I have a few things that will relegate a book to "wallbanger" status. You know the status I'm talking about: you get halfway through it, and it's so bad that you've thwacked your forehead with the book so often that you finally give the old noggin a rest and slam the book against the wall.
First of all, if there's a heroine who's continually doing one thing after another that's really Too Stupid To Live, I just can't keep rooting for her, even if I know it's going to be okay in the end. One dumb thing, yeah, I can buy that. But a series of dumb things? Nah. Which is a reason I'm so not a fan of horror movies, because we all know the teenage girl WILL go down into the cellar even though the boogie man is always waiting for her in the dark.
Second of all, if there is a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through it, it's hard for me to hang on until the end. The guilty will go nameless here, because I've read some huge best-selling authors who sometimes, bless their hearts, have done this. For the most part, I try to be understanding -- I'm a writer, after all, but I can't write a red herring that doesn't stink to high heaven. So it's perfectly understandable that authors will have an off day.
But lack of research is an unforgivable bugaboo to me.
When I read a book that is about something I know - and believe me, with my work history, I've done a little of all of it - it drives me slap dab crazy if the author gets it wrong.
Sure, authors are allowed to take a little creative license. But please, if you're writing about a journalist at a small weekly paper, make sure that you make him sweat losing those advertisers and have him take out his own trash. And if any of your characters are teachers? If you don't let them sometimes grouse about their students and their students' parents, they won't be true to life.
Plus there's the added fact that I'm a documentary-nerd-freak. I love documentaries. I love history. And if you have a girl heroine in a western, I'd prefer you not have her in Levis before Levi Strauss himself invented jeans.
Because I'm so hard on authors about getting the details right, I'm twice as hard on myself. Take SECRET SANTA, the Harlequin Heartwarming Romance that is scheduled to come out in November of this year. It's about a young doctor out of med school, back in her small hometown to practice medicine. Am I doctor? Nope. So that's why I bugged the stew out of four, count 'em, four doctors to be sure I was getting my details right.
Did I get all of them right? Probably not, I'm sorry to say. But I tried. I didn't just Google a Wikipedia entry (though that is always a good start to make sure your heroine isn't wearing Levis before Levi invented them). And not only did I talk to real live doctors, I availed myself of some other things on that World Wide Web.
For instance, iTunes U is a marvelous collection of all sorts of information -- usually from colleges, so you know it's fairly in depth and accurate. I was lucky enough to run across a series of emergency medicine lectures that were made for University of Virginia emergency residents. It was a cool series that I'm still listening to, because who knows when I might make another character a doctor?
But don't underestimate the power of an emailed question to a perfect stranger. I've learned that experts like to help get the details right (I know I do, of the few things I'm an expert in). I've had excellent luck emailing all sorts of people with the subject line: Published author needs assistance with current manuscript. I think I even had luck back before I was published by saying "author needs assistance." Usually, if they answer you back, you can send a series of questions in an email and they'll email you back.
And your payment back? Be sure to feature them in your acknowledgments. It will give them a plug, and it's always cool to see your name in print. After all, isn't that why all of us writers write?