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Author and Reviewer, a lesson learned

I was planning on taking a hiatus from writing opinion pieces on Tuesdays until the first of the year.   I was getting tired of writing them and I figured you all might be tired of reading them.   An interesting issue arose yesterday, however, that I wanted to throw out for discussion amongst the readership. Here’s what happened.

I received an email alerting me to a Publishers’ Weekly review of Courtney Milan’s February release, Unveiled. The reviewer liked the writing but the basic premise of the book appeared false to the reviewer.

Historical goofs mar this otherwise compelling Victorian romance… While the love story is genuinely satisfying and Margaret’s dilemma movingly portrayed, Milan (Proof by Seduction) leaves Ash’s complex relationship with his brothers unresolved–perhaps to be explored further in sequels–and makes the conflict dependent on the false premise that legitimized bastards could inherit, fatally marring an otherwise promising novel. (Feb.)

While not responding directly to the review, Milan did blog about the basis for her premise that a bastard could inherit.

At its heart, Unveiled, my upcoming February release, is about the interaction between two families: the Dalrymples, the children of the current Duke of Parford. They were declared bastards when the marriage that produced them was found to be bigamous. Then there's the Turners, distant cousins who stand to inherit when the duke dies.

The Dalrymples aren't taking this lying down, though: they've asked Parliament to legitimize them and restore their inheritance. This pending bill is a big part of what pits Ash Turner, my hero, against Margaret Dalrymple, the heroine.

The law upon which Milan premises her plot says that an Act of Parliament can legitimize bastards.

That exception-that you can become legitimate and inherit by Act of Parliament-is what Unveiled depends on. The disinherited Dalrymples are not seeking legitimation through ecclesiastical decree. They're not relying on some technicality in canon law. They're going directly to Parliament and saying, "We will not be able to inherit unless you pass a law that says we can."

The general and most commonly accepted understanding of this time period is that bastards cannot inherit. Milan’s book is about the exception. Legitimization of bastards can happen and did but only rarely. To the PW reviewer, this scenario seemed implausible and it ruined the story for her.

A number of people read Courtney Milan’s blog post including Rose Fox, the editor the romance review section for Publishers Weekly. She acted quickly and the PW review was revised and PW issued a retraction:

In the review, “false premise that legitimized bastards could inherit” has been changed to “unlikely scenario of Parliament legitimizing a bigamist’s bastards”. PW regrets the error.

Rose Fox also added to me:

I take accuracy very seriously. My reviewers are experts in their fields, and a lot of my time is devoted to fact-checking. If there are factual errors in a review that appears in one of my sections of PW, I certainly hope that the author or publisher will write to me and let me know. I’m glad I caught a tweet referring to Ms. Milan’s post, as I might have missed it entirely! This isn’t the first time that I’ve been alerted to a potential problem through an author’s blog post, and I strongly urge authors and publishers to email me directly with any concerns about our SF, fantasy, horror, or romance reviews so I can address them as quickly as possible.

I was really impressed with how Publishers’ Weekly via Rose Fox and Courtney Milan handled this. As a reviewer, I hope that I can learn from the graciousness of both parties. I think this is a great lesson for all of us and it gives rise to a couple of disparate points of interest that we can discuss.

First, what kind of responsibility does a reviewer have in checking out the accuracy of her opinions?

Second, how can an author best approach a reviewer about a perceived inaccuracy?

Third, could an author’s note have helped to alleviate the feeling of improbability felt by the reader/reviewer?

Fourth, when an author writes about a lesser known concept, what can she or should she do to make this plausible for the reader or should the reader accept the plausibility regardless?***

Fifth, is a reader’s skepticism about the plausibility of historical scenarios the result of so many historically inaccurate books within the genre?

*** To expand on question four, on Saturday the first page referenced a scenario by a pilot at an airport. The situation seemed implausible to many of the readers until one commenter noted that this setup likely took place at a small city airport. But the small city airport is outside the common experience of many readers and thus their first thoughts turned to commercial flights and what would be deemed normal there.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

82 Comments

  1. Kwana
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:07:58

    Very good post and it gives a lot of food for thought. We all bring our past into judgments and this is something to consider.

  2. Bev
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:12:06

    I read UNVEILED and loved it. I’d never heard of a case of Parliament legitimizing a lord’s bastard children much less with the bigamy element, but because I know that Courtney is a lawyer, my immediate assumption is that she has all her ducks in a row.

    And let’s just say, that it never happened and no precedence had ever been set, it wouldn’t have taken away from me enjoying it one bit less.

  3. Jessica
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:12:45

    I can understand a reviewer not knowing an arcane fact, but once corrected, the review should be fixed.

    The first line of the PW review, as I type this, still reads:

    “Historical goofs mar this otherwise compelling Victorian romance. ”

    Unless there are goofs the reviewer can point to, I am not impressed with the “retraction”.

    My husband, who is a British historian specializing in that time period, and I spent 45 minutes last night discussing this. Using his own sources, he confirmed what Milan already well knew, that “unlikely” is the correct adjective. An unlikely scenario is not a “goof”.

  4. Katrina
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:14:00

    I’m glad you didn’t take a break from your thoughtful Tuesday posts, Jane, because I wanted to know more about this story. I read Courtney Milan’s post and the PW review this morning, and I admired the way Courtney dealt with the situation. I think it’s particularly easy these days to respond quickly and in a way you later regret because your hasty, emotional come-backs have been retweeted and forwarded across the web.

    I’ve followed Courtney Milan on Twitter and read some of her comments on this blog, and I think she’s established credibility as an intelligent person who thinks before she speaks. After reading how Rose Fox has responded, I have a lot of admiration for her. It can be equally easy for editors to defend their staff at all costs – even at the cost of credibility.

    Anyone can make a mistake. Addressing a mistake with grace takes a hell of a lot of effort and personal integrity. My snow cap’s off to these two women.

  5. Elaine
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:20:59

    I was planning on taking a hiatus from writing opinion pieces on Tuesdays until the first of the year. I was getting tired of writing them and I figured you all might be tired of reading them. An interesting issue arose yesterday, however, that I wanted to throw out for discussion amongst the readership. Here's what happened.

    Bummer. I love your opinion pieces, but can understand that you want to take a break.

  6. RT
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:21:16

    This brings to mind the Dunning-Kruger effect, when we don’t know that we don’t know what we’re talking about. Everyone is guilty at one point or another, and until it is pointed out, there’s no way to know that we’re wrong.

    I think a note at the beginning of the book making the points that Ms. Milan made in her blog would have been helpful, but again, she had no way of knowing that someone would challenge her correct legal scenario when so many wrong legal (and other) scenarios are presented as fact in historicals.

    No idea how to change the minds of folks that believe untrue things are facts (i.e. descriptions of the hymen, could that BE any more wrong 99% of the time?!), but I’m glad they accepted that they were mistaken and made a (slight) correction.

  7. KMont
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:29:34

    Even though history was my number one love as a subject in school as a young kid, that’s as far as any real accurate knowledge goes for me when I read a book with historical context. So I’m one of those readers that depends on the author to know their stuff, and I pretty much always give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Of course, if the reviewer feels they are also an expert on what the book they’re reading contains, yes, it is nice if they get their own facts straight.

    Whenever I review, whatever the book, I just try to remain true to what happens in the books. If there’s something completely implausible, I might mention it, but definitely make sure I can back up what I’m questioning and commenting about it.

    As for author’s approaching reviewers, Milan sets a good example. Just don’t assume it’s malicious, maybe? Maybe the reviewer made a genuine mistake. We read a lot of books. Details do get mixed up sometimes.

    I like author’s notes. It’s interesting to read further on what real events they based their stories.

    As for the fourth question…that’s a little harder to answer, other than, well, they’re the author. Shouldn’t they be able to write whatever they’re writing about, in a way that flows together and makes sense within the context of the story? Isn’t that just a part of writing a book and being an author? I’m not really sure how a writer does this, but they sure do, obviously. I mean, I can tell when it’s worked for me, and when it hasn’t, but as to how to fix it when it doesn’t? I’m probably going to be clueless.

    As for the fifth question, I really have no idea. Again, I’m one of those readers that tends to give the benefit of the doubt. Hey, I’ve answered Jeopardy questions right based on events I’ve read about in historical novels. ;)

    Anyway, interesting! Sorry you were getting tired of writing the opinion pieces, but I wasn’t tired of reading them. I understand how that goes, though. We all need a break at some point from just about everything.

