BOOK & BLOG
January 24, 2011
Books of the Week:
I’ve been reading a lot of Dean Koontz lately. I love the first half of his books. Not only are the first few chapters incredibly frightening, but Koontz is absolutely skillful at establishing the world, the protagonist, and the adversary. I tend not to like the second half so much, the half where the adversary (at first so omnipresent and inexplicable) is defined and defeated. There can be suspense in that, too, but I guess that’s not what interests me in Koontz. What a storyteller he is! It’s like sitting around the campfire, knowing someone’s sneaking up behind you. In Phantoms, an earlier work, Dr. Jenny Page is returning to Snowfield, a remote tourist town, after she’s picked up her 14-year-old sister, Lisa. Lisa is coming to live with Jenny after her mother’s death, and she’s excited to see her new home. But when they get to Snowfield, everyone is town is dead or missing. You can’t beat that for an opening!
The Warded Man was recommended to me some months ago, and it’s been sitting on my TBR shelves since then. Middle Son got it out at Christmas, handed it to me, and told me I should read it. He was absolutely right. It’s wonderful. Appropriate for teens and up, Brett’s book is about a world in which demons come out at night, and if you’re not protected, you’re dead. There are three main characters in The Warded Man, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, and they all three have different stories to tell as they grow up and learn to cope with their world and the effect fear has on their fellows. Ultimately, this is a book about courage, I think.
When I got Karen Marie Moning’s latest installment in the Fever series, Shadowfever, I was really excited and dove into it right away. I found after the first few pages that I was at sea, so I’ve begun reading the previous books so I’ll know what’s happening in the last one. I’m impressed all over again with Moning’s brave choices in this surprising story of MacKayla Lane, Georgia peach and sidhe-seer. Her adventures in Ireland are incredibly dark for a character who describes herself as shallow and lazy. When MacKayla goes to Ireland to investigate the mysterious death of her beloved sister Alina, she discovers there’s more to her own character than she ever realized.
At almost every stop I make when I’m on tour, I get a question about research.
These are the most frequent queries. I’ll answer them here, to give you a chance to mull my responses over before I go out on tour (my schedule should be up very soon).
Some research I can predict ahead of time. For example, the book I’ve just begun writing will have more about Merlotte’s Bar and Grill in it, so I had to beef up my knowledge of the workings of a bar that serves food. Paula and I had a great morning in Shreveport with a couple that owns several bars in and around the city, and I got a lot of practical information. (I always appreciate the fact that a busy person will take time out of his/her day to share their expertise with me, believe me.)
Some research creeps up on me and surprises me, since I am not an outliner. When I was writing about the Pyramid of Gizeh, the vampire hotel in Rhodes, I found I needed to know a surprising amount of information about structure, dark glass, momentum and angles, and rescue work. I went to a number of sources on that one, including the mystery writer and architect S.J. Rozan, who was surprised to find she was discussing a vampire-safe hotel.
So I do as much prep work as I can before I start the book, but there’s always something I need to find out during the progress of the plot. If I were an outliner, I’d be able to do almost all my research ahead of time, and that would be wonderful. But I think that ship has sailed.
It’s never possible, or advisable, to use everything you know. The flow of the book stops completely if you try to cram in every single fact you’ve learned about the sewer system of Detroit or the process of mummification used in a particular dynasty in Egypt. It’s hard to resist pumping in a few more bits of data, but you have to. You’re not there to teach a class in those topics, you’re simply giving your book authenticity. I think we’ve all read books where the writer has gone overboard in imparting everything he/she’s learned about some bit of business.
Why do writers sometimes “get things wrong”? Because they ask other humans for their opinions. Your assessment of the causes of the Civil War may not agree with the assessment of other authorities on the subject. The schematic of the Detroit sewer system you’re using may be out of date or incomplete. Your source for the mummification process may be interpreting the available material in a completely different way from another Egyptologist. If a writer does a lot of web research, one website may classify Irish names in one way, while another web site with exactly the same description will ascribe a different meaning to almost every name. Unfortunately, there’s no phone line called “Give me an infallible piece of information.” (I could have used this when I was raising my children.)
Research is fun, challenging, frustrating, and I don’t always end up with the right answers. But I can promise you I try to.
© 2011 Charlaine Harris