Tag Archives: Louis L’Amour

Back in Time

One of the things—among many, I guess—that I like about writing is the research. I see authors complaining about it, but I’m not sure why. Sure, it takes time away from actual writing, but so what? What’s better than learning something? It’s not like this is high school where you have to research things you couldn’t care less about. If you’re putting it in your story, chances are you’re interested in it in some way, so researching it should be interesting.

For instance, I recently wrote something of an introductory short story for a shared world project first proposed to me by Casey Cowan, Creative Director for Oghma Creative Media and my boss. One of the things we’re doing is trying to revive the western. We’ve made a start on it with the e-zine Saddlebag Dispatches, which is already getting some notice. An article was written about it on nawonline.com, our local news page, and the Western Writers of America, as well as some award-winning western authors, are sitting up and taking notice of it.

Casey and I were sort of brainstorming at his house one day when he asked, “What would attract people to westerns?”

I thought about it a few moments, then said, “I think we need to add an element of cool into it. Something like you’d see in Django Unchained.”django

Long story short, we developed a western series idea for multiple authors to write about that we think will attract attention. Our characters aren’t your typical—or I should say stereotypical—western characters. Sure, those kinds of people will be in our story, and our characters even appear to fulfill the stereotypes. But once you see what’s going on, you’ll realize they’re not what they appear.

I don’t want to go any farther until we make an official announcement about the project, but suffice it to say I had to do a bit of research to get some historical facts right.

I’ve always loved history. Most people consider it boring, I guess, judging from the reactions I get when I say I love it, but that’s okay. For me, it helps me learn why we’re where we are today.

One of the periods I’ve always loved in particular is the 1800s. All that expansion into the west, the stories of the men and women who ventured out into what was, for them, the equivalent of outer space (they just didn’t need EVA suits), fascinates me, both on the fiction and nonfiction level.

I read lots of Louis L’Amour when I was a teenager, and his writing instilled in me a love of the west equaled only by my love for fantasy lands such as Middle-earth. For me, the Rocky Mountains, the wilds of Montana, the southwestern deserts, the Indians who peopled the area and posed yet another challenge to settlers, it’s all fascinating, and I can get carried away reading about these people.

lamour-1-sizedLouis L’Amour did lots of research to write his novels, so I feel when I read one of his books, I’m getting an accurate portrayal of people back then. Yes, he romanticizes it, but so what? That whole period is a romantic one, or we wouldn’t have such an endless fascination for it as a nation. It was unique in history, and I doubt we’ll see another one like it until we finally venture out into space.

And that one may well be endless, for all practical purposes. Western expansion was limited by the Pacific Ocean, for the most part. But expanding into the galaxy alone will take us thousands of years, at a minimum. And then there’ll be all the other galaxies out there. And, who knows? If the quantum physicists are right about parallel universes, this could go on literally forever.

But back down to earth.

I went on a small spate of research back a year or so agothat had nothing to do with what I was writing at the time. It started with me watching Band of Brothers. That got me interested in World War II, so I watched The War, the Ken Burns documentary. That got me interested in Ken Burns documentaries, so I watched Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery as well as The Civil War. The man knows how to make an interesting documentary. I’ve just reserved his documentary The West at the Ken-Burns-Presents-The-westlibrary.

So, research doesn’t have to be dreadful. I realize there are times we’ll come across things in our writing that’ll be boring to research, but for the most part, we should be writing about things that interest us in the first place, so the research should be interesting too.

Or maybe I’m just an über-nerd.


Rediscovering Harry

Harry_Potter_Logo_by_SprntrlFAN_LivviI’m on a trip rediscovering Harry Potter. Both the movies and the books.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone way back before the first movie came out. Not very long before, mind you, because until a co-worker convinced me otherwise, I figured the whole Harry Potter thing was another fad. You know, kinda like the president of IBM considered personal computers as something that would never take off. I don’t know if he ever admitted he was wrong, but I did after reading the first book. And I had it fresh on my mind when I saw the movie, so it made that an enjoyable experience.

