I started a new book yesterday: “Bitter Spirits,” by Jenn Bennett.
I love this author. She writes one of my favorite paranormal series – Arcadia Bell – which starts with “Kindling the Moon,” published in 2011.
But still, I started this book with trepidation because it’s based in San Francisco and the author is not from here. She was born in Germany and now lives in Atlanta, according to the biography on her website. In a negative Nelly attitude, I almost await the logistical local errors.
The last book I read that was mostly based here was “The Obituary Writer” by Ann Hood, a compelling book about two women living in different eras; One looking for her lover missing since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, another, a modern-day woman, grappling with an unhappy life. While I recommend the book, I just can’t get past one paragraph in the book that has frolicking children in a Napa vineyard chasing and bottling dozens of fireflies. Um, no. We don’t have fireflies here – I’m a born and raised Californian and I’ve never seen a firefly in my life. The author is from Providence, R.I.
A lot of the time, it’s simple logistical errors such as driving from San Jose to San Francisco in 20 minutes – anyone not from the area probably wouldn’t know it’s utter gridlock almost 24/7 in many areas and it most certainly is going to take longer than that to drive the length of the Bay Area. You can’t just go by miles and calculate the commute time.
I’ve gotten to “know” several people on my online haunt, www.paperbackswap.com. One is a local gal, more or less, who lives in Houston now. We have a running dialogue that we call something like “Where was the editor?” Much of the craziness is from vanity presses, but not all of it. She had a couple of quotes for me recently from a mainstream paranormal romance book – apparently in one the protagonist plunged a golden dagger into the vamp’s chest, “erupting his heart like a volcano.” There must be a better way to say that.
I think sometimes authors try too hard to be flowery and visual and it just doesn’t work – but isn’t that what an editor is for? “Yo, this doesn’t work. Let’s find another way to say it.”
Here’s a couple that happened in the same book within a sentence of each other, “a quadruple bath of chocolate chip scones” and “She looked quite chick today in a red suit . . . .” Here chickie, chickie, chickie. Would that be chic, by any chance?
I have read all the way through James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series set in San Francisco – No. 12, so far – and haven’t found a single mistake. Did I miss any?
Now I’m sure the bad luck juju will come bite me in the rear end and there will be some mistake in this column, but I’m not talking slippery, sporadic errors in grammar or spelling (especially if you find any that were missed by the DR editors in this column). It’s those locale errors or flowery prose or “chickie-type” errors that just makes no sense. The “in your face” mistakes.
Bottom line, I just don’t understand why an author would choose to write a book set in an area in which they’re not familiar. It opens up the author to unneeded scrutiny – people love reading about familiar places, so they’re going to notice these mistakes. I honestly don’t care about the “artistic license” in creating a work of fiction – don’t fictionalize streets, buildings, weather, highways, whatever, in a locale that’s real and vibrant.
Best advice, write what you know.
So, as I’m on page 20 of “Bitter Spirits,” I just know I will be hyper vigilant in either looking for errors or they will fling themselves at me with utter abandon and I won’t even have to be hyper vigilant. I am settling in for this first book in the “Roaring Twenties” series that includes bootlegging, speakeasies, black magic set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Oh, and supposed raw lust. Wonder what flowery prose will be used to describe ghostly lustful carryings on? Bennett is usually even-keeled (yet vivid) in her descriptions – I don’t usually giggle with abandon at her descriptions of sex nor do I cringe at her prose describing “eruptions of the heart” just prior to death.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.