Sunday, October 6, 2013

Penny Lane, Stephen King, and the end of the world as we know it. How I Read -- Jen Salvato Doktorski

Recently I was reading the first book in a best-selling, young adult, dystopian trilogy. From page one, I was rooting for the tough, female protagonist and falling for her crush-worthy love interest. The action and pacing were amazing and on the whole, it was un-put-downable—the perfect book to read during a six-hour stint at jury duty.

I never made it out of the jury assembly room and was thrilled to have all those guilt-free consecutive hours to read. It’s something that almost never happens anymore and I was determined to take full advantage. I read through most of the lunch break, hoping to finish the book before the day was through and I was no longer a carefree potential juror. Around mid-afternoon I reached the novel’s climatic battle scene during which the protagonist loses someone she loves dearly and the sight of all that blood and gore makes her physically sick. Who could blame her for tossing her cookies? But then three pages later, when she’s reunited with her love interest and they share a passionate kiss, all I could think was: “Ew, ew, ew! I know civilization is crumbling around you and all, but couldn’t you saved that kiss until you had a chance to either brush your teeth or pop a mint?!”
Moments like that completely pull me out of the action of the book. They ruin the magic and my willingness to believe.
            Here’s another example. This summer, while on vacation, I was reading Stephen King’s Joyland. (A great coming-of- age story, by the way.) It was set in the 1970s and in one scene, a character uses a microwave. Now I don’t know about most people, but my family did not have a microwave until sometime in the 1980s and this bit of information really bugged me. I put down the book, grabbed my phone, and looked up “microwaves” on Wikipedia to determine if they were available to the general public in the 1970s. Turns out, they were. It’s not that I didn’t trust Stephen King or his editors, but again, it was one of those things that made me go “What?” It just didn’t sound right.
            This month we’re blogging about how we read. Like a lot of readers, and probably most writers, I read different genres for different reasons. Because I’m trying to get better at my craft, these days I pay more attention to characters, plot, pacing, language, and dialogue than I did before I sold my first novel. But ultimately, it’s the seemingly little things that bother me the most when I read. If facts, dates, and timing seem off; details sounds wrong; or dialogue doesn’t ring true, it makes for a frustrating reading experience for me. I think it’s because those little things matter. Getting all the small stuff right adds up to the bigger picture that all writers, whether they’re writing fiction or non-fiction, should be striving for—the truth. And I suppose when I read, that’s exactly what I’m searching for.

            In the movie Almost Famous, there’s a scene I absolutely love. Young William Miller has been hired by Rolling Stone magazine to interview the band Stillwater. Early in the movie, William meets the captivating band groupie Penny Lane. You can tell he’s already falling hard for her and wants to impress. When she asks him how old he is, he lies and tells her he’s eighteen. “Me too!” She says, and he knows she’s on to him. “Seventeen,” he amends, and again she chimes in, “Me too!” Forcing William to concede that he’s sixteen. At which point, the ever-wise Penny looks 15-year-old William in the eye and says. “Me too. Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different.”  
Yes. It does.


  1. King seems to have at least one inconsistency in each book that draws me out. In 11/22/63 the MC is in Dallas in 1961 and sees a "Don't Mess With Texas" sticker. Whaaaa? That phrase came about in the 80s as part of an anti-littering campaign. He did such extensive research on the rest of the book, you'd think something like that wouldn't sneak in.

    1. Yes, I totally agree, Dotti. That's why those little things but me so much

  2. My copy editors have saved me from a lot of these slips, but it's so hard to track them all down!

  3. Jennifer, I know! Me too. I always get so mad at myself for those little slips because I'm so darn picky about them when I read.

    Holly, I love Almost Famous!

  4. Poor research always trips me up. Yet I see folks on writing boards and in writing groups say, "It doesn't matter. No one will notice." But there's always that one person - or many in some cases - who always does. I grew up in Appalachia and can tell when someone has never been there or "only just dropped in for a spell" - like Suzanne Collins, to name one; reading about her Appalachia in the The Hunger Games books drove me absolutely nuts.

  5. I find it fascinating what irks one person and what another never even notices. Great post.

  6. As someone who always fact checks and researches, this stuff definitely irks me, too. My husband is a mechanic and every time we watch something with a car scene, he’s always going, that could NOT really happen. Because I know there are experts in everything, I always try to be as thorough as possible. Also, I ADORE that Almost Famous scene!