Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Think You Wanna Slack on Research?


I received this letter recently from a reader and got such a kick out of it, I asked permission to run it. For those of you out there who are tempted to just make something up in your novel ... a note of friendly advice. There are readers like this out there. :)

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Hi,

I just picked up Violet Dawn and read the first chapter. I'm eager to read the rest but wanted to make a couple comments.

At times I have made the wisecrack that the first 12 pages of some novels should be thrown away, so I was surprised to see this novel start on page 13. Good move! (I suspect from that that maybe my 12-page idea was not really original; I forget my sources and think I thunk up the ideas.)

The other thing is this: I read on page 14: "A slivered moon hung askew." No way, I thought, but I was wrong. I thought one couldn't see a slivered moon in the middle of the night ("almost 2:00 AM"). But I forgot to take into account how far north Idaho is. And I didn't realize that northern Idaho is in the Pacific Time Zone.

I checked. I found an "interactive sky chart" from Sky and Telescope. Sure enough, on July 22, 2006, the moon was a sliver (almost 3 days until new moon) and at Coeur D'Alene it rose at 2:06 AM PDT in the NE. Now a little ways north, say one degree, it rose at 1:57, so if Paige lingered in getting up and getting wrapped in a towel and her deck is high above the "forested hills," then she would have barely seen the slivered moon above the trees.

The basin of the big dipper would be NNW, but would not be spilling. It wouldn't be "tipped backward" even a tiny bit until 2:15, so I suspect either Paige fell back asleep or got some warm milk on the way to the deck. It might have been 3 AM by the time she got to the deck, but after 3:30 she might have noticed Venus. And I suspect Kanner Lake is north of Coeur d'Alene.

In any case, I'm impressed. Either you were up that night, used some software, or asked Randy Ingermanson. Or you may have just asked Paige.

Such scrutiny is, of course, completely unfair and unwarranted, but I had fun. Back to the novel...
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I wrote this guy back and told him of the web sites I used for determining the phase of the moon on that particular night last July (keep in mind I wrote the scene well over a year earlier). I also checked star charts for the sky. Better yet, while in our home in Coeur d'Alene, I checked the Big Dipper in the middle of the night around that day in July. The book was practically written by then, but I could have changed the part about the Big Dipper's tilt. It does start out spilling forward into the lake, but ends up tipped backwards.

For moon phases, you can google that exact phrase and come up with plenty of sites. MIght want to check more than one in case one's info is erroneous. For times of sunset and sunrise (also very importantly timed in Violet Dawn), I use this naval site.

A number of years ago when I wrote Dread Champion I needed to know the times of tides on a particular night on a particular beach--again over a year in advance. I found a great site to tell me what I needed. Of course, that was numerous computer crashes ago, and now I can't find it again. If anyone out there comes upon a great site like this, let us know.

In short--before you mention a tide time, a sunset time, a moon phase, a whatever--better check it out first. Because "Some old guy on the Rio Grande," as this man dubbed himself in his e-mail, is going to hit a phrase like "a slivered moon hung askew" and get all hung up himself. And this reader ain't gonna be able to continue with the book until he/she satisfies himself that such slivered moon is right and true.

Final thought about this e-mail: This guy would mention Randy Ingermanson. Suddenly it all made sense.


10 comments:

Kristy Dykes said...

V - e - l - l - y interesting!

Lynette Sowell said...

Hmmm. Very thorough research.
Does this guy have a cousin or sister name Mildred?

D. Gudger said...

Does that guy have a life?

Nicole said...

Huh. I mentioned something about that in a paragraph yesterday on my blog post.

He's one of those readers kinda searchin' for a problem, but you gave him extra gratification when you had it all done right. Incredible. [And one of the reasons I hate research.:( ]

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Oh, sure he's got a life, Darcie. He just happened to bump up against this sentence and decided to do some research of his own. He enjoyed doing it, I think, and in the meantime learned a few sites he might use himself one day.

He's got a good sense of humor. It would be a kick to meet him. Hope to do that someday. Maybe he'll give me a little charm of a crescent moon. :)

Patricia W. said...

I've never been quite that...uh, how shall I say this?...intense about a single detail in a book, but knowing that it all added up probably made your book that much more enjoyable for that reader.

Have you ever bumped up against what the author intended to be a minor detail but because of your life experience's --where you're from, things you've done, etc.-- you just know the author got it wrong? Ruins the book. Because it's hard to go with the author on other aspects of the story when something small and easily verified is wrong.

Now the moon in the sky and the tilt of the Big Dipper? I'd have taken your word for it!

SolShine7 said...

That an deserves his props. He's intelligent enough to not easily be carried away with something just because it's written in a book somewhere. If only we were all a little but more diligent about what "facts" we allowed in our minds. Like Joyce Meyer said, our mind is a battlefield.

I'd pick him for my team.

Thanks for sharing Brandilyn. Your posts always present several different facades of writing.

relevantgirl said...

Interesting tidbit. My first novel (not yet published) was based on extensive research about Centerville, OH during the Great Depression. Wouldn't you know it, but an ack editor read it, and at first didn't believe there had been a lake in Centerville BECAUSE HE WAS FROM CENTERVILLE!!! He had a family member that worked at the Centerville Historical Society and asked her. She said that yes, there was a lake back then.

It is SOOOOO important to get your facts straight!

Julie Carobini said...

What a crack-up! I laid out my first novel day by day on a calendar just to make sure that the timing of each chapter was spot-on. Your post gave me a big whew! on that, ha.

Susanne said...

You are amazing. Here I just thought it was wonderful words all connected together. :v)

You are one very thorough writer!