By now I’ve done a few library chats, which are fantastic. You sit in a room full of people who have read your book (or are pretending they’ve read it) and you get to connect to everybody there in different ways. It’s so interesting to here how people approach your story. I think I look at it through a very specific type of lens – like I’m trying to puzzle out the why of the reaction, and not just responding to it. Each to their own, and all that.
Traditionally, though, I’ve found, is that sitting right next to me will be one particular type of reader. A reader who is very heavily invested in finding as many flaws in your research as possible. And then seems to take great delight in detailing them all.
I also received a fan letter (I know? Right! How amazing?!) which had one paragraph full of kindness (aw) and then five paragraphs of my historical inaccuracies. I actually had answers for a lot of them, but answering them feels like being defensive over something not worth defending.
Mark Twain famously said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” – and I wholeheartedly agree. I will always do my utmost to get every conceivable detail correct, but – with full honestly – I really don’t care if I miss the mark on some things. I know this will sound like sacrilege – but truly, I don’t. I don’t care if a person wouldn’t have said “pop the boot” in 1961. You get what I mean by that, right? Does it actually matter?
The 2000 film Gladiator had a director’s cut edition released on DVD a few years ago (which was awful) and attached to this was an in-depth documentary on the making of the film (which was fantastic). In this he detailed how they came to design the amount of armoured skirt the roman soldiers wore. Apparently the garb worn way back when was far more garish, and far shorter. We’re talking stubbies short. So they had a choice: work with accuracy in mind, or work in an effort to make things palatable for a modern audience. They chose the latter.
Now taking this argument to its logical extreme – that you don’t have to care about historical accuracy at all – is also worrying. Or is it? Would it really matter, in a work of fiction, that something anachronistic occurs? Sometimes it does, for me. But I try not to let it. I remember watching Windtalkers as a kid (hot dang if you have not seen it there’s Nic Cage and WW2 and John Woo get thee to a downloadable-film-streaming-whatever now) and Nic Cage picked up a .50 cal and started firing it from the hip with one hand. That certainly took me out of the film. But I’d just been into WW2 history – watching Band of Brothers, reading Ghost Soldiers, and so on – so I knew this was inaccurate. It certainly wrecked my enjoyment of the film.
So what purpose does being invested so heavily in detail serve?
I find it strange that people would read a book, or watch a film, or listen to a piece of music in an effort to simply nitpick accuracy. I get the why – it makes you feel superior, no? – but surely it mustn’t be enjoyable. I’d say the best bet is to be on the side of the creator – give them the benefit of the doubt. Just – come on. Get into the mood of the thing, not in the detail of it. There’s no heart to be found in that.
Or am I wrong?
P.S. It may have been a BAR rifle that I’m thinking of in Windtalkers, as I can’t find evidence of my memory being real. But here is Nic Cage. Enjoy all that he is.