Monday, January 9, 2012

On Making Mistakes

Anyone who knows me well knows that I worked hard to make GILT  as historically accurate as I could.  I read books. I did as much online research of transcribed primary sources as I could.  I scouted locations.

But I will always feel I didn't do enough.  Because I know I made mistakes.

Let me backtrack.  I wouldn't knowingly leave obvious mistakes in my manuscript before it went to print.  Well, one.  But the evidence of it only came to my attention after the galleys were printed and I had to let it go.  However, I recently read something by Hilary Mantel (author of WOLF HALL, one of my favorite all-time novels, and probably my favorite Tudor novel ever) on historical accuracy.  She said (This is not a direct quote, just the gist of it) that she would invent the thoughts in a character's head, but not the color of his wallpaper.


I don't know the color of my character's wallpaper.  I also don't like to make mistakes, so this freaked me out a little.  In the meantime, I've been doing more reading in order to add detail to Book 2 (still haven't found any wallpaper references, though.) and have discovered little details that I got wrong.  Not things that are glaring, like my characters talking about texting or anything.  Just little things that someone very, very familiar with the times would notice.  And say, "That isn't accurate."

It kills me.  I could think of all kinds of excuses (I don't have access to lots of primary sources.  I'm 6,000 miles away from the British Library and the Ashmolean and the Bodleian.) and defenses (I didn't use Wikipedia as my main research source!) and qualifiers (most of my readers won't be Tudor historians).  But it still kills me.  Even if they're not Ph.D.s in 16th Century England, my readers deserve the best.  Maybe I could have rented a place in England and spent hours (months, years) scouring primary sources.    I should have known more.

But with all writing, as we move onto the next book, we realize that we could have known more with the first book.  Could have done things differently.  And all we can do is move forward.

And say -- I'm sorry for my mistakes.  I'll try to do better next time.


  1. I'm feeling a teensy (okay, a lot) defensive on your part. You wrote a great book, and the details are just that...details. We love the characters, we love the details you included, you did your absolute best (more than anyone else I know would ever do) on research. And who cares about the freaking wallpaper when the story and characters are so great?

  2. Oh, Beth, you're the greatest. And just made my day.

  3. You know what's funny? People are incredibly forgiving of commercial movies when it comes to historical inaccuracies. Soooo forgiving. (Think Gladiator, Braveheart, Elizabeth...) But when it comes to commercial fiction, you better be an infallible expert in your subject matter or someone's going to call you out. It's strange. If people want straight fiction, they can head to the non-fiction section; if they want to be transported by a great story, they should accept a few inaccuracies and liberties taken for the sake of entertainment. Can't wait to read GILT, and I'm pretty positive I won't recognize any of the errors!

  4. Oh man, I have so much respect for anyone writing and researching historical fiction. I love the genre, and I would love to give it a shot, but I feel like it would totally take over my life. As a reader, I know I can tell the difference between careful writing and sloppy writing, regardless of genre--and yours definitely sounds like careful writing. I'm new here, so I don't know if you wrote about your research process much while writing, but if not I'd love to hear more about it. (And I am really looking forward to reading Gilt!)

  5. Thank you so much for this comment, Mrs. Silverstein! I haven't written much about research here, but definitely will! And long ago, I posted about research on the YA Muses: Thank you for coming by, and I look forward to seeing you again.