  8. Tweets that mention Author and Reviewer, a lesson learned | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:39:11

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Has, K.C. Kahn-Malone, Susan Gee Heino, Zohar Laor, Fiction Vixen and others. Fiction Vixen said: Great post at Dear Author >> Author and Reviewer, a lesson learned : http://tinyurl.com/23wxb47 […]

  9. meoskop
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:45:19

    While an author note would’ve helped (always does) it wouldn’t eliminate this issue. There will ALWAYS be readers who feel they disagree with an author’s scenario and facts be damned, just as there will always be authors on the other side.

    It happens, it’s what people do. I really respect PW for amending the review (altho I wish the reviewer had been a bit less bound to her initial feeling). It’s the same dynamic that makes people reject a heroine for not acting as they would act, even though they are not 16 year old girls in the 1700’s.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:45:48

    I would still question the premise that bastards could be “legitimized” by Act of Parliament to inherit a title, but I know Coutney Milan works very hard to ensure her facts are correct, so I could see it being a rigorous and friendly discussion over a bottle of wine, rather than a definite “never”!

    However, I would say that unless an unusual historical fact is vital to the plot, as it appears to be in the Milan books (I have the first two in my TBR but haven’t read them yet) then it’s best to leave them out. It means the reader has to come out of the book to think about it, stops the flow.

    The one that comes immediately to mind is when Jo Beverley had her heroine in “Devilish” have a title in her own right.

    However, when you choose to do it, you have to have your facts right, and you have to take time out of the romance to explain it.

    Historical accuracy generally? My lips are sealed.

  11. Elyssa Papa
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:53:24

    I was surprised when Publisher’s Weekly did offer a retraction when CM tweeted it but I didn’t see that note from PW until today’s blog. That is good that they did that.

    I was baffled by the original review. In full disclosure, I usually beta read CM and did with UNVEILED. Always I’m blown away by her writing and I trust her enough that I know she’s really researched something, especially legal matters, before she puts them in her books.

    I am glad PW made that retraction and I thought CM handled it extremely well on her blog.

  12. Adrienne Giordano
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:54:51

    I’m impressed with how all parties handled this. They both could have dug in and had a verbal blog war over it, but it was handled professionally and Courtney got a retraction from PW. Good for her. And for PW for admitting their error.

  13. Victoria Dahl
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:56:02

    Whether or not Parliament would legitimize a bastard, can anyone believe that an attempt wouldn’t be made by the illegitimate side of the family??? What would they have to lose? It makes no sense to assert that it wouldn’t be attempted.

    I, too, am greatly disturbed that the review was not more significantly corrected. That first line should be amended or struck.

  14. Eva_baby
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 10:59:03

    Maybe an Author’s note at the end of the book? Obviously, the author has no obligation to do so, but when writing about something that is an obscure exception to a well established rule, it is a nice benefit to give the background. And it is educational to boot.

    Rebecca Brandewyne is my favorite Author-Noter. I remember reading her Red Rose of Rapture where she makes Richard the III a very, very sympathetic character. At the end of the book in her Author’s Note, she acknowledges the more negative popular portrayals of him largely due to Shakespeare and then goes on to give historical citations, complete with bibliography of other historical works that disputes the picture that Shakespeare painted of him.

    I always liked that because it added to the “historical” part of the romance and made it more than just a setting.

  15. Amber
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:01:50

    I agree with Jessica. That retraction was far from adequate. The word ‘goof’ implies a mistake. Milan did not make one.

    I like authors’ notes, even when the scenarios are perfectly believable. I like to see their thought processes, their research, their inspiration outside of the novel.

  16. Kimber An
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:07:50

    I’m a former book reviewer and now an author. I recently had a less-than-stellar review in which the reviewer was mistaken on several things. As a former reviewer, I figured she just didn’t love the story enough to pay close enough attention to the details. I understand that, as a former reviewer, and simply thanked her for her time.

    Authors always take a risk when they respond to a less-than-stellar review. It’s very easy to be perceived as rude and ungrateful in cyberspace. Then, it’s unlikely anyone will want to review your books, much less read them.

    I applaude the gracious behavior of all those involved in this situation.

  17. Fia
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:07:58

    I feel it’s perfectly fine when a reviewer says “This is implausible!”, but when she says “This is inaccurate!”? Back it up.

    I honestly don’t know how an author should deal with this. Half of me thinks she should just put the info up on her site and leave it for readers to see it for themselves, and the other half thinks she should e-mail the reviewer to sort it out. Hopefully, the reviewer will have the guts to own up in public and put in a note or correction in the review.

    It does disappoint me that attention is paid to this rather than the bigger problem: Many readers, authors and reviewers tend to say “This is so accurate/authentic!” without backing it up. More than not, those ‘accurate’ bits tend to be part of the Romance genre’s painfully fixed ideas of history, culture and how people behaved.

    I heart author’s notes. Even better when it includes her observations on the findings from her research. It’s a little like DVD extras. I particularly enjoy those notes by Beverly Jenkins.

    Even though I was saddened when I learnt she has to include her notes because many readers and reviewers were so sceptical of scenarios she used in her African American (mostly US-set) historical romances. I’d much prefer that she included the notes because she loves sharing her research.

  18. Darlene Marshall
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:08:35

    I winced when I saw Courtney’s post because this is all too common. I’m glad PW responded quickly.

    I include author’s notes when something looks like it might be questioned by a reader. I believe this helps the reader, and also makes me feel better. Plus, I enjoy the historical research and I like to share.[g]

  19. LVLMLeah
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:11:36

    You bring up interesting points Jane.

    I’ve retracted a few misunderstandings that I’ve based my feelings of a book about. I do so publicly and with an apology to the author.

    In all cases either the author or another reader pointed the mistake out. They either commented on the review or emailed me. I welcome any corrections from an author and feel they have a right to do so, if it’s a factual misunderstanding.

    I’m not knowledgeable about history so I would rarely bring up an accuracy issue. And if I do it’s with the disclaimer that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, except for how I perceived things as a general reader without particular knowledge.

    I think a reviewer has some responsibility for checking facts. However, I’m not going to spend hours online doing in depth research to find out a fact I have an issue with.

    And also, I’m human as well and miss things in a book. Or some parts stand out while others don’t, which can skew a feeling about a book. So I don’t mind an author pointing out stuff to me.

    I think though, that the author most probably should assume that those who do have knowledge of historical or other facts wouldn’t necessarily know about uncommon facts. In that case they should probably make that known in the story itself, that it’s uncommon, but plausible.

  20. Pat
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:17:51

    First, what kind of responsibility does a reviewer have in checking out the accuracy of her opinions?

    Enormous. That isn’t to say that reviewers can’t make mistakes, but if they are going to accuse an author of inaccuracy they need to be pretty sure of their facts. If nothing else, they could give the editor or author a call (or an email).

    Second, how can an author best approach a reviewer about a perceived inaccuracy?

    Best is probably privately, requesting a correction, but the way CM did it is nicely professional. The assumption should always be that the reviewer was not being malicious. This is not really an author/reviewer question so much as an approach to life question.

    Third, could an author's note have helped to alleviate the feeling of improbability felt by the reader/reviewer?

    I always appreciate author’s notes.

    Fourth, when an author writes about a lesser known concept, what can she or should she do to make this plausible for the reader or should the reader accept the plausibility regardless?

    Well, there are the author notes. For established authors it is probably easier. When I am reading something by someone who has essentially established her accuracy credentials in the past, I assume she is accurate now. For a new author, accuracy in small details makes it more likely that I will accept accuracy in major points.

    Fifth, is a reader's skepticism about the plausibility of historical scenarios the result of so many historically inaccurate books within the genre?

    Do you doubt it?

  21. Berinn
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:21:36

    Great post. BTW, I love your Tuesday opinions and hope you don’t take too long a break from them.
    Publishers Weekly impresses me with their professionalism and integrity toward the trade. Very cool people.
    As for the First Page Saturday, I had written the paranormal (woot!). Being a private pilot, everything made sense to me. I gained a fresh view on Saturday about different perceptions. My story will be better because reviewers spoke up, and I can add explanations to my story. Thanks DA!

  22. Sunita
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:22:27

    As I said on Twitter yesterday, it took me about 10 seconds to establish that Courtney Milan knew what she was talking about. I googled “parliament legitimizing bastards for inheritance.” The third result on the first page was a link to the entry on “bastard” in an 1894 Encyclopedia Britannica (available on Google Books). You only had to read 3 lines down the page to see that an Act of Parliament could be passed to allow a bastard to inherit. Whether this is “unlikely” as the PW reviewer says, or “rare” is an empirical question (the latter suggests the option is not tried very often, while the former suggests a number of tried and failed attempts). But I definitely agree with Jessica and others that “goofs” suggests there are still mistakes, which is not fair to Ms. Milan (given no other examples are offered).

