Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Actually…." Confessions of Ronald J. Granieri, a Historian Who Loves Stories

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Recently, there was a kerfuffle about PBS's Downton Abbey's level of historicity — when a quite present-day water bottle turned up in a publicity still. The cast and crew seems to have taken the resulting outcry in stride, even posing in present-day clothing, all holding water bottles, with an "ooh, you got me!" expression on their faces.

Yes, these goofs happen. It takes a proverbial village to make a television series like Downton Abbey — or write a book, and I'm so very blessed to know historian Ronald J. Granieri, who graciously reads my manuscripts and act as historical editor, mentor, and advisor. (No, I'm not an historian, nor do I play one on TV....) He tells me he even enjoys doing it! 

Professor Granieri's specialty is Germany in the 20th century and German-American relations, with a special interest in World War II and the Cold War, so his area of expertise is right on target for the Maggie Hope books. I'm lucky in that Professor Granieri is so very, very accomplished ("Wicked smaaaart" as we would say back in Boston) — his credentials include degrees from Harvard and University of Chicago, as well as studies in Heidelberg and Cologne in Germany. In addition to his work at the University of Pennsylvania, he has taught at Susquehanna, Furman, Syracuse, and Temple Universities, and is also currently Executive Director of the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, where he hosts the monthly interview show, Geopolitics with Granieri.

And, full disclosure, I'm also very lucky that I can call him friend — we know each other from high school in Buffalo, New York (Go Bills!) and he was at Harvard when I went to Wellesley (so I can call him Ronnie Joe and he can call me Susie). 

A typical day of writing for me includes shooting Ron a Facebook message — something with little to no preamble and along the lines of, "Hey, I know this sounds crazy but..." Various questions have included everything from questions about what house an Irish-American student would live in at Harvard, to Churchill's attitudes towards India compared to his peers, to what would the name of an Austrian butler be.

And he tells me gets a kick out of my profuse thanks at the end of the Maggie Hope books, because his mother and sisters read and enjoy them — and are finally giving his interest in history some respect!

So I'm delighted to introduce Ron, historian extraordinaire — who also happens to love pop culture — on history, factual accuracy, and storytelling. Go Ron!

Jennifer Vance
RONALD J. GRANIERI: We have a running joke in my house: Never go to the movies with a historian. Or watch TV, or discuss books.

It’s an exaggeration, of course, but it does have basis in fact, especially of the historian in question is in some way an expert on the subject of the book or TV show or movie. You may be enjoying yourself, thinking that this or that character or event is fascinating, but then you will look over, catch the eye of the historian next to you, and you will see him (or her, though more likely him) wearing an expression of mixed irritation and superiority. 

Engage the historian in conversation, and you will be in for an eye roll, a sigh, and a comment that will begin with the dreaded word, “Actually.”

“Actually… Helen of Troy was probably not a blonde.”

“Actually…  dinosaurs and humans didn’t live on earth at the same time.”

“Actually…  no one living in Downton Abbey in the 1920s would say, ‘I’m just sayin’…”

It's not always that bad, of course, but I’ve been guilty of it enough in various contexts that every so often I hear my seven-year-old son start his objections to this or that assertion by cocking his head in a disturbingly familiar way and saying, “Actually….”

There are variations on and extrapolations of the Historian’s Law of Movies, such as the Natural Scientist Corollary (“Actually…. there would be no sound from explosions in outer space…”) which leads to the Plot Hole Noticer Codicil (“Actually… if the Millennium Falcon had no functioning hyper drive, it would be pretty much impossible for them to travel all the way to the Bespin system within their lifetimes…”) to the Amazon Commenter Paragraph (“Actually… this book is terrible! The author seems to have no idea of the proper use of the formal mode of address in Urdu, and doesn’t realize that German officers in 1942 carried Walther P38 pistols!”) 

All can be found in the fine print of the Charter For Those Who Probably Need to Calm the Hell Down and Just Enjoy A Nice Story For a Freaking Moment, God. If you feel any need to look them up, that is.