If I remember right, I only ever read the first book. I saw the second and third movies, then kind of fell off from there on keeping up. Part of it was pure finances: books and movies were luxuries I had to be picky about, and I guess I got a little burned on things Harry Potter, especially when I had to pick between it and The Lord of the Rings. Sorry Potter fans, but I’m a bigger Middle-earth fan than Hogwarts fan.

But I’ve always sort of been down on myself for not reading the books. After all, as my daughter said when I brought up my plan to read the entire series, if you gotta choose, choose the books.

Thanks to the library, though, I can do both. I just finished Sorcerer’s Stone and, by the time you read this, I should be through with Chamber of Secrets and working on sorcerers stonePrisoner of Azkaban. And, as much as I can, I’m reading a book, then watching the movie. Looks like it might not work out as well as I’d like. Turns out the movie version of Chamber of Secrets is checked out, unless I want the Blu-Ray version, and I can’t watch those. Or, I should say, all the copies the library has are checked out. I guess Harry Potter is still a hot property.

It was such a joy to read Sorcerer’s Stone again, and then see it on the screen. Seeing the wonder on Harry’s face as he discovered every new aspect of Hogwarts and his life as a wizard is great fun. It’s like rediscovering something from you past you’d forgotten about, so it’s almost as good as the first time around.

There’s icing on the cake, too. Reading Rowling’s excellent writing seems to be what’s gonna finally inspire me to get busy writing again. You never know what will do it for you.

But writer or not, why not go back and rediscover something you haven’t visited in a long time? Doesn’t have to be Harry Potter. Maybe it’s Narnia. Or Louis L’Amour’s West. Or any of a million and one other things that we treasured at one time but have let fall by the wayside just because life is like that sometimes.

Have yourself some pure fun for a change without an agenda attached to it. You might discover it has more waiting for you than you know.


Genre Bending

I started wondering while ago: do we really need genres?

Let’s work this out together.ridgeline

I know of at least three authors who work in more than one genre. Pamela Foster, who has written—or is writing—a literary Western series, contemporary fiction, and even what might be called somewhat speculative fiction, a book called Bigfoot Blues that—you guessed it—has real Bigfoots in it.

Then there’s Velda Brotherton. She writes Western historical romance, contemporary stories about PTSD (her latest, Beyond the Moon, was originally written in the eighties, long before anyone else had PTSD on their radar), a series of mysteries, and she has a forthcoming horror novel.

Then there’s Greg Camp, who writes in two genres predominantly: science fiction and Westerns (they’re not so far apart, if you think about it). And he’s working on a horror short story for an ezine we (Oghma Creative Media) have in the works.

ChangelingFrontCover-200And there’s my friend JE Newman, whose forthcoming novel Changeling is set a couple hundred years in the future after a virus caused a small percentage of the population to become what we call superheroes/villains. But all the superheroes are gone, now, except for one bad guy who’s still around killing people who don’t need killed. Science fiction? Yeah, there’s some of that there. Fantasy? Sure, in the urban sense, what with the supers. But can you pigeonhole it? Not really.

I dare you to tell any of these people they can’t write in multiple genres.

That’s exactly what the major publishing houses will do, though. They argue that your name will come to be known for a certain type of story, and if you write something different, it’ll dilute your audience because they won’t know what to expect from you.

Bull—er, balderdash!

Let me use just one example, and I use him because I’m so familiar with his work: Stephen King.

When you hear his name, what do you think? Oh, he’s that horror writer. And even Mr. King calls himself that.

But I beg to differ.

Yes, almost all of his stories have an element of horror in them, and that’s okay. I could argue with you that even science fiction can have horror in it. What’s more horrible than being trapped in a spacesuit with no way back to a ship or planet? But okay, let’s go with the stipulation that, to be horror, there must be something otherworldly about the story.