    As far as I’m concerned, a reviewer for PW has an obligation to ensure that his/her criticisms are correct. This is a trade publication whose recommendations influence institutional purchases. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that PW reviewers are compensated for their work. When I review a book or article professionally, I make certain that my criticisms about accuracy can be backed up with evidence.

    I’ve been convinced by yesterday’s conversation that an author’s note would have been a good idea in this case, since the conventional wisdom is that bastards couldn’t inherit under English law. It still bothers me that an author has to demonstrate that she’s *correct* about something, but given the widespread beliefs to the contrary, I can see how readers can be jerked out of the story, and no author wants that to happen.

  23. jmc
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 11:40:01

    Missed the review and the retraction. Only want to add that Lauren Willig talked about historical accuracy vs what readers think they know in a workshop on research at RWA 2009. Might be worth digging out the RWA cd rom to listen to if it was recorded.

  24. Lynnd
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:16:15

    In my opinion it is the responsibility of a reviewer, and particularly a professional reviewer who receives compensation for her reviews, to ensure that she/he has done the research when calling an author out for perceived inaccuracies. I think that Ms. Milan handled this issue in a dignified and professional manner and that PW responded to it in a timely manner (I would also like to see a retraction of the first sentence of the review if it has not already been done). I do like author’s notes at the end of a book. I find the information in them interesting, particularly when the author has included something obscure or out-of the-ordinary in the story. Such notes give me more insight into the historical period and characters which enhances the story for me.

    Jane, I like the opinion pieces and look forward to reading them whenever you or your colleagues wish to submit them for our enjoyment.

  25. SonomaLass
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:35:22

    Add me to those who think that “goofs” should have been taken out of the review as part of the revision. Correcting the later sentence is inadequate if you still lead with that inaccurate characterization of the book.

    I enjoyed this book a lot, and Courtney Milan’s use of law in her historical romances is one of the many things I have liked in each of her books. Many fine romance novels depend on the unusual, the unlikely, the exception; in fact, I would say that’s true of much of fiction.

    If the reviewer didn’t enjoy the book, there’s no getting around that. Myself, I would have put it down and done the quick fact-check, so that I could read on knowing whether the dissonance was real error or just my perception/limited experience. Because it sounds to me like she appreciated the romance but couldn’t get past the premise to really get into the book; I can’t imagine letting something so easily checked bug me for that long.

    I look forward to Courtney Milan’s future author’s notes!

  26. Janine
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:37:21

    First, what kind of responsibility does a reviewer have in checking out the accuracy of her opinions?

    IMO the reviewer’s responsibility depends on how this opinion is stated. If it’s stated as a fact (as in PW’s “false premise” and “historical goofs”) then it absolutely should be checked.

    However, sometimes a blogger/reviewer is pressed for time and simply doesn’t have time to check the author’s inaccuracies. When that’s the case for me, and I’m jarred by something in a book, I’m very careful to state that I don’t know if X is inaccurate, but it sounded unlikely to me and therefore threw me out of the story. I think that’s perfectly legitimate.

    Second, how can an author best approach a reviewer about a perceived inaccuracy?

    Ah, that’s a tough one. Ms. Milan handled herself with grace and aplomb but I’m not sure every author would be able to do this equally well. And readers might view a differently worded response as defensiveness on the part of the author. For some authors, saying nothing or simply thanking the reviewer as Kimber An suggested may be the best option, as difficult as that may be to do.

    Third, could an author's note have helped to alleviate the feeling of improbability felt by the reader/reviewer?

    I’m going to veer away from the majority and say that author’s notes can be a mixed bag for me. An author’s note is a wonderful thing for the reader who catches the author in an error, or who isn’t sure whether something in the story is plausible.

    But sometimes an author’s note can have a jarring effect of its own. I still remember reading Balogh’s Longing (a book I enjoyed and recommend) and reaching the author’s note at the end, where Balogh acknowledged that although in reality women were allowed to attend Chartist meetings, she took a liberty with history for her plot, and based the story on women being forbidden to attend those meetings.

    Balogh wrote her novel so well that up until I reached the end of the book, I was utterly convinced that women were forbidden to attend Chartist meetings.
    I’m glad to be better informed thanks to that author’s note, but if I’m honest, I also have to admit that I was disappointed to learn that the book was based on an unlikely or perhaps even inaccurate premise. I had been so immersed in the fictional world Balogh created that reading that note had the effect of throwing me out of the happy glow the story had left me with.

    Fourth, when an author writes about a lesser known concept, what can she or should she do to make this plausible for the reader

    Beyond an author’s note in the book or on her website? This is a writerly question and putting my writer’s hat on, I would say that plausibility and authenticity are part of “the fictional dream” (I forget who came up with that phrase but it wasn’t me).

    The fictional dream is a state the reader enters through his or her imagination, when he or she feels convinced that the story and characters are real. Of course, on another level we know they aren’t real, but they feel real to us.

    IMO the fictional dream is the result of a variety of writing strategies such as creating a gripping plot and multidimensional characters, using details to bring a setting to life, showing vs. telling, crafting dialogue and POV thoughts that sound right (to the reader’s ear) for the specific character and their background (in a historical, this includes the character’s time period), etc. IMO the better all of this is put together, the less likely readers are to notice weaknesses.

    I still remember a review I did of a book that contained phrasings that sounded distinctly contemporary to my ear. I was careful to state that I didn’t know whether or not they were accurate, but they pulled me out of the story. Some readers did not find these phrasings jarring, and you (Jane) went so far as to look up the etymology of a word in one of the phrases. That the word was of the period didn’t surprise me, because my original point wasn’t that the word was anachronistic, but rather that the entire phrase (the way the words were strung together) sounded anachronistic, enough so to jar me from the fictional dream.

    Was I wrong to mention it in a review? I don’t think so, because it was a big factor in my inability to enjoy the book. Reviewers have to be honest, so even if our reasons for being jarred, or thrown out of the story are iffy, I think we should still mention them, while being careful to state that though this factor feels off to us, we don’t know for a fact if it is.

    or should the reader accept the plausibility regardless?***

    A reader can only accept what feels real to him or her. I don’t think it makes sense to expect readers to accept the plausibility of something that seems implausible, because right or wrong, reading doesn’t work that way. We are either involved in the story, or thrown out of it, and if we’re thrown out, it’s not going to be easy to get back into that fictional dream.

    Fifth, is a reader's skepticism about the plausibility of historical scenarios the result of so many historically inaccurate books within the genre?

    Sometimes, but I don’t think that’s the only factor. I remember an interview I read with Anne Rice (who writes outside the romance genre) where she mentioned that an editor forced her to change her use of the word “advertise” in the novel Cry to Heaven. Cry to Heaven is set in the 18th century, and in fact, the word “advertise” existed back then.

    I think Ms. Rice’s editor based her decision on the fact the way readers view a word like “advertise.” To many, it sounds anachronistic for the 18th century, though in fact it wasn’t.

  27. Robin
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:47:41

    Here’s what bothered me about the review: the entire weight of the reviewer’s opinion seemed to rest on what s/he perceived as a mistake “fatally marring” the book.

    How do you “fix” that short of a) turning back time and having the reviewer KNOW it wasn’t a mistake and reading the book with that understanding or b) scrapping the review altogether and having someone else review the book for PW (which is what wish would happen here).

    I do not think it’s reasonable to expect that any of us — authors, reviewers, readers — will write mistake-free. And I’m sure all of us who write reviews have been guilty of making mistakes in our reviews, just as we perceive authors making mistakes (and certainly we are all *perceived* as making mistakes, which, as this situation shows, often amounts to the same thing). So I would not expect either a book or a review to be entirely free of errors.

    However, when a review for a professional publication is shaped entirely around a mistake the reviewer made and attributed to the author — one easily corrected by a few minutes of Googling — then I don’t think it’s unfair to expect the reviewer to double-check his/her own facts.

    The larger issue, as @Fia noted, is more complicated, and one that will probably never be fully resolved. However, I have an ancillary worry, which is how publishing and editorial gatekeeping can perpetuate reader conditioning to ahistorical phenomena by refusing to pub books that might be historically accurate but which conflict with reader expectations. This extends to all sorts of things beyond historical details, of course (we all remember the Adele Ashworth — my editor requested a virgin heroine — controversy, right?).

    In fact, after this discussion on Twitter yesterday, I read a Writer Unboxed piece on Gretchen Craig’s struggle to get a third book in a series pubbed by Kensington (which had pubbed the first two), because her editor insisted, “readers will hate you” (http://writerunboxed.com/2010/12/13/how-a-mid-list-print-author-learned-to-love-e-self-publishing/). And now I fear that reviews like the PW one for Courtney Milan’s new book will scare yet another author or editor into not writing/publishing a book that challenges the perceived status quo.