All joking aside, I really do consider the question of factual accuracy in fictional works, especially historical fiction, to be important. I’m a fan of works that get the background right, even if they are not focused on providing a history lesson. Two of the books that led me to be fascinated with Cold War Europe were by a journalist who used his knowledge of the recent past to build fascinating fictions, Frederick Forsyth’s early classics, The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File. My understanding of American history has been shaped by artful historical novels such as Gore Vidal’s Burr and Michael Shaara’s classic novel of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels, just as my appreciation for he complexities of Allied planning for D-Day was enriched by reading Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle. (Follett’s depiction of Winston Churchill pacing his Downing Street office and murmuring to himself a first draft of his description of the scene for his memoirs is an ideal example of an authorial caprice that is funnier the more you know about the actual historical subject.) 

More recently, my appreciation of Tudor England owes a lot to Hilary Mantel, who shows us just how exciting a story can be even if we know how things turn out for the main characters. 
The real question for me, is not whether historical fiction can be both fun and informative (it can), but rather how much readers, especially those with special expertise in the field or era covered in the work, should allow their rage for accuracy to influence their appreciation of the art. A large part of the appeal of historical fiction, after all, is the mixture of authentic period detail with the imaginative elements. An ideal historical fiction should have something to offer both the expert and the novice, accuracy managed and massaged in such a way to highlight the human background to famous periods or events. A serious and successful author seeks to get as many details right as necessary. 

That’s one reason why I am happy to offer what advice I can when my smart famous novelist friend Susan Elia MacNeal asks me to comment on the historical and linguistic details in her Maggie Hope novels. No one wants to make careless errors, or open themselves up to endless concern-trolling corrections from “fans” on the Internet. 

Nevertheless, no reader should expect that a piece of historical fiction can or should provide a completely accurate image of the past. Even if it were possible to offer a perfectly accurate presentation of the historical context, the very idea that one is introducing fictional people and events into the landscape means that there will be some shifting in the reality. The amount of shifting depends upon the ambitions of the creator and the nature of the work. One finds rather more authentic historical research, for example, in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall or Gore Vidal’s Lincoln than in Shakespeare in Love or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, even if all of those works offer both pleasure and enlightenment to their enthusiasts. 

This is about more than the difference between highbrow works and popular entertainment, or between fiction and non-fiction. Fiction and non-fiction differ from each other, says this firm believer in objective reality. Even the most scholarly work by the most fair-minded historian imaginable, however, is the product of authorial choice and the unavoidably subjective forces that drive the selection of topics and sources. There is a huge gap between the past (everything that happened) and history (an analysis of a particular slice of the past based on a particular selection of materials that allow the historian to present that particular slice). 

There is a similar chasm between history constructed from the
analysis of primary source 

materials and memory, which 

relies on the subjective 

recollection of individuals. They 

are all related, and can enrich 

each other, but all are different and should not be 

criticized for not being what they are not intended 

to be. If one seeks a complete and accurate 

understanding of any historical period, she should 

not be seeking one balanced book, but should 

instead try to build a well-balanced library.

All of which brings us back to the annoying notional historian we encountered at the start of this essay. It’s certainly true that one can find anachronisms, errors, or even conscious deception in fictional works. It’s also true that too many such blemishes will eventually undermine the pleasure an intelligent reader will derive from the story. Authors who want to enrich their stories or gain additional cachet by placing them in a juicy historical context have a responsibility to try and do justice to that context, even if their ultimate goal is to subvert a familiar narrative. 

Readers, however, also have a responsibility to know what they are reading, and to be smart enough to take the occasional departure from textbook accuracy in stride, especially if it serves the purposes of the narrative. A foolish consistently, after all, is actually the hobgoblin of little minds. 

You can look it up.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Thank you, Ron, for your insights. Gentle Reds, what do you think? (Rhys, as a fellow historical mystery author, I'd love to hear your thoughts especially.) 

Lovely readers, what's your opinion? Do you need your historical mysteries to be textbook accurate or do you "take the story  in stride"? Please sound off in the comments!

Ronald J. Granieri is a historian and policy analyst in the Philadelphia Area, but is actually a lot of fun at the movies.


  1. Actually . . .
    it's a big plus for the story when the author has done the research and the story settles itself nicely into the historical period in which it is taking place, but there's no textbook accuracy required as far as I'm concerned. I guess I'm pretty much a "take the story in stride" person.

  2. Fascinating stuff. As I have a new historical series, I've had to rein myself in from going endlessly researching. But it's set in the town where I live and write and walk, so it's been fun and easy, mostly, to dive into what life in 1888 was like, and to ask questions of local historians. I'm lucky to have the Whittier Home Association down the street, with several experts on John Greenleaf Whittier (a secondary character in my series) as well as several dozen super-fans of his.

