Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Research, research, research.

Historical writers do a lot of research. What people wore, what they ate, how they danced, whatever. Most historical writers are walking experts on their time periods, because they know that if they get the tiniest of detail wrong, someone will send them a nasty email (“There’s no way Lady Hawkshore could eat roasted quail with sage potatoes as sage was not a common spice in 1066 as it was not brought over from the Holy Lands until after Richard I, blah, blah, blah, etc.”)

This is one reason why I don’t write historicals. I didn’t enjoy research in college, and I’d rather write books than research details.

Then I decide to set a book in a winery. I have two great characters and a fun plot. I’m writing a synopsis and I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

Then I realize the only thing I know about wine is how to get the cork out, and even then, I’m not always 100% at removal techniques.

So, I’m rather screwed, as the WHOLE book takes place at a winery where the heroine is a winemaker. Hmm, you think that wine stuff might just come up in the book at some point?

Cue images of Kimberly banging her head against her desk because ugh, I’m going to have to do massive research just to figure out what I need to know for the small bit of realistic detail this book is going to need. ~whines and wails, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments~

Fabu CP to the rescue!! Pamela lives in a wine region within driving distance. She knows a guy who grows grapes. He, in turn, calls one of his friends at the local winery, and next thing I know, I’m headed up to Illinois for the weekend for a crash course in Winemaking For Romance Novels.

Have I mentioned how fabu my Fabu CP is?

This is Frank LaFoon of LaFoon Vinyards in Anna, Illinois. He grows grapes for Owl Creek Vineyard (they sent wine to the Presidential Inauguration!). He was my tour guide and info man – and he certainly has the info!

Frank set me up with a personal tour of Blue Sky Vinyard by their winemaker Karen Hand. (No picture of me and Karen to share– I was too busy taking notes and asking questions and I forgot. Sorry Karen!) Instead, I have a picture of me and Pamela in front of the building.

There’s a lot more to growing grapes and making wine than I ever expected. My brain was exploding from information overload after just a couple of hours. There’s a lot of science and a lot of art (and I suspect just a smidge of voodoo as well) that goes into growing good grapes and making good wine. I’ll never just casually open a bottle of wine ever again, that’s for sure!

What really blew me away – beyond the *really* unbelievably cold temps possible in Illinois – was how wonderful everyone was. How generous they were with their time and their knowledge, and how willing they were to answer my questions, no matter how stupid or strange they were. (And I don’t want to give away a major plot point to my book and spoil the surprise, but let’s just say I asked a couple of questions no vintner or viticulturist would ever want to even think about, much less answer.) And when I finally left them, I had email addresses and an open invitation to email them if any questions came up later on.

That’s so awesome. It’s times like this I really love my job.

Thanks to Frank and Karen, I spent the rest of the afternoon in deep huddle with my CP reworking all the things that were WRONG in my book – like timelines , yikes! – and hopefully this means I won’t get irate emails from readers telling me how wrong I was about just about everything. I now know what the inside of a fermentation room smells like, how tall grape vines actually are, and most importantly, how passionate the people who make wine are about their craft.

(That's Karen in the fermentation room.)

Thank you, thank you, Karen and Frank (and Pamela and Hubby) for a great research trip…

Oh, and that “deep huddle?” We were in the hot tub, so that didn’t exactly suck either. Did I mention how much I love my job?

So, do little mistakes pull you completely out of a book? Would you email the author and let her know she’d messed something up? How much factual detail do you like in your books? Just a flavor, or do you want to really learn something?


Playground Monitor said...

I guess it depends on how little the mistake is. When I read about a hero being injured on an overnight flight from Miami to Havana, that yanked me right out of the story. When I read a book where the architect hero was in his late 20's and already owned his own firm and was getting big contracts for opera houses and such, that REALLY yanked me out of the story because my son's an architect and I know that scenario is nigh on to impossible.

If you made a mistake with your winery stuff, I'd have no idea it was wrong. I can uncork a bottle and that's it. But I think it's important to be as factual as possible cause somebody's gonna know.