    I’m willing (begrudgingly) to accept the assertion that because Romance is a fantasy, historical inaccuracies are perfectly tolerable or acceptable. But I cannot accept the idea that books that do not conform to bogus history (or those that challenge perceived reader expectations for a character’s morality, etc.) should not be published, even as I wonder how much of that already goes on.

  28. Robin
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:55:21

    @Janine:

    Balogh wrote her novel so well that up until I reached the end of the book, I was utterly convinced that women were forbidden to attend Chartist meetings.
    I'm glad to be better informed thanks to that author's note, but if I'm honest, I also have to admit that I was disappointed to learn that the book was based on an unlikely or perhaps even inaccurate premise. I had been so immersed in the fictional world Balogh created that reading that note had the effect of throwing me out of the happy glow the story had left me with.

    I love author’s notes (and footnotes — bring back footnotes!), because I a)like knowing when an author is intentionally taking liberties with history or utilizing a little known historical fact, and b)because IMO there’s a difference between historical integrity and story integrity.

    For example, I know many readers had a difficult time accepting the heroine’s accomplishments in Jo Bourne’s Spymaster’s Lady, but I did not, because I found her world-building, in its entirety, convincing. The book made me feel things *could have happened that way* because of the authority of the narrative voice, the attention to detail, the power of the prose, and the connection with Annique the book helped me achieve.

    It sounds to me like you got that same feeling with the Balogh book, and even though you were disappointed at the end to learn it was a historical fallacy she was working with, I think it’s a testament to the strength of the writing that she made you believe it so thoroughly. And god knows how many future authors who dared to write is accurately she might have spared from reader/reviewer wrath, lol.

  29. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 12:59:36

    @Victoria Dahl: I, too, am baffled by the continued inclusion of the “historical goofs mar” line in the review. I can accept that the reviewer thought the likelihood of the suit being successful was so small that it made the core conflict in the novel seem unrealistic. It is unfair, however, to call that a “historical goof,” which implies the suit could never be undertaken in the first place.

    ETA: If the reviewer is going to complain about the unlikelihood of the suit being successful, I would say he/she would be just as rational to complain about the entire premise of the book. After all, just how many aristocrats’ previously recognized heirs have been disinherited by the discovery that their parents’ marriage is/was bigamous? My bet is, that’s almost as rare as successfully having one’s legitimacy reinstated by Parliament. Given the extreme rarity of the situation leading to the suit, it’s almost impossible to say how “likely” the petitioners in such a situation would be to win or lose.

  30. Joy
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 13:01:37

    I think if you’re going to call an author out for an historical “error,” you should do the research to make sure that you get your correction right.

    I once posted on rra-l –remember that list? that I thought “Holly” was an unlikely name for a medieval heroine. The author responded that it was documented in period (although it would have been spelled “Halig” in period, of course; the spelling update was apparently for the readers’ benefit, and, was, of course, what threw me).

    After that I haven’t criticized historicity very much unless I’ve either checked or made it pretty clear I’m spouting opinion only. But I don’t think history-as-documented conflicting with history-as-perceived-in-the-reader’s-head is a fair thing to slag the author for.

  31. Janine
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 13:35:39

    @Robin:

    I love author's notes (and footnotes -‘ bring back footnotes!), because I a)like knowing when an author is intentionally taking liberties with history or utilizing a little known historical fact, and b)because IMO there's a difference between historical integrity and story integrity.

    I agree there’s a difference between historical integrity and story integrity, but I think this is the kind of thing I’d prefer to learn about on an author’s website, or perhaps in an author’s note at the back of the book, rather than in footnotes. Maybe it’s just because I am unused to them, but they feel more disruptive to me.

    For example, I know many readers had a difficult time accepting the heroine's accomplishments in Jo Bourne's Spymaster's Lady, but I did not, because I found her world-building, in its entirety, convincing. The book made me feel things *could have happened that way* because of the authority of the narrative voice, the attention to detail, the power of the prose, and the connection with Annique the book helped me achieve.

    This is what I mean when I refer to “the fictional dream” — and I just figured out where I first head that term; it was in John Gardner’s book The Art of Fiction. I think he may have coined it, but I’m not sure.

    Anyway, I do think Joanna Bourne got an awful lot of this right in The Spymaster’s Lady, even though in other ways she missed the mark for me with Annique.

    It sounds to me like you got that same feeling with the Balogh book

    Yes. Because it is so rich with historical and social detail, even more so than many of her others books from that period. The book is set in Wales (Balogh’s birthplace) and deals with mining conditions in the 1830s, among other things. Balogh’s love for her native country really shines through in that book.

    and even though you were disappointed at the end to learn it was a historical fallacy she was working with, I think it's a testament to the strength of the writing that she made you believe it so thoroughly.

    Oh yes, absolutely. I won’t say that it was perfect book, there were a few other things that jarred me a bit, but the setting seemed so well-realized.

    And god knows how many future authors who dared to write is accurately she might have spared from reader/reviewer wrath, lol.

    Yes, true. I’m not arguing against author’s notes, just saying that I’m not always as thrilled by them as many of the commenters here are.

  32. Joy
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 13:45:56

    The fact is, there are a lot of possible things, historically accurate or not, that could cause a reader to suspend disbelief, because suspension of disbelief, a reader-response phenomenon, is what we’re really talking about. If I was that hung up on accuracy, I would suspend disbelief every time a romance hero had a sexual refractory period of about 5 seconds. Yet the name “Holly” triggered that response. Go figure.

  33. Sirius11214
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 13:46:53

    I am not going to touch other questions, but one thing I am certain of on how I feel, if you know you made a mistake of this magnitude in your review (as Robin said basically the whole review seemed to depend on author supposedly making such mistake), I do not care whether your whole review needs to be scraped off, or drastically changed, do it, do whatever it takes to fix it as far as I am concerned, otherwise you have lost all the credibility with me as a reader.

    As I mentioned in another sort of similar discussion that we had, I am not very patient when author may start arguing with the reviewer about the “merits” of the review, in fact I am not patient at all. I do not think reviewer needs to adhere to any imaginary rules of reviewing the way author sees it, or anything like that. However, I do hold reviewers responsible for checking their facts and if they don’t, well, I think author should say it loud and clear. We all make mistakes, but if reviewer is pointed to such mistake and ignores it, I would not follow such reviewer anymore, period. Just my opinion of course.

    By the way, “Trial by desire” was awesome, especially considering how rarely I read het romances these days, so thank you Dear author and thank you Ms.Milan.

  34. Sandra
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 14:06:33

    @Lynne Connolly: The one that comes immediately to mind is when Jo Beverley had her heroine in “Devilish” have a title in her own right.

    I’m confused by your phrasing here. Are you saying this is historically inaccurate, or accurate, but uncommon enough, that readers generally won’t accept the premise of a peeress in her own right?

    Depending on how the documents granting the title were written, a title can descend through a daughter. There’s several hereditary peeresses in their own right in the UK, as well as other titles in abeyance between sisters. The 1st Duke of Marlborough’s titles descended through both his older (2nd Duchess) and younger daughters (by act of Parliment) to the younger daughter’s son (3rd Duke), in whose line the title remains today. And as a contemporary peeress in her own right, there’s Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher of Kestevan.

    So, a woman inheriting a peerage is not a sticking point for me, though if an author’s going to do it, I’d prefer that she spell out exactly how her character inherited the title.

  35. SylviaSybil
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 14:19:27

    My Anthropology professor told us that history books teach us more about the author than the subject. Which is why in the ’40s Neanderthals were viewed as stupid and brutish, in keeping with Nazi ideology of the advanced Aryan race, and in the ’70s as peaceful gatherers living off the land, in keeping with the flower child ideology of that time period.

    I think that holds true in historical fiction. I can’t even comprehend the mindset of my own great-great-grandmother, who died of tuberculosis the same year she got the right to vote. How could I possibly understand the mind of someone even longer ago, probably set in a foreign country to boot? No matter what, my own personal prejudices are going to leak in.

    Sometimes I even want historical inaccuracy. I know in some times and places married couples did not address or refer to each other with their first names, but as Mr. Smith or Lady Smith. To my ear, that sounds cold, arctic cold between a married couple. Even though I know it was standard for the time and it didn’t mean the same thing to them, I can’t convince my subconscious to believe their feelings.