    As far as reading books set in periods I don't know anything about - well, I have to take it on faith that the setting and customs are accurate. I guess language would be the only thing that might pop out at me, if someone speaks in a way that sounds too modern. Ronald and Susan - how far do you go to make your characters' dialog authentic?

  3. Wonderful essay--thank you for visiting Ron! "Susie" is so lucky to have you!

  4. I very much enjoyed this wonderful post and Edith's comments. It has been interesting to watch Edith become one with her fictional era. And also to watch the other writers in our Monday night group listen for the rare questionable note in tone or voice. I'm tasked this spring with organizing and moderating a research panel at the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors. Reading posts like this helps me understand the research issues that are important to writers. Forgive me if this shows up twice. I wrote it once, was prompted to log in and afterward, saw that my comment had disappeared. Thank you for this great piece and thanks to Edith for sharing it on FB.

  5. I'm pretty much clueless about most historical details, so I'm blissfully unaware of errors... most of the time. My new book is set in the'60s and '80s in Beverly Hills and I'm relying on my memory and the memory of friends.

    I've been burned by Amazon readers who pick at what they say is WRONG but isn't, like the one that said her respect for my writing fell apart when I put a chickadee in a New England garden at Thanksgiving. Well, pardon me, but I'm watching a Chickadee hang upside down from my viburnum right now and it's zero degrees out. Wish I could haul out the proverbial wet noodle.

    Ah, that felt good.

  6. Love this post. I'm guilty of nit picking when it comes to other writers' novels set in sixteenth century England, but a good story, well-written, always carries the day. Besides, some books by noted historians have errors, too, usually concerning minor historical figures, often women the author didn't consider important enough to research beyond what "everybody knows." Don't get me started! In general movies are worse offenders. That said, Shakespeare in Love is one of my all-time favorites, a perfect example of just what this blog is talking about.

  7. Thanks very much to Susan (ahem) for the invitation, and for the warm welcomes! I'm delighted to find so many kindred spirits out there, and look forward to our conversation.

    And I rather liked Shakespeare in Love too, anachronisms and all. Judi Dench's turn as the grown up Elizabeth was a hoot.

  8. ...and may I add, as someone who years for the first Amazon review of his book, that I appreciate the enthusiasm that volunteer reviewers bring to book discussions, but that the world would be enriched if people would think twice before picking every possible nit.

  9. I think I'm a mostly "take it in stride" person - as long as the alterations fit, if that makes sense. Too many errors, and it starts to annoy me (especially if there's no logic behind the differences). Dialogue is especially important to me.

    The same issue comes up for me watching/reading anything military, especially with my dad, a retired Army major. Oh, the commentary! And as a writer of police-procedural, I've got a limited patience for those details, too (no, no, no - the police don't DO that! is a frequent thought with some current TV shows).

    In essence, if the writer demonstrates that she's done her homework, I'll forgive little things to make a better story narrative.

  10. THis is so great! You had me at Susie.

    Two things--what was "funny" in Eye of the Needle?

    And I guess what frustrates me--since you asked!--is when something purports to be the real story, but isn't.

    I really liked The Imitation Game, but that's not historically accurate, I hear. First, its so annoying to fill my head with something that's wrong--and then changing history to make a movie better is dangerous--because then that's what becomes real. Like Helen of Troy's hair.

    I'm a reporter, and I always think about how I may be writing "history." What will BE history in the future. ANd that makes me feel very responsible.

    Thank you so much for being here!

  11. Welcome Ron! And welcome everybody! (I'm now going to make the type larger... speaking of oops moments...) Hallie, I totally hear you with the chickadee comment — it's really weird what people harp on. But, as Ron reminds us, the enthusiasm of reviewers is terrific!

  12. That's an excellent point, Mary. It should be about the relationship between author and reader. If the author displays genuine effort to get it right, the reader should be able to forgive any smaller flaw that sneak through (not unlike the occasional typo in a book). But if the small errors pile up, they can erode the trust in the relationship.

  13. Hank, thanks! What was funny to me in the eye of the needle is the scene where one of the agents hunting the Needle reports to Churchill. While he is waiting for the Great Man to say something, he watches Churchill pace before the fire, mumbling to himself. The agent listens, and essentially hears Churchill muttering something like, "A solitary figure, contemplating the difficult decisions ahead..." and realizes Churchill is essentially composing is memoirs to himself. I don't know if Churchill really did that, but it's truthy enough that I find it delightful.

