The other day I found a review on my book Mirage written by a reader who is familiar with Arabic. In the review, the reader expressed frustration with my misuse of pronouns when the hero spoke Bedouin endearments to the heroine. This single issue was enough to make the reader find the book less than satisfactory, which prompted a comment that I should have done my research better.
I didn’t take offense to the statement because having lived abroad for a year; I know the importance different nationalities put on their languages. It’s a part of who they are as a people. What I found intriguing about the comment was that while my research was quite meticulous (I point to my $50 Arabic dictionary) it only took one minor point (a pronoun) to give a reader a less than stellar experience.
I did comment back to the reviewer though. Yeah, right about now you’re thinking I’m nuts. No, I didn’t have a delusional moment. I explained to the reader that I’d used an Arabic dictionary BUT, I would love to have someone who speaks Arabic as a resource for me to call upon for any future research questions. I left my email in hopes that the reader will contact me. I didn’t have a connection to a resource like this reader when I wrote Mirage in 2004, and I wish I had.
On the flip side of the coin, I have to accept that no matter how deeply I research something, there is always going to be someone who knows more about a subject than me, and Murphy’s Law dictates that individual will read my book. *grin* But this isn’t necessarily a bad things. I mean if this reader does contact me, I’ve acquired a resource I didn’t have before. What this experience HAS pointed out to me is that no matter how deeply we research an issue reader satisfaction is varied at best.
Research Sets Stage
But then like everything else in reading, subjectivity reigns supreme. I’ve always believed that the point of research was to set the stage and be as accurate as possible. I’ve never been a historical “purist” who believes that a book has to completely and totally reflect the time period. My belief rests on the premise that unless I talked to someone who actually lived in the period, even empirical evidence can be incorrect. People always said unicorns weren’t real, but in Italy last month, the basis for the legend was photographed.
While I appreciate the reader’s position (and dearly hope she’ll contact me so I have a resource for the language), I have to work with what I have at hand for creating my stories. The whole point of fiction in my mind is to tell a good story, and to tell it with as much believability as possible. Suspension of disbelief is vital, and my goal is to accomplish that for every reader. I accept that even though I pride myself on meticulous research, there will always be someone who believes the research could have been better. That’s okay, because when I turn in a book, I do so with the knowledge that I’ve done the best that I can with my research. If a reader points out something down the road, that’s cool, it means I’ve learned something new.