    This reminds me of a similar mistake I once made. In the film A Knight’s Tale, there’s a female blacksmith. I assumed that was inaccurate and thus viewed the rest of the film with a jaded eye. However, a history buff later informed me that a blacksmith’s widow could take up his trade to support herself, and the woman in the movie mentioned her late husband on several occasions. It changed my entire perception of the film. Yes, parts of it are anachronistic but according to this history buff, much of it was obviously well-researched.

  36. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 14:41:15

    @Sandra: I meant that it’s possible, but so unusual that it needs the author to take time out of the romance to clarify it. Beverley did it really well. In another author it could lead to an infodump.

    Any unusual occurrence should be considered carefully for that reason. Even if it’s perfectly possible, it still needs explaining.

    Baroness Thatcher had the title conferred on her husband, Denis, so that her son, Mark, could inherit the title. So the title doesn’t descend through her.

    There are so few titles which allow female inheritance that I tend to view books where they happen with a bit of skepticism. Yes, some Scottish baronies, but they aren’t strictly peerages (Scottish barons aren’t the same as English ones – check with Debrett’s or Burke’s) and the Marlborough dukedom, but that was very special circumstances (the duchess was sleeping with the Queen!)

  37. Ros
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:04:03

    @Victoria Dahl: Yes, I can. On the illegitimate side of the family there’s unlikely to be the sort of money that would have been needed to pay for the necessary lawyers and so on. In addition, access to an MP who could propose the Act of Parliament was not easy for people without social standing. Furthermore, it was so rare that most people probably didn’t even know it was a possibility. The only person I can think of who had a bastard successfully legitimized was Henry VIII and his circumstances were unusual, to say the least.

    The same thing happened in one of Sherry Thomas’s books and I’m afraid it really did spoil the book for me. There was no particular reason for the legitimization – no title was involved or entailed estate. The son just needed to be accepted by the family and given a financial inheritance. I found it impossible to believe he would have been legitimized or that anyone would have thought it necessary at all.

  38. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:05:58

    It IS possible to respond to a negative or unfair review with class! I knew it.

    It’s also possible for review publications to respond with class. In this case, a complete retraction is necessary.

  39. Ros
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:10:01

    @Sandra @Lynne Connolly: Margaret Thatcher is a life peer; neither her son nor her daughter will inherit her title.

    Have just checked and you’re right, Lynne, that Denis Thatcher was also given a Baronetcy in his own right which Mark will inherit. But Mrs Thatcher is a Baroness in her own right, with a title that won’t be inherit. Extremely unusual for both husband and wife to have their own, separate titles!

  40. karen wester newton
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:15:14

    I don’t read that much romance, but I do like historical novels, and it is galling when authors blithely ignore historical realities, or even present day realities. I will stop reading any book where a character is Lord John Doe on one page and Lord Doe on the next.

    That said, if I were being paid to write a review, I would feel a strong obligation to check my facts before I called an author on what I saw as an inaccuracy, if for no other reason than I dislike the feeling of egg on my face.

    Oh, and I think in the Channel Islands, a woman can inherit a title in her own right, but I don’t think they were peers in England, although I could be wrong.

  41. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:18:19

    <i@Ros: On the illegitimate side of the family there's unlikely to be the sort of money that would have been needed to pay for the necessary lawyers and so on. In addition, access to an MP who could propose the Act of Parliament was not easy for people without social standing. Furthermore, it was so rare that most people probably didn't even know it was a possibility.

    In Ms. Milan’s book, however, the illegitimate children have, up until now, been recognized as the rightful heirs to the Duke of Parford. They were raised with plenty of social standing, undoubtedly have many friends who have seats in Parliament, and the oldest son (having been raised with the expectation of taking his father’s seat in the Lords) would almost certainly be well aware of his ability to bring such an Act and/or have access to attorney who did.

    It would be much harder for me, as a reader, to believe that, having spent their entire lives believing they were the rightful heirs to a dukedom, the children would simply sit back and do nothing to try to regain their inheritance. Having accepted the basic setup (that the children have suddenly been declared illegitimate, which must have been an extremely rare circumstance in and of itself), I would have a much harder time suspending my disbelief if they failed to do explore every remedy, even if the likelihood of it succeeding was remote in the extreme.

  42. Sofia Harper
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:19:02

    *Hopefully I use these tags right…

    First, what kind of responsibility does a reviewer have in checking out the accuracy of her opinions?

    In this case, I would say the reviewer should have double-checked if it was possible. Her entire view of the book was colored by whether or not this situation was accurate. Something drop kicks me out a story like that I’m curious to find out if it could happen.

    “Second, how can an author best approach a reviewer about a perceived inaccuracy?”

    Never, ever do a rant. Milan simply said, I did my research and this is what I found.

    “Fourth, when an author writes about a lesser known concept, what can she or should she do to make this plausible for the reader or should the reader accept the plausibility regardless?”

    Going in the reader is willing to suspend their reality. It’s the writer’s job to make the situation, story and characters plausible. If the writer has done that to the best of their abilities there’s nothing more that can be done.

    An author’s note won’t make me go back and re-read a story if I didn’t like it the first time. But the bottom line is, if I don’t care about the characters I won’t care about the story. I won’t suspend my belief and I can get thrown out of the story by anything.

    All in all the retraction is nice, but what I’d like to know is if the reviewer couldn’t get into the story because of the “goof” or was it something about the characters that didn’t make her willing to believe. That would be a much better review.

  43. Ros
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:21:03

    I think that in answer to your fourth question, something that is very important for an author to consider is not just could something happen, but how likely was it, and what would have been the contemporary reactions to it. My feeling on the legitimization of bastards (and I haven’t read Courtney Milan’s book, so I can’t comment on her treatment of it) is that while it was technically possible and may even have happened occasionally, it was extremely rare. So if you’re writing about it in a way that shows it as a last desperate resort with everyone else being sceptical about it and shocked when it happens, then I’m more likely to go along with you as a reader, than if you write it as a perfectly normal thing which happened all the time. Same with women inheriting titles.

    I do think there are some commonly held tropes in historical romance which don’t have quite the historical accuracy we tend to think they do. But good research and, critically, good writing, can counter these in a novel. And author notes are also a good idea.

  44. Isobel Carr
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:38:47

    First, what kind of responsibility does a reviewer have in checking out the accuracy of her opinions?

    If the reviewer is going to rip the book apart for what is perceived to be an error, it would be nice if the were sure they were right, but let's be honest: the reviewer's response is likely to be a common one. It sounds like the Milan made it clear in the book though that they were seeking to be declared legitimate by Parliament, so I'm still not sure what part of this the reviewer didn't *get*.

    Second, how can an author best approach a reviewer about a perceived inaccuracy?

    Third, could an author's note have helped to alleviate the feeling of improbability felt by the reader/reviewer?

    Lumping these two together, because an author's note is exactly how I would have dealt with it. I adore these kind of complicated, twisted, not-so-black-and-white plots, and history is FULL of them. I've been brushing up on marriage and divorce is Scotland for the second book in my new series (it's quite different from England, which is going to cause all kinds of problems for everyone). Alienated Affections by Leah Leneman has been a fantastic resource, but the laws may surprise, confound, and even annoy readers who are used to the laws of England.

    Fourth, when an author writes about a lesser known concept, what can she or should she do to make this plausible for the reader or should the reader accept the plausibility regardless?

    Unless the reader has evidence to the contrary, it seems like the author deserves the benefit of the doubt. Especially if the author is someone like Milan, who's known for being a research wonk. As an author, I'd be happy to answer polite emails asking what I'd based my premise on and to point the reader in the direction of my documentation (but then I'm research wonk too, LOL!).

    Fifth, is a reader's skepticism about the plausibility of historical scenarios the result of so many historically inaccurate books within the genre?

    Yes.

    @Victoria Dahl:

    Whether or not Parliament would legitimize a bastard, can anyone believe that an attempt wouldn't be made by the illegitimate side of the family??? What would they have to lose? It makes no sense to assert that it wouldn't be attempted.

    Exactly! As a reader and a writer, it's the grey land of the implausible (but possible) that I find most compelling, and there are plenty of cases where things like this did get challenged and contested. Just look at the 5th Earl of Berkeley (his eldest son, born before he and his wife married, was never allowed to claim the title, though he was given a title of his own).

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    After all, just how many aristocrats' previously recognized heirs have been disinherited by the discovery that their parents' marriage is/was bigamous?

    Several. There is the Berkeley case (not bigamy, but child born before marriage) and the are others in books such as the one I referenced above and in Stone's many works on marriage and divorce. I wish I could think of the family of the second one that's springing to mind, but the eldest son was considered legitimate in Scotland, and so got the Scottish titles, but illegitimate in England (same reason as in the Berkeley case) and so the younger brother got the English titles.