    I also do agree that alterations of history in movies can be annoying, especially if the movie is the only engagement most people will have with the history. Christian Caryl has an interesting discussion of this with regard to the Imitation Game in the NYRB, and there have also been interesting discussions of the presentation of LBJ in the new movie, Selma. In most cases, all one can do is hope that the film will encourage someone to learn more about the events....

  14. We've been debating historical accuracy in my writers' group - this is a great addition to the discussion. Thanks, Ron!

    And trying watching a high-tech thriller with a computer geek...lots of eye-rolling there! Thankfully, he's also my in-house resource for my hacking plots.

  15. The fact that I read the Eye of the Needle about 25 years ago and that scene still stays with me probably says a lot about my relationship to books, and also about the "gottaknow" fetish that led me to my chosen profession.

  16. Oooh, I'm going to have to find that review of The Imitation Game. And, still, I didn't expect to watch the film with the same eye as I would, say, read a biography. Haven't seen Selma yet, but will.

  17. Edith, as to your question about keeping dialog authentic, I write the dialog the way I think it would be (generally clear and verging on formal), then have the lovely Phyllis Brooks Schafer (who's been a guest on Jungle Reds with the post, "What We Had in the Old Days" read over and edit my work. Phyllis is a native Londoner and Blitz-survivor, so she really knows all. I'm so very lucky to have her as an advisor.

  18. Ron, thanks for such an interesting post about historical accuracy in writing. I love historical fiction, and put it with mystery to make me a blissful reader. I want my authors to do their research though, and it would be great if, like Susan, they all had a Ron to check over that research accuracy. And, although I appreciate accuracy, I'm not a nit picker. Hallie, it must have been especially irritating that the Amazon reviewer not only nit picked, but was inaccurate in the picking. I guess pickers gonna pick.

    Edith, I like your question about how far Susan goes in the area of characters' dialogue. I'm reading a book right now that has a woman from Ireland working and England, and she is most entertaining with her Irish slang.

    Ron, I'm glad to hear that you are able to control yourself during movie watching. My husband is retired military, and I have to admonish him whenever we watch a war movie, because he inevitably finds an inaccuracy in the placement of ribbons or such on uniforms. Geez.

  19. I think those who use historical settings or actual physical settings are making an implicit promise to their reader that in all things material they are playing it straight.

    However, even if it is immaterial to the story, I do not expect so see someone during the American Revolution zipping up a garment and such an egregious error would make me question what else was wrong with the "historical" elements.

    Immateriality allows the author to add streets and businesses to a real setting as needed or invent "historical" events within the general sweep of the time.

    However, if the author messes with something material, it will greatly diminish my enjoyment of the story. And in a mystery if the inaccuracy is crucial to the plot, the book no matter how well written otherwise written, will receive a poor rating from me because the inaccuracy has spoiled the fair play doctrine.

    I am less concerned about characters talking using the conventions of the day. I would get very weary of sentences filled with "wouldst thou...".

    All of which goes to show each reader has their quirks and we authors can't satisfy everyone.

    ~ Jim

  20. I think my feelings about historical accuracy depend on whether you are telling a story about a real person versus fictional. I too adored Shakespeare in Love, probably because what we know about Shakespeare is so sketchy. But I have huge problems with the TV series REIGN, as well as THE TUDORS, probably because their lives are so well documented, and I find the historical accuracies or changes, don't make for better story-telling.

  21. Kathy Reel is your husband related to my father perchance? LOL

  22. Jim and Elizabeth, you both touch on things that bug me too. Flagrant disregard for details will erode trust and interest in a book, though different readers' flagrancy thresholds will differ. I also agree that shows like Reign or the Tudors, which sex- and dress-up the past to no real purpose grate on me. An excellent recent example is Netflix's new Marco Polo series, which does attempt some vague material verisimilitude but is so obviously the result of an elevator pitch, "Game of Thrones in Mongolia' that its intermittent attempts at historicity are just that much more annoying.

  23. I agree with Hallie about the nitpickers. There was a kefuffle of the Downton Abbey-water bottle variety that I'd had spy Dusan Popov fly to New York and have jet lag — well, he DID take a Pan Am flying clipper ship and made the trip in 20 hours....


