Saturday, September 27, 2008

The 1965 Buick Time Traveller

Donis here.  All this talk of writing what you don't know reminds me of one of my favorite and oft-repeated Micky Spillane quotes.  In fact, I've probably quoted it previously on this very blog, but never let it be said that I didn't squeeze every bit of juice out of a well-turned phrase.  An interviewer asked him how much research he did to make sure that all the details of his police procedurals were absolutely accurate, and he replied.  "I don't do any research.  It's not my job to teach you how to do police procedure, it's my job to make you believe my story."

I think about that a lot when I'm not in the mood to hit the books.  As for writing about a place, though, Debby is right when she says that you can't fool the natives, so you'd better be careful to be , if not completely accurate, at least to not make any glaring mistakes. 

I write a historical series, too.  Mine is set in the 1910s and set in a place that is obscure to the huge majority of human beings who have ever lived or ever will.  There is a certain advantage in this.  The town I write about is about half made-up, but I do like to make it accurate enough that the few people who might be familiar with it could recognize it.  I chose to set the first of my books in 1912, because that is the year that my grandmother was married.  Both my grandmothers actually lived then, and told me about it.  I have first hand accounts. 

I've also been to that town, many, many times, and in an odd way, I've been then, too.  I've often thought about writing a story about it - sci fi, I suppose, even though it really happened. I grew up in Tulsa, OK, which is your normal city of some size - about 400,000 people and quite wealthy when I was growing there up in the '50s and '60s. Lots of oil money and aeronautic technology, very good schools.  Entirely modern.  But every other weekend, we'd get in the car and drive 60 miles south to visit my grandmother in Boynton, and with every mile, we'd go back in time.  We'd leave Tulsa in 1965 and arrive in Boynton in 1930.  Even more amazing, sometimes we'd drive all the way back to 1895 to spend time with my other grandparents on their farm in the deep woods of the Ozark Mountains in Northern Arkansas.  I expect this phenomenon still occurs all over the world, but especially in rural parts of the American South. You'd leave Tulsa in 2008 and discover that it's now 1965 in Boynton.  You might even be able to get all the way back to the '30s in certain parts of the Ozarks.

J.A. Jance told me once that she chose to set her stories in Seattle and Tucson and Bisbee, AZ, because she knows those places well, and "I'm too lazy to research places I don't know."  The only author I can think of off the top of my head who wrote a book about a place he'd never been was Martin Cruz Smith.  He said that when he wrote Gorky Park he had never set foot in Russia.  But he personally knew many Russians in the New York area who he interviewed for details, and who vetted his writing.  Seems to have worked.  He's been to Russia many times, since then.  Oh, and I think Diana Gabaldon had never been to Scotland before she wrote Outlander.

I'd love to hear other examples.    


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Donis, I've thought about a sci-fi time travel story, too. The idea fascinates me. There's a book (maybe someone can help with with the title, which I've forgotten) about a modern research group that goes back to the middle ages in England. They get vaccines against the plague and all kinds of interesting details that had me riveted to the tale.

Vicki Delany said...

I'm late to the discussion,but the book you're thinking of might be Timeline by Michael Crichton. Rubbish, IMHO.

Vicki Delany said...

The book is Rubbish, BTW, not the idea which is great.