FiFirestarter_novelne. Firestarter is about a little girl whose parents partook in some of those (in)famous drug trials college students went through in the sixties. The result is that she has pyrokinesis—the ability to start fires with her mind. That’s straight speculative fiction, with his usual dash of horror thrown in. After all, Charlie—the little girl in the story—has the potential to cause a nuclear reaction, she’s so strong.

Then there’s The Tommyknockers, which involves a crashed UFO full of aliens who have a very bad effect on the humans who discover them. Dreamcatcher has much the same type of monsters. Ditto for Under the Dome, though the aliens in this one are the most appealing to me: they played with the people in the story simply because we were like ants to them. Very realistic, in my opinion (even though I don’t think this is one of his better books, awesome cover notwithstanding).

Then there’s his entire The Dark Tower series, which is so much different from anything else he writes that many of his mainstream fans refuse to read it. Predominantly, it’s dark fantasy, but there’s also the distinct flavor of a Western there, with Roland being a gunslinger. There’s also a dash of Arthurian legend, as well as some rift hopping through dimensional doorways.

Pin that one down, New York Editor!

Want a couple more? Okay, there’s the Low Town series by Daniel Polansky, wherein we have a protagonist who is basically an ex-cop turned drug dealer in a fantasy world who—in the first book, at least—solves a murder. WTF is that? The publisher calls it fantasy, and it mostly is, since the setting is an entire fictional world.

Then there’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch. It’s set in a future where Philadelphia has been obliterated, and our protagonist works for a company that investigates all the deaths for insurance firms to see which ones they actually have to pay out on. He’s hung up on this one girl he discovered while accessing the Archive, a repository of every camera feed in the city. He uses the Archive to determine the true cause of death, the hope being that it will save insurance companies billions of dollars. The girl he discovered looks to have been murdered.

I’m not finishing this book, even though it has some nice touches of hard-boiled noir to it. It’s a little too literary for my tastes (the author has a literary degree, don’tcha know), and he also has an irritating habit of ending probably 98% of his dialogue with em dashes—as if everybody constant interrupts one another. Probably one of those literary devices that shows he’s A Serious Writer. All it does is throw me out of the story.

Still, there’s a bit of a mishmash going on there, isn’t there?

So…do we really need genres? I think Western author Dusty Richards said it best: “We’re all writing the same thing, we’re just using different costumes.” Heck, most of ushaunted mesa read in more than one genre, so why can’t authors write in more than one? Even Louis L’Amour stepped outside of Westerns by writing some detective stories for the pulps back in the day, and experimenting with other kinds of stories just before he died. The Haunted Mesa is probably best described as magical realism with a touch of horror, while The Last of the Breed is a modern adventure story.

I have found my calling in writing crime fiction, but I’ve been toying for a while now with the idea of a science fiction story set on a tropical planet involving drug smuggling. Sort of a Miami Vice in Space, if you will. I don’t know if it’ll ever get off the ground or not, but it might. I also have my ambitious space opera I’d love to try and finish someday, too.

So, yeah, some of us are comfortable staying inside a niche, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe we have a particular talent for that genre, as I seem to have for crime fiction. And maybe we have no desire to stray outside our genre. That’s fine, too.

But what if we want to? They’re all, at heart, stories, and that’s what we tell as writers: stories. We have to help the reader suspend his disbelief, transport him into the world of the novel, and get him to stay there for the length of our tale. We have to have characters the reader cares about, and we have to put them in a situation the reader can identify with. Everything else is just stage props.

Independent-PublisherI think this is another area where the independent publishers are going to overtake the Big New York Conglomerates: they’re able to think outside the box, and allow their authors to do the same.

Yes, in a sense, we need genres to give us a handle on what we’re getting into. But can’t good authors do just the same, no matter how many genres they choose to write in?


