Wednesday, January 9, 2008

An Unnecessary Mess

Right now, the Smart Bitches are tearing through a certain author's works. They found pages and pages of 'marked similarity' between the historical fiction of Cassie Edwards and various dusty volumes of non-fiction published between 1902 and 1937.

The Smart Bitches cry plagarism. Signet Books shouts fair use.

I mutter, "Sloppy writing..."

Historical fiction's tough. It's as tough as science fiction or fantasy world-building, but with the added bonus of other people being able to shout 'Anachronism!' at the top of their lungs if you screw up. Research, accurate research, is soooooo vital!

And since the appeal of historical fiction is the chance to be transported back in time, we the reader know, or at least really really HOPE, the wrtier did her research.

The Bitches' issue with Ms Edwards doesn't seem to be the accuracy of her research. It's that her authorial voice changes when she wants to show that research off. Changes so much, they googled those odd bits. Then googled some more... It becomes clear that the writer's awkward info-dumps (if your readers notice the change in voice, that's awkward) were literally scooped up and dumped from source material to novel.


"Fair use!"

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Lazy.

By contrast, yesterday I started 'Why Mermaids Sing' by CS Harris. It's a murder mystery set in Regency England. September 1811, to be exact.

I'm reading with a sort of sense of wonder right now: beautiful language, flowing dialogue, local dialects that actually work, a deft hand with characterization and a cracking good pace. Seriously, this writer belongs on the bestseller lists.

So it should be no surprise that her research and historical texture are spot-on as well. And restrained.

Marvelously restrained. Her characters move through their world without feeling the need to stop every few pages and 'break the fourth wall' explaining it to us. Yes, it took me a few chapters to figure out what a 'tiger' was, but it was worth it. I'm about a quarter of the way through, and not a single info-dump narrative or 'As you know Bob' in sight!

It's a walk along a knife's edge, giving the reader enough information without giving too much. And it's a bloody magic act pulling it off without the seams showing. Mermaids does it, and damned if I can quite see how...

Doing all this research. Ignoring it while you write. Using facts sparingly. And then doing it in a pleasing and entertaining way: it's a lot of heavy lifting. A lot. And as a guy with a lazy side myself (for two years I hired a lawn service rather than mow my own), I can understand the aversion to heavy lifting.

But here's the thing. We love what we do. Otherwise, we'd do something else. And love means doing the heavy lifting.


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I like this post a lot. However, I especially like the last line, "... and love means doing the heavy lifting". I have been trying to have that exact conversation with my daghter for years. Her belief is that anything that takes work must not be worth it. When truly the opposite is the truth. I told her that her generation feels as thogh the world owes them something and she floored me with her agreement. She wasn't brought up that way bt she and her friends believe that. That was trly priceless.

Thank yo for writing this post, bt especially that line. I feel vindicated.

soft love,

StarvingWriteNow said...

I popped over from Bernita's link; nice blog! I especially like your last line today: Love means doing the heavy lifting. Spot on, exactly how I feel. Thanks for that.

Charles Gramlich said...

I hire someone to cut my lawn too. I mowed lawns for money and because my dad volunteered my services when I was a teenager and got way sick of it. I don't mind a little heavy lifting if it's something I want to do.

Lana Gramlich said...

Reminds me of a couple of humorous fantasy novels I read a while back. All of the jokes & gags were clearly Monty Python sketches. I wondered how the author got away with it...I mean, if you knew anything about Monty Python it was infinitely clear where these things came from! The plagiarism annoyed me so much it ruined both novels for me.

RK Sterling said...

Darn it, Steve, you're moving too fast for me. I can't catch up with all these posts! :)

Nice post. I was already planning on reading Candice's book and now I can't wait.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Charles. Heavy lifting is great as long as I want the final product badly enough. I once had an urge to write a novel with King Tut as a protagonist. Then I realized I didn't love history enough to do the mountains of research. But, give me a pile of occult books and I'll research myself silly.

cs harris said...

I'm truly humbled, Steve. Thank you. I hope it continues to live up to your expectations.

Steve Malley said...

Update: Now Signet are no longer crying, 'Fair use!' Once the AP news and the NY Times picked up the story, Signet shook their heads with due gravity and promised to take the issue seriously.

Nora Roberts even weighed in with the verbal smackdown. Yikes!

I'm still just staggered by the monumental laziness...

And CS, I calls em like I sees em!