Artistic License

A few months ago, my publisher received a rather angry letter from one of my readers. This reader has now posted the text of her letter as a “review” in Amazon. In her letter and review, the reader outlined all the flaws she had found in Blue Bloods, including the spelling of Plymouth (it was spelled Plimouth back then) and what she (the letter-writer was a she) saw as my glaring lack of knowledge concerning American history, for example, the dates of the founding of Roanoke and Plymouth, which in my book, I had made to seem as if Roanoke occured during the time of the Mayflower, when I knew in my research it had not. (In fact, as much as 30 years separated them.)

However, to make my story more IMMEDIATE, I used fictional license to merge the two histories together. After all, I was writing a novel, not a historical text, and it worked so much better in my story if the colonies were founded almost at the same time. I was also aware that the Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving right when they landed, but waited until the next year, but again, to my Blue Bloods Thanksgiving had a different meaning, so I made the story align more with the popular conception of the holiday.

I wasn’t aware that by picking and choosing from history, that some readers (well, really, just one, since everything else I have found on the web or has been written to me via email is nothing but excitement and enthusiasm for the book) might think that I was UNAWARE of several key facts. I guess some people just like to think they are smarter than the author (there’s a GOTCHA! quality to this), or that the author is just a lazy bum who didn’t even think about any of this, when in fact, I had thought about it long and hard, and decided that as an artist, and NOT a historian, I was allowed to pull and manipulate history to tell my story. Just like Sofia Coppola does in Marie Antoinette, or Stephen Spielberg did in Amistad..or in a whole bunch of other “historical” novels and romances.

Maybe it was my fault that I didn’t include a breakdown of exactly what I used from history, what I made up, and what I intentionally mixed up for my story…because I have since realized even some librarians–my favorite people!–well again, only ONE librarian–is under the impression that I was, well, to put it bluntly, clueless.

The letter writer also pointed some other copy-editing type of mistakes, like it’s November, but I have Cordelia say it’s winter, or that the dates later on in the book don’t match up with fortnight travel, etc. I do apologize for not having caught these. But not every novel is perfect, in fact, even Tolstoy himself defended what he called “sunspots” in his novels–for instance, his readers would complain that a character was described as having blue eyes in one chapter, and brown eyes in another. Sunspots, he explained, happen to even the best of writers because one gets so caught up in the story, little details escape one’s attention.

The librarian also complained that I had mixed up Myles Standish with William Bradford, who had been the governor of the colony for thirty years. Again, I read the history, and I liked the name Myles Standish better… since in MY book, Myles is Michael (The ArchAngel) and the names just went together bettter.

Also, I was really wary of writing the “Mayflower” parts because I didn’t want to get stuck in Olde English and I deliberately chose not to use the Olde Spellings. (I chose to spell it Plymouth rather than Plimouth). I also didn’t want to call anyone “Goody Standish” or such. In fact, the letters in the book are really brief because I wanted to try to stay away from any accidental errors as much as possible.

So there you have it. For my next trick, in Masquerade, I made the entire Gilded Age disappear! Haha.

Anyway, as Tess Gerritsen writes in her blog, you can’t win over everyone, and you have to write for yourself…and I realize as I write this that I am really responding to only two disgruntled people in the universe, who will never even read this, while the vast majority of my readership just wants me to shut up so I can finish Book Two in the series and put up the first chapter already. I promise, it’s coming.. and in answer to all your emails, MASQUERADE pubs next April!!! Can you stand it??? I can’t!! It’s sooo good and soooo much more juicy than BLUE BLOODS even!

One of the fun things about putting Blue Bloods together was figuring out how to make the Mayflower story work with MY mythology, and picking the pieces of history that fit with mine…most of it worked–for example, tons of people from the Mayflower died after the first year…what could explain that? Bad weather? Hell no, VAMPIRES! Hee hee. I was really excited when I figured out the Roanoke angle, and hey, what’s 30 years difference in historical fact to a novelist? I make things up. It’s my job.

And I know my faithful readers probably think this blog is pretty boring, so I’m sorry. We’ll go back to the regularly scheduled shopping sprees in a bit. I just had to get it off my chest. It bothered me that there was this misconception of my work as shoddy research floating around in cyberspace when in fact I had done the research, and had deliberately chosen to manipulate history to fit my story.

To be accused of “dumbing down” the teenage populace because of this strikes me as somewhat hysterical. They are not the only two people in the world who know the history of Plymouth, after all–many, if not all of my readers know it just as well. But what do my readers have that these two did not? Well, they gave me the BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, as in they understood I was using artistic license to tell my story, and they came along for the ride and enjoyed it. Also, if you’re looking for history, I’m not sure a novel about vampires is really the place to find it. The Mayflower history was a fun trope, a fun context in which to place my Blue Bloods.

Please know your author works long and hard, forsaking vacations, weighing each option in the storyline, and trying to make everything fit along with all the great hot kissing scenes that make the story actually worth reading…

My husband always tells me to ignore the naysayers and the critics and the snarkies and the nasties, and I usually do, I have developed a VERY thick skin in my ten years in this business (when Karen and I toured for How to become Famous in Two Weeks or Less, boy did we weather our share of rotten tomatoes–from people who had not even READ our book, they just hated the title!), and already I regret the time it has taken to write this blog since it is taking me away from my VASTLY MORE IMPORANT job of WRITING MY BOOKS.

Btw, in Masquerade, there is a really fun Gilded Age murder mystery…but I’m not saying whether it’s based on historical truth or not… you will just have to figure it out for yourself! 🙂