Reality Will Always Trip You Up

Kaitlyn Dunnett here. Relax, I’m not going to talk about the pandemic or protests. No, my subject today is one of those normal but inescapable facts of a writer’s life—no matter how carefully you research a book, no matter how many times you proofread it, someone will always be able to find something  you (probably) got wrong.

Sometimes readers find “errors” simply because writers are trying very hard not to bore their readers. in the last Liss MacCrimmon title, A View to a Kilt, Liss and her mother travel to Florida to settle the estate left to Liss’s father by his brother. In the scene in the uncle’s lawyer’s office, I didn’t bother to show the lawyer asking for proof of identity or a power of attorney, both of which, naturally, Liss’s mother would have brought with her. And I didn’t go into a lot of detail on inheritance law. I drew on my own experience in Florida when my mother died back in 1993. Since her estate was under a certain dollar amount in value, there was no need for probate and the transfer of everything to me was a fairly straightforward process. I didn’t see any point in burdening the reader with extraneous legal details.

According to one of the reviews of the book posted on Amazon.com, this oversight was a serious error on my part and proof I didn’t do my research. Any real Florida lawyer would be disbarred if he was as negligent as the one I portrayed. Um. Okay. I still think most readers would assume there was more to the meeting than I showed, but I guess I should have checked current probate law to make sure nothing had changed. For what it’s worth, I did thoroughly research the subject of private investigator’s licenses in Florida , since Liss’s late uncle had one. That issue is much more crucial to the plot.

In March, when A Fatal Fiction was in press and advance reading copies had already been sent out to reviewers—much too late to make any changes—a notice popped up on the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page to announce they were moving from one location to another in Monticello, New York, the county seat. This prompted instant panic on my part. Although a reader who really wanted to could work out that the story takes place in the spring of 2019, well before the change, I never say that in the text. The book’s release date, June 30, 2020, meant that anyone who read it and was curious enough about the jail to look it up online, would find it in its new location, not the one it had when one of my characters was taken there for questioning. Did I specify the old location? Did I imply it? Was I going to get letters and snarky comments in reviews? As it turns out, I think I was vague enough to avoid that, but you never know.

I have been fortunate when it comes to dodging bullets in the past. One of my Liss MacCrimmon mysteries included a comment about the Curse of the Bambino. That, of course, was the year the Red Sox broke the curse by winning the World Series. Luckily, I was able to change a few lines of dialogue before the book was published.

The lesson here is that there will be some nit-picking detail the author overlooked in just about any novel. Inevitably, a reader is going to find it, probably within days of publication. Nine times out of then, that reader is going to tell the author, and possibly the world, that she made a mistake. Will something I haven’t yet thought of surface to embarrass me in A Fatal Fiction? It’s a good bet that something will. It’s been out a couple of weeks now, but only time will tell if I’ve dodged a bullet.

 

With the June 30, 2020 publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

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6 Responses to Reality Will Always Trip You Up

  1. Monica says:

    This brings up a good point. I put an IGA store in my book and then asked my writing group if there was such a thing as an IGA in Maine, or had I transplanted a grocery chain that did not exist here. Opinion was divided on whether it made a difference to the reader. I think it does because it throws the reader off when they come to something that is out of place. Suddenly, you’re no longer engrossed in the story, but are now wondering what the heck an IGA is doing where it doesn’t belong.

    My sister-in-law pointed out that I-87 does not go where the map shows it going and it bothered her when she read that in the draft. It never occurred to me that the map might not be how it looks when you’re actually driving it, which she did a lot.

    It’s odd what throws someone off. It’s different depending on what your particular field of knowledge is.

    BTW, it didn’t matter a whit to me when I was reading your book that the jail had moved . What I was hoping was that the back cover was changed before publication (I was reading the ARC you gave away) because that copy had moved the Catskills to Maine.

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  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    I know! I about had a panic attack when I saw that the description on the ARCs had put the story in the wrong state. A frantic email to my editor reassured me that no one had added Maine to the final cover, but it was too late to do anything about the review copies. At least they say right on them that they’re uncorrected proofs, but that usually only refers to what’s inside the covers!

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  3. The lawyers, the lawyers. Such a nitpicky bunch.

    We’ll be taking a vacation next month (no worries, in Maine, to a spot where social distance is a way of life) and I look so forward to tucking in to A FATAL FICTION.

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  4. itslorrie says:

    Kaitlynn I just sit back and enjoy the story so I wouldn’t have noticed any errors. I can in a small way understand as I have shared information twice recently that was incorrect. Of course my friends have been quick to point it out. Embarrassing and motivating. I am visiting snopes quite frequently now. Thanks for your wonderful books!

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  5. kaitlynkathy says:

    You’re welcome, Lorrie.

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