Monday, May 11, 2015

Research and Accuracy in Fiction: Does It Really Matter? or "But It's Just Fiction!"

Hi everyone,

I know some of you are wondering if I'm ever going to pick up with my chapter by chapter recaps of Jillian Larkin's Vixen (The Flappers, #1). The answer is yes, although I do not have a specific date of when I plan to start those up again. Sometime soon is all can say right now. And yes, I did take a bit of a hiatus from doing that and will get into why on a future post.
With that said, those who have read the Vixen recaps that I have done so far (and have read my blogposts related to historical events) probably can tell that a big issue I have with the book (along with the overuse of particular tropes in much of modern entertainment) is some of the historical errors within the story (the book takes place in the early 1920s for those unaware). And I'm not talking about a here and there date inaccuracy. I'm talking about inaccuracies that can be potentially misleading or even damaging.

Now, is it possible to be 100% accurate in historical fiction? The answer is no. (1) In fact I also did a blogpost on the subject. (2)
Many of us who do write historically tend to go by the "authenticity over accuracy" principle. I mean, want to do a completely accurate piece on the ancient Celts, particularly the Druids? Let me know how that works out for you. But does that also mean shirk the responsibility of researching as best you can?
One argument often presented anytime someone complains of a wrong or incomplete or stereotypical portrayal of a certain person, group, or era is the age old "but it's JUST FICTION! I want to escape when I read/watch a movie! I don't care about accuracy!" And yet, you do. Everyone does to a degree, whether he or she realizes it or not.

As an example, I will use the series/franchise. Fifty Shades of Grey. After its release and skyrocket into popularity, the book received criticism from not only support groups for individuals having endured abusive relationships, but also many within the BDSM community. (3) The latter argued about how the books wrongly portray the lifestyle and even portray it in such a way that anyone wanting to try a BDSM relationship after reading Fifty Shades could easily get hurt or possibly killed if said couple was going to try performing some of the acts without proper research. AND some of the acts performed within the book series was actually very unsafe. Christian Grey, the male lead, was also labeled as abusive in his words and actions, and irresponsible when it came to the practice of the BDSM. Needless to say, many within the lifestyle were horrified when women who were fans of the book started looking to the series author, EL James, as an expert on the subject of BDSM. Meanwhile, she was hardly learned in it herself. And anytime someone tried calling her out on her poor research that could potentially place someone in a dangerous situation, she became defensive. Instead of saying, "yes, this story was my fantasy and that's what it is. A fantasy. I do strongly suggest that if you are looking into such a lifestyle that you do research in order to see if it's for you." But, no.
When I first started blogging, I actually did not list my sources at first. My reasons being (and I even stated this in my blogposts) that I should not have to do others' work for them. After all, much of what I post about is not that difficult to research.
Few things infuriate me more than those in our modern society who will take five ten minutes to skim read over a post that is nothing more than poorly cited and very biased rantings an article on Buzzfeed or other similar sites and suddenly they're an expert on whatever the particular topic is (or even worse..."I spent five seconds staring at a facebook meme telling me about x,y, and z in three sentences and now I know everything there is to know on the topic."). Yet they are still severely misinformed. Simply because they are too lazy to take the time and do proper research. However, it was pointed out to me by several people that this is exactly WHY I should list my sources (and why I even took to having a bibliography of my historical research at the end of each book in my fictional series, The Birthrite).

Here's the thing. Fiction is not just fiction, especially if it is telling the story of a specific time, place, culture, sub-culture, ethnic group, etc and so on. Even with my own Birthrite series, I've had people telling me about how they look forward to learning more about the historical events I write of as the series progresses, along with the characters and their journeys. Therefore, being a writer of fiction does not waive my responsibility to do proper research and cite my sources. Same thing with blogging. Even in reading Amazon and Goodreads reviews about Jillian Larkin's Flappers series, there were those saying of how they loved learning about the 1920s from reading her books. Something that made me cringe. While she isn't necessarily "wrong" about a lot of what she writes in the story, she left a great deal out that could also have shed light on other events of the 1920s. She delves into the race issues but leaves out a crucial piece of literature (among other information) that made its way to the mainstream the year prior to when Vixen takes place (which is in 1923).
In 1922, a story by a man named Zane Gray was published  as a serial in The Ladies Home Journal, which had a nice sized readership. That story was called The Vanishing American and told of a rather shameless love story between a Native American man and a Caucasian female. I will also add that the female lead, Marian, demonstrates a great deal of self-sufficiency and strength despite having some mannerisms that might be seen as antiquated today. The story was popular enough to be published as a novel only a year or two later and was then adapted for film as a screenplay (I will go further in depth when I review the book). For the story, Zane Gray had done years of extensive research on Native Americans and what was facing them. He was coming from a highly sympathetic angle and expressed great concern about them losing their culture to "white America." In fact, in the far too few reviews on Amazon, one reviewer states that this book should be read in schools (as Native American history often gets brushed aside...also I'm sure it is common knowledge that fiction is also often read in schools as a method of studying various topics as well as times in history). (4) And this was a popular book. In the early-mid 1920s. Let that sink in for a moment.
I think that Jillian Larkin had the makings of what could have been a very informative yet entertaining book series. And as I've already stated in my recaps of Vixen, she does have a talent for writing and I think that - with a little more research - she could really have had a book that went above and beyond "the same old." And there were a couple times when it seemed she was going to, but who knows; maybe her publisher objected and therefore they played it safe in that respect? The whole "give people what they expect and are (sadly and disturbingly) comfortable with hearing" principle?

No, it is not just fiction. And no matter how much someone may claim to only seek escapism, we also ingest entertainment as a way of learning and our brains do absorb the information we take in. And while it is impossible to know everything about everything (and likely we never will), doing as much research as possible is crucial. Your readers deserve it. And the people and places you write of deserve it.

I will post an update on when I decide to continue the Vixen recaps, along with why I took a hiatus from doing so. I will also have a review of the Tempest concert and new album, a review of The Vanishing American, and a post in which I will have mini reviews of other books I've read. I've also been reading quite a bit on "Princess/Warrior Programming" (for my book series as well as personal interest) and will be writing a little on that. I've also found info telling of how 'traditionalism' is also quite gynocentric. So stay tuned for all of that.

In the mean time, enjoy the lovely weather and "stand up on your desks." :)

1. Writers Digest: 7 Tips to Writing Historical Fiction

2. Accuracy in Historical Fiction: Is it 100% Possible? (*from this blog*)
3. The Elephant Journal: Here's Why Fifty Shades of Grey is not Good BDSM
4. The Vanishing American Amazon Reviews

Another interesting article:
 The Gross 18th Century: Calling Bullshit on the Hygiene Myths


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