Another Old Friend

A few weeks back, I wrote about re-discovering an old friend when I re-read The Hobbit, and of how it and a lot of other good books got me through my teen years. Some of those books included Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books (especially the Camber series), some of Andre Norton’s books (Daybreak 2250 A.D. comes to mind, as well as Quag Keep), and quite a few others.

Book cover, Quag Keep by Andre Norton (DAW Boo...

On another front, I spent hours traveling the frontier—whether that frontier was the Blue Ridge Mountains of the 1600s or the West of the 1800s—with Louis L’Amour. Mr. L’Amour was able to transport me to another world just as effectively as Tolkien or Kurtz, except this world was back in time to our discovery of this wonderful continent we live on.

Somewhere in there I discovered Robert Ludlum. I’m not sure anymore what spurred me to try one of his books, though I suspect it was Katherine Kurtz, as strange as that might sound. But there is a connection: intrigue.

Ms. Kurtz’s books were filled with it. It’s a staple of high fantasy, though I didn’t know that term back then. I didn’t know how to describe it, except to say the characters spent a lot of time trying to out-plot one another.

Mr. Ludlum’s characters were likewise engaged, but his stories generally involved the Cold War in some way. I loved reading about how they’d make a call on a payphone and only stay on it for less than two minutes before moving on to another one. How they used false identities, cutouts, and all the other methods of subterfuge that made the cloak and dagger setting so fascinating to me.

When I went into the Army, my reading fell off quite a bit, and for a number of reasons. It started because I simply didn’t have the time. Then I got interested in music and partying (at about the same time, of course) and didn’t have much interest left over for reading. I’d do some along the way, but not a lot.

I started calming down in 1985 and, on one of my trips to the PX to look at their books, I saw this gray book with a Russian submarine on the cover. If I remember right, the first few times I spied this book (no pun intended), I didn’t bother with it. But it kept popping into my mind. I couldn’t bring the title to mind, but I could see that cover.

I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts, and I did so then. Since I couldn’t remember the title, I almost didn’t find the thing. In those days, the PX displayed its paperbacks on racks a lot like you still see in grocery stores, except they didn’t bother to make all the stacks the same book. You had to dig through them to see what was being offered.

I finally found it, picked it up, and in the inside flap (it was one of those with two front covers), one of the blurbs was from President Ronald Reagan.

Cover of "The Hunt for Red October"

That book was The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.

We lost Mr. Clancy a short time ago, dead at the age of 66. He’d taken a hiatus from writing (I’ve heard it had something to do with a divorce, but I haven’t been able to confirm that), but lately he’s been publishing books at an almost furious rate, as if to make up for time lost.

I haven’t kept up with a lot of his later books, but I can still remember getting wrapped up in Red October, having a hard time putting it down. I was in the military, and here was a book that spoke to me. Sure, it was all naval stuff, so I didn’t know exactly what all this gear was he referred to, but it was still military, and I could identify with it.

I ate it up. And grabbed up Red Storm Rising when it came out. For a long time, I read every new book he published. I loved Clear and Present Danger (which I want to re-read now) because it involved more conventional ground forces like I was familiar with (these days I want to read it because it addresses the clear and present danger of the Colombian cocaine trade from the 80s). The Cardinal of the Kremlin was great because it let me see more of the mysterious John Clark, an

The Cardinal of the Kremlin

operative who was a lot of help to Jack Ryan (Mr. Clancy’s main character) in Patriot Games.

But when I think of Tom Clancy, I always think of The Hunt for Red October. When he wrote that book, he pretty much invented the techno-thriller. And if he didn’t invent it, then he certainly pushed it into the mainstream of thriller readers.

Red October is, for me, another one of those old friends. It’s in a different vein than The Hobbit, not only because it’s not fantasy, but because it’s not necessarily one that made me want to write. At least not as much as The Hobbit did. All the books I’ve ever read have made me want to write in one way or another, either because I wanted to see if I could do as good, or because I knew I could do better (I didn’t finish reading a lot of the latter).

