Thursday, February 28, 2008

Keepin' it real

Photo credit

That is not Kansas. I think it's Alberta, Canada. But if you take away the mountains, it looks and feels a lot like cattle ranching territory in my state and in the book I'm writing. Things in the book are finally working out well, and all the coincidences that happen when things "click" are happening on schedule. It just so happens that my son is spending the winter working on one of his dad's ranches, so he calls me on his way to and fro and I ask him things like, "Are they using high-tensile barbed wire these days? How many strands do they use, five or six? What about the posts, are they wood or metal now?" It has been a lot of years since I spent time on a ranch and things change, even there. And when I'm living in the middle of something, but not writing about it, I can miss the details. When I was married to his dad I saw plenty of fences, and I have a picture of them in my mind's eye, but I can't be sure that picture is still accurate--or ever was, for that matter. I have to ask.

Fortunately, it turns out that my son has a writer's eye for detail. Not only is he patient with his mom's questions, but he answers with the most wonderful minutiae, the kinds of things that make scenes feel real. Today, for instance, he described a gate, down to the kind of latch that closes it. He told me how he feeds the cattle every morning, how many pastures he handles and how long it takes to do it, how many cattle there are in each pasture, and how he has to go looking for a few of them sometimes when they don't show up at the sound of his feed truck. Certain things really make my ears perk up, as when I thought to ask him, "When you're counting, do you count the cows and the calves?" and he said, "No, we never count the calves." I'm glad to know that! It could make a difference with a reader who knows about such things. If I write, "she counted only the mama cows," that reader will nod to herself, and think, "that's right," and feel secure with me, the author.

Here's to keeping it real, in fiction and in life. And to observant sons.


Nancy P said...

Reel in readers by keeping it real?

G'night, hard workers and slackers. Time to let the words rest and the visuals take over.

Family Man said...

Good night/morning Nancy!

I've been out to pastures to feed cattle myself, but it was decades ago. Actually it was never one of my favorite jobs. You had to get up so early before school. I hardly ever made it on time to my first period English class. Guess you can tell huh. :)

It's good you've got such an observant son.

AndiF said...

Morning all. TFSMIF and that I got to sleep on my own pillow.

Nancy, thanks for the sneak preview. Next up, the ARC. ;)

(TFSMIF=Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster It's Friday)

Beth said...

Morning all, and happy Friday! You're lucky to have such a treasure, Nancy - I'm glad the writing's going well, and everything's clicking. May it continue to do so.

Happy Friday, everyone! My family gets here tomorrow, yay!!! I have to clean the house today, boo!!!

paul lamb said...

I appreciate the importance of getting the details right, but I think those readers who object too strenuously to occasional minor errors are really doing it out of envy. They imagine that by catching the writer in a single obscure error, they have shown (at least to themselves) that they "know" the subject matter better than the writer. Yet the writer is the one with all of the fame, glory, and money. (!) I think they object to such errors as a way to console themselves.

FARfetched said...

I've always felt that way, too. Details count, especially when there's a chance someone who *does* know is actually going to read it. I know I've been turned off by books where the writer got wrong something I knew about… it might have been Stephen King's Cell (at least he'll admit to being too lazy to do much research).

That's one of the nice things about fantasy or sci-fi: you can make most of it up. You can even break laws of physics with a proper handwave.

In fact, I have a roadtrip planned with regard to a FAR Future thread I hope to start laying out this summer. (Nice thing about being a novelist, you can write off a vacation by putting details about your destination in the next book. :-)

FARfetched said...

Paul, I wouldn't expect a writer to understand a piece of circuitry — but I'd expect him/her to have a character use it properly. It's detailed that can be easily fact-checked, that turn people off when those details are wrong.

Maria Lima said...

Morning, all!

Nancy - a lovely pic, reminiscent of many ranch lands I've seen.

My own late father was a rancher, but not until I was in college. It had been his dream all his life.

I'm extremely glad it's Friday. This week has been of teh suck - mostly for close friends, several of whom have experienced serious illnesses with spouses or parents, as well as a couple of friends who've had deaths in their family.

It's been rather sobering and I hope that today brings more light into their lives and to you all.

Wishing everyone a blessed Friday.

Nancy P said...

Hi, Family Man. Nick seems to enjoy it, but then he doesn't also have to go to school afterwards and take English tests.

I hope everybody's healthier at your homestead these days.

Nancy P said...

Andi, welcome home. There must be a lot of happy wagging tails.

Maria, what a tough week. My symapthies.

Nancy P said...

Paul, I do think there are a few readers like that, and I don't like hearing from them. But when I've made a mistake I've also received friendly notes letting me know in a way that isn't insulting and is helpful. I'm grateful for those, esp. if I can fix it in the paperback edition.

I love the power of detail partly for the greater feeling of confidence it gives ME, and partly for the sense of "really being there" it gives the reader.

Details can sure be overused, though. We've all read books where we've come across pages of detail and thought, "Uh, filler."

Nancy P said...

Far, it definitely added to my enjoyment of "Cell" that I didn't know anything about it!

Hi, Beth! How much family are you expecting?

Beth said...

My sis and her husband - a week of spring training baseball games! They're not staying with me (insert long sordid story about friends who feel slighted when you don't stay with them), but we'll spend the days together. I'm very excited! Except for the house-cleaning part...

So I won't be around a lot next week - I'll check in early, and around boran2 time.

Kelly McCullough said...

Good morning all. No tea today, and very sad about it (pouty lips). The editing slog continues and I'll be off to do that in a few moment. I'll be at an SF Con tomorrow and on 4-5 panels so brain jello continues on the menu. Sayonara.

boran2 said...

It's a fascinating progress, Nancy. Documenting some of the smallest details. I hope that my son is so observant! (As I trip over his stray Lego blocks.)

paul lamb said...

farfetched - I don't disagree. Details should be right (and what role does the editor play in this process?). My point was more to those who get mightily offended by some incorrect detail. They doth protest too much, methinks.