  45. Isobel Carr
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:40:22

    Argh. Edit function won’t work for me.

  46. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 15:49:20

    @Isobel Carr: But it doesn’t sound like most of the cases you mentioned are analogous to the situation in Courtney’s book, where the children have had every reason to believe they are legitimate up until now. In cases where the oldest child was born before the marriage of the parents, it seems pretty clear that the child would never have had any reason to believe he/she was legitimate offspring entitled to inherit under English law.

    But my point wasn’t that these sorts of situations NEVER happened, but that they happened with enough rarity that it would be pretty difficult to determine how likely or unlikely Parliament would be to reinstate their legitimacy. And since Parliament HAD done so on several occasions, it’s not unreasonable or ridiculous for the couple’s offspring to TRY or for it to represent a credible threat to the next-in-line’s inheritance.

    Also, I find the edit function to be intermittent as well. No idea why.

  47. Ros
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 16:00:48

    And since Parliament HAD done so on several occasions

    .

    Once in 1397. Once in 1547. Both in pretty exceptional political circumstances. When Parliament worked completely differently from the post-Restoration government of the the early Victorian era. I am still finding my mind boggled by the idea that this would even cross anyone’s mind as a possibility to try in 1837. I suppose it has a 7 at the end of the year! Parliament was a pretty serious place in the Victorian era and I can’t help feeling that an attempt to get an Act of Legitimation passed would have been laughed out of the building. I am now extremely curious to read Unveiled and see whether Courtney Milan can make it work for me.

  48. Robin
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 16:11:08

    @Sofia Harper:

    All in all the retraction is nice, but what I'd like to know is if the reviewer couldn't get into the story because of the “goof” or was it something about the characters that didn't make her willing to believe. That would be a much better review.

    And the problem is who knows, because the reviewer never gave him/herself the option to know whether this was possible.

    I’m the kind of reader who looks stuff up while I’m reading, so I probably would not wait until the end of a book to check something that was chafing against my readerly instincts so powerfully. But if a reader can say, look, I know this can happen but a)I will never buy it, or b)the book didn’t make it happen for me, then anyone reading the review can take that information into considering when weighing the review. Now, though, the review seems even more screwed up to me, because it makes it seem like the reader knew it was plausible but didn’t buy it. And yet that’s NOT what the review said at all, and changing that small detail makes it seem even more, not less, inaccurate to me.

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Any unusual occurrence should be considered carefully for that reason. Even if it's perfectly possible, it still needs explaining.

    My issue with this (beyond frustration that readers have been conditioned to accept certain historical inaccuracies as factual, necessitating overt correction in the form of an author’s note) is that all of Romance is about “unusual occurrence[s],” isn’t it? It’s just that some instances of the unusual and extraordinary are considered status quo in the genre and others are not.

    I know this issue of what constitutes historical realism will never be definitively resolved, but I do think it can be very confusing when the genre depends so often on the unusual, but in a somewhat narrow way. And when readers like me beg for more diversity, I’m always afraid incidents like this are going to narrow, rather than expand, future offerings. And the thought of that *really* frustrates me.

  49. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 16:16:56

    @Ros: Actually, Ros, while Margaret Thatcher was given a life peerage, her husband Denis was given a hereditary one. All because of Darling Mark! So both Maggie and Denis had peerages.

    When I’m writing something unusual in historicals, I try to look for a real-life example. For me, it’s not the possibility of it happening, it’s that it did happen. As Ros said, it only happened with Henry VIII, and in any case, Royalty and the inheritance of royalty, is different. Different rules (salic, not primogeniture).

  50. Isobel Carr
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 16:41:21

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    But it doesn't sound like most of the cases you mentioned are analogous to the situation in Courtney's book, where the children have had every reason to believe they are legitimate up until now.

    Actually, in most of the cases I've seen they did (also, people often didn't seem to know some of the finer nuances of the law, esp when it came to the unusual). In the Berkeley case, the parents had faked proof of an earlier marriage, and the son only found out he was illegitimate after his father died (all heirs to peerages have to present proof that they are legitimate, and his was discovered to be a forgery). In the other case, the eldest son believed he would inherit because his family was Scottish first, English second. They hadn't every thought to take the English laws into consideration, because he was legitimate as far as they knew and were concerned. It was a surprise to them that the two countries had such different rules.

    And isn't the difficulty and the odds of the petition being successful the whole point of the plot? Sounds like it is to me. Balogh played with this in her most recent series (eldest son born before marriage, distant cousin inherits title).

  51. Ros
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 16:54:26

    @Lynne Connolly: Yes. I think I said that. Though I seem to have forgotten that Denis died some years ago.

  52. Jackie Barbosa
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 16:59:06

    @Isobel Carr: Gotcha (though I think parents forging documents is rather less “sympathetic” than finding out one’s parents are involuntary bigamists because a spouse formerly assumed dead is alive or some such thing).

    I haven’t read the book yet, either, so I don’t know how “sympathetic” the bigamy that leads to the disinheritance is. But even knowing the relative unlikelihood of such a petition succeeding, I have no trouble allowing the author some license in the context of a novel provided I know it’s possible. After all, it’s not like either the Dalrymples or the Turners actually existed, right?

  53. Isobel Carr
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 17:30:58

    [T]hough I think parents forging documents is rather less “sympathetic” than finding out one's parents are involuntary bigamists because a spouse formerly assumed dead is alive or some such thing

    In the Berkeley case, the younger siblings all supported the claim of the eldest brother. The younger brother never claimed or used the title, and the elder ran the estates just as though they belonged to him. It was a couple of generations later before it all got sorted out and there was a sitting earl of Berkeley again.

    There are also cases of what you describe above, and the kids were generally SOL, because the bigamist didn't get to choose, the first marriage invalidated the second. The interesting exceptions were when the first marriage was not conducted in the normal way (informal Scottish marriage for example, where the couple lived openly as a married couple without benefit of a ceremony).

  54. KarLynP
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 17:36:22

    Interesting article! I’m actually halfway through reading an ARC copy of Unveiled now. I'm glad to know it is grounded in fact, because the rest of the book has been completely engaging. I haven’t seen how Milan resolves the issue of legitimacy, but the implication that a bastard could become legit did have me scratching my head a bit. Unlike Rose I do not claim to be a historical expert by any means, which may even be worse. All my knowledge of that era comes directly from reading romance historicals (correct or not!)

  55. FiaQ
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 18:40:07

    @Isobel Carr:

    I've been brushing up on marriage and divorce is Scotland for the second book in my new series (it's quite different from England, which is going to cause all kinds of problems for everyone).

    I’m grinning like crazy here. It took a bit to explain how it basically worked and how/when it differed at certain periods and for whom (e.g. 21 days’ residency for a non resident at one time) on Twitter to someone last year. Mad but so fun.

    Although I have a deep aversion to Scot-set historical romances, I’m actually looking forward to read yours. I think it’d be a fun read.

  56. Maria
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 19:01:11

    I just want to chime in and say I love author’s notes. I love that insight into the thought process. It’s like a behind the scenes look at book writing. I wish more authors would include them.

  57. Sunita
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 19:07:42

    Parliament was a pretty serious place in the Victorian era and I can't help feeling that an attempt to get an Act of Legitimation passed would have been laughed out of the building.

    I’m not sure about this. The 1832 Reform Act certainly paved the way for a professionalized and more representative Parliament, but the aristocrats still ran a lot of stuff in 1837 and rotten boroughs did not disappear. The House of Lords was still powerful, and a wealthy Dukedom was a huge political and economic asset.

    I agree that it’s up to Ms. Milan to write a story that will draw us in and immerse us in the “fictional dream,” in Janine’s lovely phrase. But given all the other uncommon circumstances we embrace in historical romance, I really don’t see why this should be that problematic.

    ETA: I was just checking something and I ran across the information that the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne entered the House of Lords on a writ of acceleration. This was an infrequently used method of allowing the heir of a peer to use a courtesy title to sit in the Lords (this was in 1856, not in medieval times). Writs were used to get young, smart peers into the Lords so that they could have fresh blood and talent without enlarging the peerage. And BTW, the 3rd Marquess, who was also a highly respected politician, turned down a Dukedom. Neither of these events would ever happen in Romancelandia’s world of Dukes. But they did happen in real life, and they weren’t one-offs.

  58. Joy
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 19:41:11

    @KarLynP:

    . I haven't seen how Milan resolves the issue of legitimacy, but the implication that a bastard could become legit did have me scratching my head a bit.

    The legitimation by *Parliament* is a legal fiction to allow inheritance. It does not actually retroactively marry your parents.