I’m writing this not only because Mr. Clancy died recently, but also because, just a few days ago, I was looking through my bookshelf and saw my copy of Red October. It’s a paperback, gray, with a silver periscope on the cover and a Russian sub in the viewfinder (which also serves as the second O in the word October). I picked the book up, looked at the cover a bit, then opened to the first page:

Captain First Rank Marko Ramius of the Soviet Navy was dressed for the Arctic conditions normal to the Northern Fleet submarine base at Polyarnyy.

Maybe not the most exciting opening sentence ever, and probably wouldn’t pass muster these days, but to a guy in the military during the closing days of the Cold War (though we didn’t know it in 1985), it was an attention-grabber. Here’s the enemy, a captain of a Russian submarine, deploying for duty. And you could bet it wasn’t gonna be a patrol sub. Oh, no. No way. This had to be a missile sub—called a boomer in the trade—carrying nukes to threaten America.

I sat down and read the first few pages and had to force myself to put it back. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still had me wanting to see what would happen next. No, not much happens at first, but it gets intriguing fast when Ramius kills Ivan Putin, the zampolit, or political officer, before they even get fully deployed, then replaces their true orders with some he’s made up on his own.

I see I’m running long with this post, and I hope you’ve stuck with me so far, because I want to say this: if you’ve not read The Hunt for Red October you should give it a try. Yes, the movie with Sean Connery was good, and he portrays Marko Ramius admirably. But as is true in most cases, the book is far richer than the movie could ever be. Even if you’re not a fan of techno-thrillers or even thrillers in general, I think you might find this one engrossing.

Cover of 1986 first edition

Even if you do already know we “won” the Cold War.


Still Learning

I know I’ve told this story before, but I remember reading one time that Louis L’Amour was giving a talk at a seminar (I

Louis L'Amour

Louis L’Amour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

think it took place in LA, where he lived) at a writer’s conference, in which he said something to the effect that he felt he was just beginning to master his craft. This was shortly before his death, when he’d been writing for something like fifty years.

The aim of the article I read this in was that writing is a craft you’re always improving on. It seems to me that any craft worth learning is that way, whether it be woodworking or sailing catamarans. I believe the article also went on to say that one of the participants was completely discouraged by Mr. L’Amour’s remark, rather than taking it in the spirit it was offered.

I have to say that, having read most of Mr. L’Amour’s books, I have to wonder what he meant, in a way. I think he was an excellent writer, bar none. And his sales figures tend to agree with me. Mr. L’Amour felt himself to be in the oral storyteller vein, so the bulk of his works are short novels—I’d guess many of them weigh in at less than 70,000 words, quite a few probably under 60,000. By today’s standards, not exactly long novels. In his later years, though, in books such as Comstock Lode, The Walking Drum and The Haunted Mesa, he upped his word-count considerably. His storytelling didn’t suffer for it, though.

But, let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about, in case you’ve never read any of his work.

When I came down off the cap rock riding a wind-broken bronc, half of New Mexico must have been trailin’ behind me, all ready to shake out a loop for a hanging.

Nobody told me I should wait around and get my neck stretched, so when I’d seen them coming my way I just wrapped myself around the nearest horse and taken off down country. Seemed likely those boys would run out of ambition before long, but they must have been mighty shy of entertainment in the gyp-rock country, because they kept a-coming.

Me, I high-tailed it out of there as fast as that bronc would take me, and for a spell that was pretty fast. Only the bronc had run himself out trying to save my bacon and now I needed myself a fresh horse, or else I’d never need another.

That’s from Mustang Man,Mr. L’Amour’s 1966 novel about Nolan Sackett, an outlaw member of the famed Sackett

Cover of "Mustang Man (Louis L'Amour)"

family. The book clocks in at 168 pages in paperback form. (My copy is a 6th printing from 1971 and cost all of 95¢.)

