Wednesday, January 16, 2013


This long-held axiom that you should write what you know struck me forcibly last week. With the mammoth increase in the number of self-published books, almost the same number of articles and blogs are springing up warning not to self-publish too soon. To hire an editor, or use a critique group or beta reader on your deathless prose. Otherwise it might die with book one and bury your career with it. I suggest you utilize those services not just for spelling, grammar and structure, but for facts.

Writing a novel is more than putting spell-checked words together. It’s a story about people doing things and the things have to make sense to the reader. In other words, get your facts straight too. Years ago, my friends and I, who live in southern California, laughed at a New York-published romance novel in which the heroine dashed out of her house in Pasadena to take a dip in the ocean. That was in the pre-Amazon days, and presumably the editors took the heat for that, not the author.

Last week a friend asked me to read her just-published second novel and write a review. She wrote a scene about characters going ballooning in California’s Napa Valley. The hero goes to the heroine’s San Francisco house at eleven a.m., but she’s not ready. Eventually they get into his car and drive to the Valley--a distance of some 50-60 miles, in city traffic before hitting the highway--then meet with the owner of the company, take a balloon ride--during which they supposedly see skyscrapers in the city and blue water of the Bay--and are back in town by 2:30. I don’t think so.

I used to live in the Bay Area myself, and hubby and I went ballooning in Napa Valley. We had to register in advance and be at their office by six a.m, so we drove up the night before and stayed at a bed-and-breakfast. We were driven to the launch site in a van, watched the two balloons being filled with air, and climbed into one of the baskets about seven. Our balloon never went higher than 200-400 feet and the flight never left the large vineyard-covered valley. We were followed by a “chase” car, touched down for an exchange of passengers and finally were driven back to headquarters and treated to a late brunch.

It’s not bad enough that the author could have asked me (since we were friends) or someone else, to read her book while it was still unpublished, or, worse, that she’s lived in the bay Area for more than thirty years herself, but that she apparently never thought to Google Ballooning. She would have learned the months, times and distance of flight as well as how ballooning actually works. With the wind, dearie. She could even have read my novel FREE FALL, in which my characters do the very same thing, because I’m pretty sure I gave her a copy of it when it was published.

So my dilemma will be to review the book without mentioning the Boo-Boo. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I hope I like the rest. However, since I’m also an author, maybe Amazon--in its sudden rush to exclude reviews by authors--won’t even print it.


  1. I LOVED your story, Phyllis. You know I make similar-ish (I know it's not a word) mistakes whenever I write a story, before it gets edited. Once I had the main character leaving the house to pick up her kid from school and my editor asked me, "What about the baby?" I'd left him in the house alone and totally forgot about him! Funny when you think about it, but it would have come across to the reader as neglectful and ridiculous and I really didn't mean to write it that way!

    1. Patricia:
      That's what I love about critique groups: they make sure you don't forget the baby. My first group pointed out that my character was sarcastic and unlikeable, when I thought she was just funny and clever. I've never been without a critique group since, and lucky to get help from a university English teacher, practicing lawyer, and retired doctor.


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