I’m happy to welcome author Rusty Rhoad. Today, Rusty discusses fact checking and shares his latest release, Kaffka, The Holy Grail, & A Woman Who Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay.
Are you one of those readers where it ruins a book for you if the author is factually inaccurate? Does it have to be gross negligence? Is incidental inaccuracy moderately OK?
Turning that around from out side: how much fact checking is enough?
As a writer, I can vouch for one thing: 100% fact checking is a massively time-consuming undertaking. But as a reader, I’m pretty harsh when a writer screws it up badly. Seems contradictory, I know. And yet.
A few years ago, I wrote a scene about a feast that took place in the early 6th century Britain. They were feasting on wild game, barley bread, leeks, potatoes, and a homemade alcoholic brew. A very knowledgeable editor told me that potatoes came from the Americas and weren’t known in Britain until much later. A fact that I didn’t even know that I needed to check!
Fast forward to this summer. I was taking a vacation from writing–and pretty much everything else–on a cruise up the Alaskan coastline. A near-perfect vacation thus far, despite the fact that I’d hurt my back the week before and was not up to my usual adventuresome antics. And then came the whale-watching outing we’d signed up for.
First of all, it was a perfect day. In Alaska, those aren’t all that common–overcast had been the rule up to then. And we were pretty excited that we’d stumbled across a couple of finback whales feeding, although other than being whales, finbacks aren’t known for their entertaining antics like some of the other Cetacea. Bald eagles soared overhead, adding to our delight.
And then we stumbled into maybe a dozen and a half Orcas.
A couple of them, clearly aware that we were watching, put on a show for us. Leaping almost clear of the water less than 50 yards from the boat, falling back with a suitably impressive splash. The others continued their feeding, committed to their policy of mutual inter-species indifference.
Watching them reminded me of a thriller I’d read a few years back, where Killer Whales were featured in the opening scene. Some divers were exploring a pool in a hole under an icecap when they came across a pod of them. The whales eagerly killed all of the divers and swam about looking for more. This despite the fact that an attack by an Orca on a human in the wild have never been recorded. That wasn’t the only gross inaccuracy in the novel. I was so disgusted I took time to seek out the author’s address and write him about how bad his grip on the facts was (he didn’t reply). Needless to say, I’ve never bought anything else by him.
So in one sense, I guess I didn’t totally get away from the responsibility of a writer. Even on a whale-watching trip.
Not long ago I read a novel where a villain threatened the hero by cocking a machine pistol. Seriously? “Well (the chastened author asked), how many people know that a machine pistol isn’t cocked like a regular pistol?” Of the subcategory who read books where machine pistols are involved, I’d say a sizeable percentage.
So how much fact checking is enough? Here’s my advice: if you want a dedicated readership who will buy your next novel, and you have no idea what you’re talking about, check it all. Or at least ask someone familiar with the topic to read and comment. Don’t just make it up and assume.
About the Novel
Kaffka, the Holy Grail, and a Woman Who Reads: The Quests of Sir Kay is my fourth novel with ties to the Arthurian legends, but the first one that actually abandons the comfortable familiarity of contemporary times for the more arduous sixth century. I have long been fascinated with Britain’s foremost hero and his noble knights since the childhood romances about the Knights of the Round Table that I devoured growing up. But T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the first significant work that I read for myself as an adolescent, changed my life forever.
I find Sir Kay to be a particularly intriguing figure. In the original Welsh legends, Kay (known then as Cei) was Arthur’s closest and most loyal companion. But by the time of the twelfth-century French romancers, notably Chrétien de Troyes, Kay had been transformed into the loutish foster-brother that we remember from the Disney animated movie, The Sword in the Stone. Not only that, but also Kay is a perfect example of my typical “beta male” hero—he’s far less likely to beat up the bad guy and save the world and far more likely to make sardonic comments about it all.
I’m glad that Sir Kay has finally gotten a chance to tell his story.
Rusty Rhoad grew up in Bluffton, South Carolina—the town that is the model for White Sands in Avalon, South Carolina as well as appearing in the novel in its current state of population and trendiness—before going to school in Houston, Texas (location of as yet unpublished novel Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail). After a stint in the army at Fort Polk, Louisiana—not currently in any novel, for better or for worse—Rusty and his wife Kate took a year-long camping trip in their VW bus, covering some of the same territory that Arnie Penders explores in Return from Avalon (and Points West) before temporarily suspending their wanderlust near Houston.
During the last decade of a 32-year career as a chemical engineer, Rusty began writing novels over lunch. And now safely out of the grip of the complexity of the military-industrial rat race, he continues to write. He has four novels published, a fifth looking for an adventurous publisher, a sixth in editing, and a seventh in progress.
Where to find Rusty…