The main point, though, is that you can see how lean his prose is. There definitely isn’t any fat there, and I think we could all learn some lessons from this.

I’ve been seeing ways to tighten sentences up better in my own work as I’ve been editing Spree. I’ve got the bulk of the editing done there, by the way, but now I think I need to go back through it and give it more polish. I don’t like the idea of doing too much editing as I believe you can edit the spontaneity out. But it’s far too easy to get wordy on first draft, so some tightening is always necessary. And since I wasn’t even able to edit out my requisite 10% the first time through, it’s obvious that I need to put in more work. I still think some of that will happen through either deleting entire scenes or at least rewriting them in shorter form, but I’m waiting on a critique for that.

Let me give you one example of a sentence I tightened up in Spree. The original sentence went like this:

Eddie drove the car around the building and into the back lot.

Okay, that’s not all that bad, right? Well, here’s the edited version:

Eddie drove around to the back.

I dropped that sentence from 12 words to 6. I halved it. That makes it an even better sentence and it gets right to the point without being wordy about it. I like that. Wish I could find ways to do that with a lot of my work, but that’s the point of this post: I’m learning how.

Writing is a constant art of learning and bettering what you’re doing. If you reach a point where you’re thinking, You know, I think I’m about as good a writer as I’m gonna get, it’s about time to reassess. I don’t think we can ever reach the epitome of our craft, because we’ll never be perfect writers. We’ll reach a peak, I’m sure, when we’ll have a handful of works that’ll be considered our best, with things falling off after that. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still learning things—or at least we should be—about our craft.

Hmm. Now that I look at the edit I made above, let me part with this question: Would it sound even better if I shortened it to Eddie drove around back?

Let me know.




One of the big changes I noticed in writing crime is that I have to do more research. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t able to finish any projects when I tried writing sf/f: I wasn’t serious enough about it to do the research I should have. When you write speculative fiction you have to do so much world-building that it isn’t even funny. You end up knowing a lot more than you ever tell the readers.

Of course, every writer does this to one extent or another. You’ve always got to know more about the world you’re writing in than will ever end up in the book. It can be a fine balance sometimes, too, between giving just enough info for the reader to understand what’s going on and crossing the line into some weird hybrid of fiction and nonfiction, where the novel becomes the lesson plan.

Let’s face it: if you’re writing about it, chances are you’re interested in it, and everybody is guilty at one point in their life of lecturing on, I don’t know, the mating habits of lemurs, or something equally exotic, that leaves everyone else hiding their yawns. The temptation to do it as a writer can be stronger because you just spent six months (or whatever) doing so much research that the local librarians call you by your first name. And you’ve got all this knowledge that you’ve spent so many man-hours accumulating. Why not regurgitate it on the reader? (I picked that word on purpose.)

I just watched a mini-documentary that told of Louis L’Amour researching a novel he was setting in Utah. He wanted to look at a particular patch of land he’d seen years before from a plane or something like that, so he left LA and chartered a helicopter and, along with his son Beau and some others, they found the place and walked the land he wanted to use.

That’s dedication. And I have places I’d like to research that way. For instance, my novel Spree is set largely along the I-10 corridor from Los Angeles to roughly Mobile, Alabama. The protagonist and his partner-in-crime originally intended to follow it all the way to Jacksonville, Florida, but things didn’t quite go as planned (when do they ever?). I’ve only ever been on a comparatively short stretch of I-10, from somewhere in western Louisiana to Houston, and that was way back in the 80s (1984, I think). I’m not an expert on the highway.

So, I made things up about the terrain. I can’t go to Google Earth (God, what a luxury that is for a writer who hasn’t sold anything yet, or not enough to charter helicopters as Mr. L’Amour did) because I don’t have Internet at home and you can’t use it on the library computers. I do know somebody in Phoenix who’s gonna get me pictures of downtown, and maybe some east of Tucson if he gets out that way, but I can’t ask him to make special trips (thankfully, he drives a truck, so he might make it to those locations). I could use Google Maps and get some of what I want, I’m sure. I’ve played around with it before and, while it’s not the 3-D Google Earth, it can be handy.

