If you don’t research your stories, you’re an idiot

Rather a cranky thing to say, right? Not to mention rather rude. But for goodness sake, if you’re going to the trouble to write a story, doesn’t it make sense to know that your information is unimpeachable? Researching aspects of your story is vital for many reasons. Blowing out the foundations of your story makes me go all ranty like. So here goes…

I’m almost willing to excuse a small transgression, such as getting a factual person’s middle name wrong, or misspelled – I just look at it as a brain farty thing. It should have been caught, but ooops. However, if your story is in a setting that you know squat beans about, then you better research it to within an inch of your life. It has to be real and factual because someone has been to the place you’re writing about. If you blow it, you’ll receive howls of “bullpucky on an onion bagel!”

And rightly so. And this leads me to one of the worst blunders I’ve seen in a long time. Author Christopher Pike, a bestselling author of forty books wrote a mess of a book that got everything wrong – the characters, the customs, the country’s capital, and the country’s geography. Predictable, readers who knew better were upset and exacted their revenge with their book reviews.

At some point, one would think there would be a moment of clarity – as in, “oops, busted. I totally effed up.” But no – ’twas not to be. Not only did this author make HUGE FATAL mistakes because he was sloppy and stupid (yes, you heard me – stupid), but he didn’t own up. Instead, he created his own sock puppet to defend himself on Amazon. Ouch. It’s not often people can witness an author’s implosion, and Mr. Pike didn’t disappoint.

For starters, how can anyone defend the indefensible? He thinks Istanbul is the capital of Turkey? Holy Rand McNally maps, Batman – that would have taken as much time as tickling Google. Talk about lazy.

As you can see from the exchange, his blunders didn’t stop with blowing the capital of Turkey. He blew the entire foundation of his story. Meanwhile, I’m wondering what his editor is smoking to have not caught this mess. We’re not talking Publish America, where we expect this kind of mess – but this is a Harcourt book.

Just because someone is a bestselling author, they aren’t infallible. And poor, stupid Mr.  Pike  just detonated a bomb under his quill because he made an ass of himself, insulted his readership, and didn’t apologize.

This type of thing infuriates me because it shows his lack of respect for his audience. He was counting on them either being stupid (achingly unwise), or loving him so much that they’d forgive him for his transgressions.That’s hubris to the nth degree.

I’m miffed because I’m far from being a bestselling author, yet I slogged around the Peruvian Amazon for 17 bug-filled days with a medical team just so I could get the proper background for my second novel. Every bug bite I got, every giant spider I found resting on my shoes, every scabie baby I washed, I gritted my teeth, thinking, “oh, the things you’ll do for a goddamed book, Pricey!”

I went the nine yards to make sure my story will be unimpeachable – even if it cost me three layers of my skin from itching bug bites and the remaining half of my sanity. So when I see someone who’s all high and mighty taking the most heinous of shortcuts AND being a colossal goat manure, I see red.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about something as small as a Catholic ceremony or as large as the setting for your story – you better, by gollygosh, know damn well what you’re talking about because readers are smart, and THEY ARE WATCHING.

And really, is it worth risking your credibility?

11 Responses to If you don’t research your stories, you’re an idiot

  1. Melissa says:

    I’m not gooing to get any work done today. The comments you linked to are AWESOME.

  2. DOT says:

    I must admit I follow your blog with some trepidation in case your sharp tongue leaps out of the screen and starts shredding my manuscripts.

    In this instance, your outrage is so justified. It is unbelievable. Moreover, it is unfortunate but true, but Pike’s stupidity will be transferred to every American. That they have no interest in any culture outside America. They barely recognise there are countries outside of America. And there is only one way to do things, and that’s American way.

    So he’s not just done himself a disservice, but the whole country. He deserves a personally administered tongue-lashing from your good self that will leave him hanging in rags.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    It’s particularly important for those of us who write speculative fiction. I’ve cringed multiple times when a best selling fantasy author demonstrates he or she knows nothing about horses…if you’re going to write traditional fantasy, really, unless you’re physically incapable…take a few riding lessons.

    Of course, I’m whinging right now because I don’t have the money to do some of the hands on research I would like. There’s this three day archery course in Minnesota I want to take…

  4. Oh, David, my bark is much worse than my bite. And I would never shred anyone without having a very good reason for it – like those who put authors at risk, or authors who are rude and insolent.

    In this particular case, readers were ill-served by an arrogant author and his witless editor, and that gets my goat. But as witless as they are, I think it’s unfair to make them the poster child for Americans. People are far too smart to believe that all Yanks have that kind of mindset.

    Furthermore, I’m not convinced that Mr. Pike’s inequities were based on perceived American superiority, but rather on abject laziness and an overzealous ego.

  5. DOT says:

    I suppose what I am saying, in the wider world America needs all the ambassadors it can get at the moment, and gross insensitivity on the part of a best selling author (is he?) does not help.

    Keep honing your tongue. I love it really

  6. Eh, I don’t see authors as ambassadors for their countries. Pike’s shortcomings are no reflection on America – only on the fact that he’s an idiot for not doing proper research. Nothing more, nothing less.

  7. tbrosz says:

    Speculative fiction and fantasy do present their own challenges. My eyes are red tonight from spending the day researching Main Sequence star characteristics (particularly Type F) and doing the math to make sure a planet I’m designing for my characters actually works like its supposed to. Your readers will let you turn someone into a frog in a fantasy, but your physics had darn well better work otherwise.

    As a bonus, I found a plot hole I’d missed through eight drafts…

  8. Ludmilla Bollow says:

    Hi Lynn, Had to comment on the research bit. Awhile back when I did an Author Reading for my Behler book– “DR. ZASTRO’S SANITARIUM” at a “biggie” book store– the book manager came up to me after, and among many good comments about the book, said she was impressed with the great research and depth of so many of my subjects, showing I was very thorough etc. Being a first time novelist, I asked, “Doesn’t every author need to make sure about the research and correctness of their books before publishing?” Her answer– “You’d be surprised at the sloppy way so many put in their facts– even the top authors. And it always stands out to those in the know.” (Just the facts, mam!)

  9. Oh, Ludmilla, I so love you and your book. You’re far too conscientious to NOT research something. In fact, I think it’s time for me to read Dr. Zastro’s again, just so I can swoon like a little girl.

  10. Lee says:

    I think Dame Christie once complained about readers pointing out her mistakes in presenting facts in her novels (via the character Mrs Oliver).

    Granted, she didn’t much need factual background info to build her story nor did she ever turn on her readers and refused to apologize.

    I agree with you that it’s the hoitty toitty attitude of I-can-do-no-wrong that rubs people the wrong way. We have a local romance novelist here who took the fight publicly online and lashed out to her readers, claiming it took people with refined taste and strong brain power to enjoy her novels.

    Strong brain power on her part indeed.

  11. Mark Patton says:

    It’s a particular problem with historical fiction. Just as an example, how often do we read about a Roman Triumph, with rank after rank of soldiers marching in full armour through the Forum and up to the Capitol? The route’s correct, but they didn’t march under arms – that was always forbidden!

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