Monday, September 24, 2007

Christie Says: It Never Rains in Southern California...

…except for when it does.

We drove up to Los Angeles on Friday with the ominous “worst September storm in twenty years” ringing in our ears. I tried to remember any other September storm in Southern California and could only recall a tropical squall rolling through my kids’ elementary school about five years ago. It had been a typical (hot) day that signals the start of the school year around here when pick-up time coincided with this drenching warm rain. It was the most amazing thing, not only because SoCal is not given to much rain, let alone a tropical one, but because the kindergarteners went crazy with excitement. They ran out onto the blacktop, their little faces turned up to the sky like thirsty flowers. All screeching as they turned in wild circles. We realized later that those little ones probably barely recalled rain…their moms likely didn’t let them out as preschoolers to play in our scant winter storms.

We did get thunder and lightning on Friday night, which is also very rare for Southern California. I was reminded of my book that came out last January and was set, in January, in the San Diego area. It featured both rain and sunshine, and I had more than one reader remark that she didn’t realize that we weren’t operating at 75 degrees and sunny skies 365 days of the year.

Have you ever run across that kind of reader or author, well, ignorance?

I remember reading a book in which the hero, in Southern California, was out swimming in the Pacific, in February, without a wetsuit. I think he later rolled around on the beach with the heroine. Yikes. That would have been like loving up a popsicle because the Pacific is cold all the time and really cold in winter. As in the sixties. Maybe it was that same book where the hero worked as a deejay and the California station was WXYZ or something like that. Fact is, though, all call letters for stations in the west (west of the Mississippi?) start with a K.

So now, as a California native, you know why I almost exclusively set my stories in the Golden State. Or I get in touch with someone who knows a new area well in order to not totally botch the details. Sometimes you can even find a convenient solution for a plot problem. I wrote a story set in Montana in winter and I needed a warm period for a point in the book. Hah! A fellow author (native of Montana) clued me in to the Chinook winds that bring warmer temperatures at certain times.

So…do you have an example of a geographical or meteorological faux pas in a book you’ve read? I’ve never gone so far as to mention one to another author, but I can tell you I winced over the heroine loving up that frozen guy on the beach…


Michele Hauf said...

Hmm, I once winced when I read a historical where the hero was imprisoned in the Bastille—about 50 years after that sucker had been torn down. Couldn't read the rest of the book after that.

No weather weirdness, though. But I probably wouldn't recognize it if there were something like that in a story. Here in MN where it can be 70 in February and 10 in October, we're used to odd weather. (Oh, and we like to bring it up any opportunity we get. Nice how that worked out.)


Debra Dixon said...

I'm so geographically hopeless that I have to do major research for every locale in which my books or stories are set.

I did have my publisher call me once because two books in the same geographic region came in. One book was the cultural stereotype of the 1930's. My book was quite different. They were concerned that they both couldn't be correct. I had family from the region and visited frequently plus had done my usual extensive research (which they knew about me so they'd already figured my book was probably the one on the mark).

I'm not sure how they fixed the other book. I couldn't read it because I knew I'd just be too harsh regardless of what they'd fixed.

Betina Krahn said...

Honest mistakes, I can handle, but I do hate it when people make up things because they're too lazy to do research. You're right, Christie-- weather is a big thing with me, since it's so critical to the background of the story. Now, it's true that freaky things can happen with weather-- like 60 degree days in Minnesota in February-- but a writer better include the fact that it's waaaaay unusual. . . so unusual people are talking about it and maybe even taking time off to just enjoy it.

More interesting is the fact that there are periods in history where weather has been prolonged weird. Like the 1816 which is known as "the year without a summer" in Europe. Volcanic activity in 1815 had thrown up so much dust that it blocked sunlight and prevented the usual warming. Cold and snows and ice on rivers and lakes big-time. Even in Italy it was cold and the grape crops and winemakers were devastated. If you're writing historicals, you should research enough to know those things.

Another thing that gets me is the way people use academic titles. Very few PhD's are addressed as "doctor" outside the academic setting. And scientists generally abhor being called "Dr." In their world it's ASSUMED that you have the creds to be where you are. People are addressed by their names, first or last depending on the setting and familiarity of the speaker. The term "doctor" is generally something only medicos use in general life. And even then, it takes a sizeable ego to insist it be used in social situations. And when a person introduces him or her self that way, there'd better be a darned good reason for it. . . besides rampant narcissism!

Helen Brenna said...

For some reason this stuff doesn't bother me all that much.

I try to be as accurate as possible in my books, but I'm sure I've made mistakes and I'm sure someone will find them and point them out.

Oh, well.