When I brought this up in an after-meeting discussion at writers group, Dusty Richards said something to the effect of, “Why worry about it? How many people know what it looks like?”

Well, that’s true. A good point. But…I guess I’m just anal enough to want some accuracy in my descriptions, especially since I actually want them to be a little distorted through the lens of my character.

Likewise, I’d like to get most of my law enforcement details right, as far as how various cops act and the procedures they use. I don’t have to be as meticulous about it as, say, Joseph Wambaugh, because I’m not writing police procedurals like he is. Of course, he has the advantage of being a former police officer, with connections inside the department. I don’t have either one (yet).

But see, what Mr. Wambaugh does is the equivalent, in the sf world, of hard science fiction. That’s the stuff that tends to be written by people like Isaac Asimov, Robert Forward and Larry Niven. These guys are working scientists, or were at one time, and they’re very familiar with the concepts they’re putting forward. Mr. Forward was, if I remember correctly, an astrophysicist. Mr. Asimov, while I don’t think he had much in the way of formal training, held several honorary degrees simply because he taught himself all of it. And I can’t remember exactly what Mr. Niven did, but he was in astronomy or something like that himself.

I can’t compete with that and, quite honestly, don’t want to. I think that’s one of the reasons I always like the space opera: it’s heavy on the fiction and much lighter on the science. The tech is there as a backdrop. I mean, look at shows like Star Trek and Star Wars. Trek was a little heavier on the science, if only to make Mr. Spock sound like he knew what he was talking about. But Star Wars? Not so much. We’re talking about the franchise in which Han Solo bragged about making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. Parsecs are units of measure, not units of speed (they’re approximately 3 light years, the space-going equivalent of a league).

(As an aside, author AC Crispin explains this in the Han Solo trilogy by saying that this is actually a dispute between Han and Chewbacca. It seems the Kessel Run, um, ran close to a cluster of black holes, and Han took the Millennium Falcon extremely close to the event horizon in a successful effort to evade Imperial ships. He claims that actually shortened the run to 12 parsecs thanks to the bending of space, while Chewie disagrees.)

Now, my novel Spree is something like a space opera in that I don’t want to get too technical on law enforcement techniques. Heck, if I do, it’s likely the book won’t work. Surveillance techniques—especially as regards the kind of technology LE can bring to bear these days—would put an end to the trip probably before they got out of LA. I think I do a good explanation of how they manage to evade the cops across the entire nation, but I doubt it would stand up to any kind of detailed scrutiny.

So what? It’s a fun story, for the most part, and that’s all it’s intended to be.

But what about my Rural Empires stories? They involve undercover work and, with the first two or three especially, Lyle working closely with the cops. How accurate do I need to be? To be honest, I’m not sure.

Authors regularly tweak details for the sake of story. I know there are cops, for instance, who won’t watch cop shows because they’re not accurate. Well, what if they were? I mean, how interesting is most police work? As a storyteller, you have to gloss over all the boring meetings, roll calls, stakeouts, traffic stops, paperwork, and all the other mundane details and emphasize the thirty seconds of sheer terror (to borrow a phrase from the military) that comes in a shoot-out with the bad guys (or good guys, depending on the cop).

What do you think? Do we owe it to the readers to get the facts as accurate as possible? Or can we tweak (or even ignore) them for the sake of story? For that matter, do we have to cling religiously to either scenario? I mean, my daughter has written a novel about teenagers robbing banks, and doing it quite successfully, using their natural inclination to role-play and get into costumes. At first glance, it seems awfully far-fetched. But is it? Or is it just something that hasn’t been done yet? I tend to think the latter.

What are your thoughts?