    I thought John of Gaunt’s children by Katherine Swynford were legitimized by the Pope; was there also an ecclesiastic legitimation during the Victorian period and would it have had to go through the Queen as head of the Church?

  59. peggy h
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 20:22:48

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, Jane! I read Courtney’s blog yesterday and felt so bad for her.

    I agree with the general feeling that if a reviewer is going to categorically state something as being wrong or impossible, then he/she should check the facts. In this day when this does not involve a trek to a library or even having to pull down a dusty encyclopedia, it seems odd not to do so.

    I don’t have a good idea of how an author could approach a reviewer (while it seems PW was open to correction, there are prone to be some other reviewers that may not be quite so amenable).

    I have seen author’s notes and I kind of like them. Perhaps that would have helped in this case, but it’s totally the author’s prerogative to do this or not. I believe it still doesn’t excuse the reviewer for not doing some research before making a definitive statement as he/she did.

    Personally, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy so to some extent, I have plenty of leeway when it comes to suspension of disbelief. But if it’s supposed to be a realistic depiction of history, I guess I may feel somewhat cheated if I thought the author played fast and loose with the facts. (Though I also admit that it would depend on the author–someone like Courtney whose blog I read and who comes across as super-meticulous, I would come away thinking “Hey I didn’t know that possibility even existed” rather than thinking “she cheated!”)

  60. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 20:33:47

    @Joy — John of Gaunt’s illegitimate “Beaufort” children by Katherine Swynford were legitimated both by the Pope and by Richard II after their parents married, both previous mates being dead.

    As far as the Victorians’ processes of legitimation — outside my field of study (oops — almost typed “fiend of study” LOL) but your posts made me interested in picking up CM’s book.

    I, too, love authors’ notes to explain anything that might sound “off” to a seasoned romance reader. We do tend to create our own fictional conventions and then wonder when a project seems to fall outside them. I was faced with doing an author’s note in one project, set in 1356 England, and my readers’ feedback proved they were happy to see the proofs pro and con of the premise I’d used.

  61. Keishon
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 20:41:10

    First, what kind of responsibility does a reviewer have in checking out the accuracy of her opinions?

    Missed this whole thing so thanks for the recap. It’s always a good idea to back up your opinions or assertions if you are going to be provocative in stating them in a public forum or professional review. Plus, I think I’d use different word choices if a scenario seemed unlikely to me versus making a statement that sounds authoritative, that leaves no room for doubt.

    On the other hand, authors, it wouldn’t hurt to include notes but this is fiction after all, stuff like this doesn’t really bother me. I can always research on my own if something doesn’t quite add up. What about poetic license? Authors have the right to change things up but again, a note will clear up a lot to your readers, for those who may take issue.

    Note: when I say authors I mean generally and and not specifically. Hopefully, I’ve spelled everything right since there isn’t an edit button.

  62. Isobel Carr
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 22:18:08

    @FiaQ:

    Although I have a deep aversion to Scot-set historical romances, I'm actually looking forward to read yours. I think it'd be a fun read.

    Well I certainly hope you like them!

    Just so you know, the books aren’t actually Scottish-set (tiny bit of action takes place in the lead family’s border estate, but most takes place in London and Leicestershire [second book is mostly in Kent]). The Scottish marriage/divorce stuff is going to bite an Englishman in the ass (hero’s brother thought he could play fast and loose with a Scottish girl “off stage” and finds out later that it’s not quite so simple).

  63. Suze
    Dec 14, 2010 @ 23:59:55

    I like authors’ notes. I like when they explain the liberties they’ve taken with history and give resources so that interested readers can find out more about what actually happened (if anything did). I used to really enjoy Susan Johnson’s footnotes, back when she was writing stuff worth reading.

    Of course, I’m definitely not a stickler for accuracy. I like my historical romances to be romantic. If they end up being historical-ish rather than historical, as long as the story is still engaging, I’m good.

    And I’m completely in the camp of “If you’re going to state something as indisputable fact, check it out before you publish it–especially if you’re getting paid for it.” I’ve embarrassed myself enough times that I think it’s worth the extra few minutes to make friends with google. (Man, that google is such a bitch. But you didn’t hear that from me.)

  64. Milena
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 03:41:21

    This kind of situation, where the whole story is based on a little-known historical (or scientific) fact happens much more often in speculative fiction; so much so that there’s even an expression to describe it: “card tricks in the dark”. The point is, if the author knows that the fact on which their story hangs is probably unknown to the audience, they need to explain that, either in the text itself or through an author’s note.

    That said, if a reviewer intends to dispute the accuracy of something in the book, they must, in my opinion, check their facts first. Like so many posters said before me, if something doesn’t work or seems suspicious, the riveiwer should just say so, not claim it’s false without checking the facts — especially nowadays, when fact-checking is a lot easier than it used to be.

    As for your last question, I think it may partially be due not only to the large numbers of historically inaccurate books in the genre, but also to the general attitude towards romance. How many reviewers complained about historical inaccuracies in The Gladiator? And there were so many I was howling in pain after the first ten minutes of the movie. But, obviously, being all about manly men thumping each other in manly manner (and nothing sexual about it, oh, no!), it got a pass. At the same time, the perception of romance is such that even those who like the genre may automatically make assumptions about its accuracy that are less than accurate themselves.

  65. loreen
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 05:12:40

    I think the reviewer was being a bit picky considering that a certain level of historical inaccuracies are expected in romance. Sure, we all want accurate depictions of gowns, but we are willing to accept the extraordinary number of tall, smoldering dukes dying to marry middle-class bluestockings.

    On the other hand, I do want to be alerted if a romance is so full of historical problems that I won’t be able to suspend my disbelief for a few hours of relaxation. I realize that I can get beyond improbable matches like the recent upsurge in courtesan-nobleman romances, but I cannot get beyond completely inaccurate depictions of how people spoke or interacted on a personal level.

    I just encountered this problem with Grace Burrowes’ The Heir, which I bought on recommendation of readers of this website. I simply cannot get beyond the first few chapters, despite the competent writing style, because every single interaction between the hero and heroine is completely improbable based on their stations. I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey (a recent BBC upstairs-downstairs show – watch for it!) and I was eager to see how the completely impossible affair between a housekeeper and Earl would be handled. The idea that an Earl has so few staff that his housekeeper has to act as his valet, secretary, and butler is just ludicrous. And a housekeeper would never be allowed to sit down for a drink with her master – in fact, she would rarely speak with him, since that was the job of the butler. I just never got the sense that anything they were doing was transgressive, given that an Earl and his housekeeper normally would not share their thoughts and feelings or trade witty remarks on a daily basis.

    I guess I don’t really care if an author messes up inheritance laws or brings together two unlikely people as long as she manages to capture the spirit of the time and place.

  66. cs
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 07:30:14

    For me it’s simple, if you’re paid to write a review make sure you back everything up. Factual or not, don’t give anyone one the chance to pick holes in your review.

    If you’re an unpaid reviewer (in whatever way) then I do believe you can probably get away with most things. Yes, even getting facts wrong. I’m not saying that’s right of course, but this person is not getting paid. Hell, if you bought the book yourself you don’t really “owe” anyone anything. However, I would hope that unpaid reviewers would make sure if they ARE commenting on things like historical ‘facts’ – then you at least check if you’re right. If you can’t be bothered then state [I am not sure], and that way no one is getting false information.

    At the end of the day, everyone makes mistakes authors and reviewers alike. If a reviewer does make a mistake, then shoot them a polite eMail.

  67. Bianca
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 07:38:09

    I think it’s awesome that Courteney Milan acted in such a professional manner. I’ve never read her books, but her behavior — very classy. It must suck for someone to hand in a review of your book that is…based on completely false assumptions, like they didn’t take five minutes to check their facts on Google. Very unprofessional in my book. :/ If you’re being paid to review something, and that review is going to appear in global syndication, you’d better know what you’re talking about.

    I’m also less than impressed with the retraction. If there weren’t any historical goofs, then why not scotch the flawed review and start anew? It still seems pretty misleading and unfair.

  68. dick
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 10:52:06

    Should the reviewer have checked the facts? Sure. While reading Milan’s book, would I have cared whether legitimation by Parliamentary act was historically accurate? Not a whit. It’s fiction, for kraut’s sake.

  69. Robin
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 11:56:41

    @Milena: IMO it’s a misnomer that films and television shows get a pass in regard to accuracy. In fact, if you google ‘The Gladiator historically inaccurate” you pull a lot of results, including this blog post I greatly enjoyed reading: http://botheyes.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/i-scoff-at-gladiator/.

