgrace to the chivalric vampire species, and Dina’s adorable half-vampire niece.
I love the series for its characters, humor and humanity. The writing is excellent and the pacing snappy. I enjoy the intelligent world-building and clever plotting, but I have to be honest, I don’t really pay attention to the technical details of what the bad guys can and can’t do, or how the good guys defeat them. All I really care about are the characters, how they interact, and what happens to them. Who wins, who loses, who cheats, who sacrifices, who lives, who dies, who falls in love (especially the last).
So – mild spoilers ahead – the inn is currently under siege, and in last week’s episode, the murderous chief bad guy introduced the fast-germinating seed of a plant capable of destroying the entire planet into the inn’s water supply. The threat was identified and dealt with by Team Dina, though at a cost. This week was all about the aftermath of the attack and offered great potential for important revelations in future episodes.
My reading of this bit of the story: wow, bad guys put killer plant in the Inn’s water system. Eek. That thing has the potential to wipe out the entire story world. Holds breath as Team Dina identify and deal with killer plant. Phew. Threat nullified. Emotional stress. Character badly hurt. Relief. Character survives. Can’t wait to see the impact of the battle on community and relationships.
Then I read the 260+ comments, which include an informed technical discussion about what exactly is a prokaryotic bacteriophage, complete with references (click here and scroll down if you’re curious). And last week there was the definition of phagocytes, a digression about computational models of the biomechanics of sea slug mouths, and my personal favorite, a commenter who used to work for a sewer department theorizing about how exactly the inn’s water supply was infiltrated by the bad guys.
Even though I still don’t really understand (and don’t much care) about the microbiological details of the killer plant attack, I love the idea that other readers do, and that those readers maybe get a little extra kick out of the stories because the authors are diligent in their research and knowledgeable about the material they use for their plots, even if they then choose to take fictional liberties.
The whole prokaryotic bacteriophage discussion makes me a happy reader. It gives me the same feeling I got when I learned that Georgette Heyer bought an original letter written by the Duke of Wellington because she planned to include one in a story and wanted to get his style of writing exactly right. It reinforces my feeling that the author knows what she’s doing and she’s in control of her work. And that makes me more willing to suspend disbelief and trust aspects of the story that I might otherwise question.
It also makes me feel I need to dig deeper on some aspects of my own romantic fantasy WIP. When I’m done with it, I’d like to feel confident I could defend my story choices in a killer plant standard discussion.
I know not everyone feels the way I do. Last year, at a well-regarded London theater, I went to an interesting play set in a business world that I knew pretty well. Afterwards I said to a senior member of staff that although the writing was good from a craft perspective, based on my personal knowledge I had found some of the protagonist’s peripheral experiences not credible and that had left me skeptical about and distanced from the central story. His reply was super-polite (I was there as a guest) but in essence he said I’d missed the point. The writer’s job was to use his imagination and capture the central truth of the character’s experience. Researching business trivia was not what the story was about and so did not really matter overmuch. Or words to that effect.
What do you think?