And I've also found most people to be more than helpful and willing to share their knowledge. An acquaintance who's in family law helped me figure out a legal way for pregnancy to jeopardize my heroine's job.

I don't want to be bogged down with facts, but the right facts keep things real.

Can't wait to read the wine book!

Angel said...

Sounds like an awesome trip! Now that's my kind of research. I'd much rather go there and talk to people than read about it in a nonfiction book. Not always possible, but preferable.

I don't want a huge amount of details in my books, just enough to get the right flavor. For instance, historical books that start to go into paragraphs long explanations of the political intrigues of the era... don't care. Get back to the romance. :)


Smarty Pants said...

Yeah, I want just enough to make it feel real without bogging me down or having glaring errors.

I'm currently writing a book with a poker tournament. I spend most the time dancing around the tournament itself without only crucial scenes at the tables included. Even then, I don't give a blow by blow of the game. I throw in enough appropriate lingo like "the flop" to make it sound authentic without confusing people who don't know or care much about poker itself. (Like me. How did I end up writing a poker book, I ask you?) The scenes are more about the character interactions and the cheating subplot than the actual mechanics of the game.

Research was fun, though. Researching wine sounds fun, too. I think one of us needs to buy a hottub. Seriously.

housemouse88 said...

Authors should try their best with getting the facts right. But as a reader, I'm not going to throw a book down just because of a few mistakes. If the book is interesting, I'm going to keep right on reading.

As for contacting the author of the mistakes, why should we. We all make mistakes none of us are perfect. Plus, I'm sure there are plenty of readers out there that will be sure and tell them of their mistakes. I just don't want to add full to the fire.

I enjoy learning new facts in a book. I just don't want to have a brain freeze. There needs to be a balance with the information. Too much factual information, can sometimes cause the book to get boring.

Have a great day.

Linda Winstead Jones said...

I usually love research. I also loved writing term papers. :-) Now and then the right info just falls into your lap. When I was writing a pirate time travel, a replica of the Nina just happened to be dropping anchor a few miles from my house, and was open for touring. That was an eye-opening experience. I've been in the interrogation room at the police station (homicide), visited historical sites, taken thousands of pictures, and bought my own library. And usually I only use a very small bit of what I learn.


Lynn Raye Harris said...

I would never email the author about an error. And it depends a lot on what kind of error it is about whether it bothers me. Military errors bug the heck out of me -- and for writers who don't have military connections, it's very hard to research all that lingo and the culture of the military. I understand that, but it still drives me nuts.

Like the author who had her Navy SEAL hero living in a major metropolitan area that's about a 5 hour drive to the ocean. So far as I know, the Navy tends to be concentrated around ocean ports. There are administrative jobs in all branches that can end up in places you wouldn't think of, but SEALs pretty much need to be near water.

I also read one where the hero had a small plane -- and then proceeded to take a 20 hour flight on it. Um, fuel? For all I know, it's possible, but the writer didn't let me know that and I kept wondering about it the whole time.

So, anyway, I like just enough to add verisimilitude. But I don't need in-depth lessons on castle life in the Middle Ages. The first few times I read it, it was cool. But now I'd just be annoyed because I'd read it before. Not fair to the author, necessarily.

And I love wine, so looking forward to the wine book!

Sherry Werth said...

I like just enough info to keep me interested but not so much that I could pass a pop-quiz on the subject!
And no, I wouldn't email an author about a mistake. It might bug me for a minute but as they say, "Don't sweat the small stuff".

I think I'm going to like doing research. : )

catslady said...

I'm happy with either a little or a lot of info but I do count on it being accurate. I do think part of reading is learning and fiction is just a lot more enjoyable than nonfiction. I guess the one thing that shocked me once was hearing an author say she just made things up!!!! One example was a name of a plant - how hard would it have been to name a real plant? But, no, I would never write anything negative to an author (may not buy the book again if it's glaring mistakes). I only write to authors when I enjoy their book. Afterall, there's something for everyone and I don't expect every book to be fantastic.