    I still remember when both Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves came out, unleashing vigorous debates over accuracy v entertainment. I think it’s comparably similar to what happens in the Rom community — you have people who don’t care at all about accuracy, people who can’t tolerate inaccuracy, and people who would love more accuracy but won’t turn away a good but inaccurate book. I tend to land most often in that last category, although there are myriad books, movies, and tv shows I just cannot suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy.

  70. amousie
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 13:27:32

    I’d say this review is mostly marred by a lack of word count and an eye for good copy (if the above is an accurate quote).

    Without anything else to go on, the review leads me to believe that Ash Turner is a legitimized bastard rather than the one who had brought the charge of bigamy and delegitimized the family. (per excerpt on Milan’s website)

    When I look at the back cover copy, I’m lead to believe that the story starts with a female member of the delegitimized family remaining behind to spy on the hero as a nurse.

    Without having read the story (since we’re talking historical accuracy here), I have a much harder time believing this could be pulled off if this woman is one of the immediate family and this was her house at one time or even one that she visited (e.g., the servants knew her). Or even how she changed her mannerisms and attitude to be able to act as a part of the servant class. I’m also not sure how spying as a nurse (for whom?) would benefit the family in this matter. ***edited to add*** I re-read the back cover copy. yes, this is a direct offspring.

    Mostly, in regards to historical accuracy, I’m wondering how easy it would’ve been to delegitimize a dukedom in the first place given the time period rather than to delegitimize the first marriage and therefore the claim of bigamy. (there’s some real life autobiography that’s rolling my head about whether or not a marriage was a marriage but I can’t pull it out at the moment.)

    So in the suspension of disbelief category, for me it’s not asking for Parliament to restore the family, it’s the delegitimization after the original duke had already died (this is my assumption based on the excerpt).

    As a reader, if I didn’t get to see this political “mojo” happen on the page then questions like: only a small number of dukedoms exist in Great Britain how did this a) stay secret, b) why didn’t the family stop the claim before it was even made or pay off the church/officials once they thought they’d lose? etc. If those questions aren’t conclusively answered during the story, the entire piece could be compromised in my mind because it’s always there nagging in the background. And, yes, that would hinder my enjoyable of the entire series because the underlying premise weighs heavily on whether or not I can enjoy the story regardless of other historical accuracies. If I can’t suspend my disbelief of the premise, then it simply doesn’t matter how well written the story or how skilled the author.

    Per Milan’s response: I think it was marvelously professional and that she will gain readers because of it.

    Per Fox’s response: Again professional. I do think it went far enough unless the reviewer hung all of the “historical goofs” on that one underlying premise. But without additional word count there’s no way for me to know.

  71. Sofia Harper
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 13:55:53

    @Robin: And yet that's NOT what the review said at all, and changing that small detail makes it seem even more, not less, inaccurate to me.

    On that point I can agree. They should have allowed for a new review or an *edited to add* ’cause other wise it leaves out the fact the reviewer just couldn’t get into the story no matter what.

    I'm the kind of reader who looks stuff up while I'm reading, so I probably would not wait until the end of a book to check something that was chafing against my readerly instincts so powerfully.

    Lol. It’s rare for me to go this far. I trust authors to take me away and make me believe ‘this totally could happy’. I also walk away from books that makes me question. No matter how strange or odd the detail I shouldn’t be thrown out the story. And to me that’s a problem with connecting with character.

  72. Milena
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 14:09:18

    @Robin: Oh, I agree that a lot of people complain about inaccuracies in movies, too — it’s just that, in most big-media reviews, this doesn’t seem to be a particularly important consideration. But perhaps it’s just because movie critics are used to it.

  73. Robin
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 15:41:45

    @Milena: Slightly OT (on the issue of CM’s book but not completely on the issue of movie reviews & accuracy), did you see the debate between Roger Ebert and Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir over Secretariat? (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/10/secretariat_was_not_a_christia.html) A really fascinating discussion both about historical accuracy and viewing/reviewing philosophies that IMO also has a lot of relevance to book reviewing, as well. I had to chuckle a little bit at Ebert’s response to O’Hehir, because IMO it mirrors some of the debate in the Rom community over how books should be measured regarding political, social, and historical ideologies. And because I’m definitely more within O’Hehir’s reviewing tradition than Ebert’s, lol.

  74. Milena
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 17:44:22

    @Robin: Thank you, that was a fascinating debate (I don’t watch horse films, so I missed the whole thing). It also gave me a lot of food for thought… *off to ponder some more.*

  75. Bea
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 19:24:31

    I actually questioned something in a book I reviewed a few months regarding the plausibility of something that happened, something crucial that helped set the novel’s events in motion.

    The author sent me a polite reply via email explaining her choice and it’s basis in reality. I appreciated it, it definitely clarified the item, and I hope that if I make any such mistakes in the future, that the author or authors in question would respond similarly.

    If a reviewer makes a mistake they should edit their review with a reasonably prominent note concerning the change or correction.

    When it comes to reading historicals, I tend to give a lot of leeway. Unless it’s a glaring implausibility or something crucial to the storyline, I’m pretty forgiving.

  76. Sunita
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 19:41:43

    @Robin: OMG that was a fun hour I just had!

    Like you, I am a priori more sympathetic to O’H’s style of reviewing than Ebert’s, but he really screwed the pooch on this one.

    Viewing historical incidents retrospectively is always done through a far narrower prism than the people used at the time. So you get O’H going postal over the lack of Watergate and Vietnam, while those for whom these events are not “history” but experience are annoyed that he can’t separate the horse from the jackass.

    I vividly remember Secretariat’s summer of total amazingness (I also vividly remember the moment when we all realized that Alexander Butterfield was telling us there was a Watergate tape trail). I’m not a horse nut, but I am a nut about athletic accomplishment, and I will always feel privileged to have been able to see what he did in real time.

  77. Robin
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 21:50:39

    @Sunita: I was not old enough during the summer of Secretariat or Watergate to have a good command of how either played out in context, but I do have a deep-seated dislike of horse racing (too many years in horse rescue, I’m afraid, and too much awareness of how the horses are used for the profit of humans, against their physical and mental best interest), so I have avoided Secretariat on those grounds, because I suspect I’d find it more whitewashing than sentimentally powerful.

    I think it’s interesting, though, this question of myth-building in Disney adult films, and one of the things that debate between O’Hehir and Ebert did was make me think about my own love of the old Disney films (when Kurt Russell played a college student!). Should I love them so unabashedly, or am I being worked over by the Disney social nostalgia machine? The answer to that question might be too scary to ponder, lol.

  78. Sunita
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 23:32:30

    @Robin: Given your experiences I can understand why you would not see the movie. For me, while I am glad to see Diane Lane get a great part, I prefer my memories to the Disneyfication of a great story and don’t want the latter to mess with the former.

    I am such a pushover for Kurt Russell. I guess Disney is like any highly effective agent of manipulation. There’s no point in beating yourself up for getting sucked in, because they’re really good at what they do. But it’s worth reminding yourself what the second thing is they’re really good at, i.e., manipulation.

  79. Suze
    Dec 15, 2010 @ 23:44:29

    Oh, I love those old Kurt Russell movies! Every time they tried to re-make them and modernize them, they lost all their charm and fun.

    I resent the fact that Disney’s versions of fairy tales become the official versions. But the movies are so enjoyable that I can’t help feeling that other versions fail, and that just pisses me off with, um, me.

  80. sao
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 00:11:39

    I suspect things like bigamy cropped up more often than realized. A lot of history comes from things like letters, which were generally under the control of the family who wrote them.

    King George the 4th, when the Prince Regent of the Regency contracted a marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert. It was considered to be not a legal marriage and he went on to marry another woman without divorcing his first “wife.”

    A lord (‘m too lazy to look up which one) wrote letters to famous courtesan Harriet Wilson where he called her “wifey,” which she used to try to extract cash from his father, in return for silence to keep the stupid lord’s marital options free from worry about bigamy.

    In Jane Austen’s Emma, there’s a secret marriage, which is a condition for bigamy.

    These are the ones I know of and I’m not much of a historian. Few people brag about bigamy or illegitimacy in their family tree. It’s more common to hear about royal connections and noble deeds.

  81. Robin
    Dec 16, 2010 @ 12:25:58

    @Sunita and @Suze: My real guilty pleasure is The Ugly Dachshund (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061135/). I can’t even bring myself to parse all the ways in which I should find the film horrifying, because I love it so much. And Flubber — love the original Flubber, too. Oh, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes…

  82. Unveiled by Courtney Milan « Kay's Bookshelf
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 04:19:11

    […] this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | An interesting discussion about a main plot point | Courtney Milan’s website | Courtney Milan on Facebook | Courtney Milan on […]

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