I had a reviewer, who overall really liked my second book, criticize me for not explaining what parts of the book were based on fact and what parts were fiction. Maybe she had a point, but how the hell was I supposed to do that in a book of fiction? In hindsight, it would've been great to add a reader letter explaining what parts of my book were based on real Incan myth, but Harlequin doesn't give us a lot of room for that kind of stuff.

I guess that puts me right up there with the DaVinci Code!! hehehe

Betina Krahn said...

Oh, and have you noticed in your travels that everything seems smaller than in the books you read and movies you've seen.
I was shocked by the size of Versaille. . . which I had always heard was massive and fabulous. I was gravely disappointed to find it roughly one-third the size I had imagined and virtually bare of furnishings. Mostly empty halls. And Venice. . . those canals are pretty small, actually.

One of the true wonders of Europe NOT diminished or agrandized in film and fiction is Michaelangelo's statue of "David" in Florence's "Academy" Museum. That is one big boy! And every bit as powerful and affecting as its reputation indicates. Another is the Eiffel Tower. . . huge and remarkable. . . it towers over Paris, a monumental achievement of engineering in its day and impressive even by today's standards!

Michele Hauf said...

Versailles impressed the heck out of me, Betina! I think I had about the right size in mind. But yeah, it would have been cool to have a bit of furniture sitting about, eh? And can you imagine if you wanted to run out and visit the wife at her little retreat in the back of the property? Hitch up the horses, it's going to be a trip!

The Eiffel Tower was also amazing. Can you believe they had actually only intended it to stand for about a year during the Exhibition, and then tear it down? Citizens thought it was an eyesore. So glad they decided to keep it around a bit.

Christie Ridgway said...

I thought Versailles was pretty big, Betina! But the Mona that painting looked like a postage stamp compared to what I had in mind. I, unfortunately, have not been to Venice. Yet!

I'm sure I've made plenty of honest mistakes, which is why if I use a real place in my books (say Coronado Island, the setting of my last two books) I do include a big disclaimer at the end saying that while I did use some real landmarks, street names, etc., were completely made up. That way I'm covered!

Christie Ridgway said...

I've heard about that year without a summer, Betina. That's what's cool about research. You can find out something like that and then use it in your plot.

When I was writing books set in Palm Springs, CA, my research told me it had been a big hotbed the Mafia before gambling was outlawed in California and moved on to Las Vegas. It gave my stories the factual anchor I needed. Even in contemporary books, research into the past of a region will throw up little goodies that really work in a story.

Kaitlin said...

I don't know if I can think of anything weather related. I do remember one book though (about the Scottish Highlands) that was so completely bogus it completely threw me out of the book & I couldn't finish it. It was beyond ridiculous and totally ruined the author for me.

I like books that are set in places where you know the author did research. Ms. Cindy Gerard is a good example of this, especially in To The Brink. I felt like I was right there in the midst of it all. That's how I want to feel in a book. :)

Susan Kay Law said...

Yeah, I thought Versailles was every bit as big as I expected! Betina, you must have a BIG imagination.

The Potala Palace was much more dramatic than I'd imagined, too.

RE: mistakes . . . read a book set in northern Minnesota once where the author put in mountains. Real ones, not the little pretend-ones along the north shore. Nope.


Susan Kay Law said...

Yeah, I thought Versailles was every bit as big as I expected! Betina, you must have a BIG imagination.

The Potala Palace was much more dramatic than I'd imagined, too.

RE: mistakes . . . read a book set in northern Minnesota once where the author put in mountains. Real ones, not the little pretend-ones along the north shore. Nope.


Christie Ridgway said...

Kaitlyn: I loved To the Brink as well! Adventure! Jungle! Wonderful stuff. I really felt there as well.

Susie: Som Minnesota has no mountains? I confess to having a real geographical loss unless I've visited a particular place. Must get to Minnesota. My dad is Swedish and was born in St. Paul.

Betina Krahn said...

Okay, maybe I mean the interior of Versailles wasn't as big as I imagined. The outside was pretty impressive. But the interiors. . . well I just remember expecting it to all be bigger. And perhaps my impression of the hall of mirrors was tainted by the work they were doing on it at the time. Many of the original mirrors were corroding and the whole place was being worked on. And I was more shocked to see actual graffiti in those hallowed halls. Probably shouldn't have been, considering the history of the place. . . some of it could have been from revolutionary days!

I kept thinking that it wasn't in very good shape for something so important. Then a Parisian lady I was with said that it's a constant fight all over France(and I expect Europe in general) to get funding to preserve such places. When you think of the sheer number of important historic places there, you begin to see why.

In the US, you go to a place like Mt Vernon or Monticello and see the effort expended to keep it up-- but when you think about it, by comparison we don't have that much that's that old to keep up. Funding it is much, much easier.