  25. I love this essay. I really wish I had the time to read more historical fiction. My blog reading keeps me busy, so I am glad when there are historical mystery authors like Susan, Rhys, and Charles Todd.

    But I do need to read Wolf Hall one of these days - preferable before I see the Broadway shows and television miniseries.

  26. Great post! Sounds like we could have a great time chatting. :)

    In my corner of the universe, I hear all about firearms. My husband has a passion and expertise ... and shares with me. Shall we say "overshare"? But I do hear about shows and movies that get it wrong. And why. Or pointing out that the gun couldn't possibly fire anymore because they'd run out of bullets because the gun's doohickey as in a different position. Or making fun of how guns switch from one type to a completely different type in someone's hand within the same scene and back again because of the editing. (it actually happens a lot)

    I remember a huge kerfuffle on the crimethrutime group years ago about potatoes showing up before their time even though the author had a note explaining that it was POSSIBLE because .... Uff da.

  27. I often roll my eyes at the people who nitpick over small historical details like what they would call the gun they carried or if a model wasn't used until the following year.

    Of course, I can get upset over stuff that bugs me, too.

    I think, more than anything, it has to do with how much I enjoy a book. If I'm lost in a story, I won't care about the details unless it is something major. However, if I'm not enjoying it, then I start nitpicking myself.

  28. Thanks, Susan and Ron! Such an interesting post. I actually began my educational odyssey as a history major, and it was because I had read lots of good historical fiction. I was always more interested in the ordinary people than the famous ones, however.

    I haven't seen The Imitation Game but have had serious reservations because of the inaccuracies--now have to dig out last Sunday's NYTBR.

    And have to re-watch Eye of the Needle:-)

  29. Ron, I like that phrase "intermittent attempts at historicity." That's what gets me to walk out of a movie, change the channel, toss a book aside.

    I think the Todds are an example of an author (duo) who get it exactly right. I am so engrossed by the story and care so much about the characters, that I might not even notice if they got some small detail wrong. But they get it so right--the material basis is so solid, the landscape so true, that they re-create a certain period in history and I am immersed in that period of time.

    When I read something that grabs me like that, then sometimes I am inspired to go to the source materials myself, to understand more.

  30. I LOVED The Imitation Game and just read the NYRofB article (found here):

    Honestly, I thought it was a fabulous film that stood on its own merits, as well as would help people learn more about the woefully unappreciated Turing. It's a two-hour film — you can't include everything. As far as the "real" Alan Turing goes, I hope interest sparked by the film will lead to more reading of history books. But even then, "real" is such a slippery concept.... IMHO.

  31. Oooh, Ron, after you see the Turing film, we should do a joint Jungle Reds post on it? Maybe with Hank, who's a journalist and has a different perspective? That could be fun!

  32. Well, I try to be less uptight about those things (I do, really) but when I'm reading a story set in the Old West and Mr. Cowboy Hero refers to someone as a talking head, I'm pulled out of the time and place faster than Christopher Reeve when he found that 1970s penny in his pocket.

  33. Hilarious! We need to form a sisterhood of women with husbands/fathers who pick apart movies with inaccuracies re haircuts, uniforms, WEAPONS (very important), etc. Please, talk out loud and ruin the story!
    I enjoy historical fiction so much, and so far, favorite authors do the research well enough that I don't have any you-gotta-be-kiddin-me moments. Yes, you Susan and Rhys! Little details may not jibe, but if the overall impression or mood is dead-on, what does it matter? I learn more history from well written and researched fiction than I ever did from school.

  34. I take historical novels in stride. I admire the amount of research Susan and other historical novelists do -- to expect a perfect replication of reality is ridiculous. Verisimilitude -- that's what it's about.

    Corollary thought: Sometimes reality doesn't read well in fiction -- ironically, can seem unrealistic and farfetched--or hopelessly dull.

  35. Reality is often dull, at least in comparison to a good story, mainly because people's actual lives tend to be messy, murky, and convoluted, even if there are occasional nuggets of good narrative. I think that's the appeal of historical fiction (I guess of all fiction)--to improve upon reality.

  36. Totally in on Turing Test II Talk!

    And Eye of the Needle is SO good. Not as good as Day of the Jackal though, which is so perfect. (Um, isn't it?)

    And yeah, my husband is a criminal defense attorney. Try watching court/trial/cop shows with him. (Actually, it's great fun, and very educational!)

  37. The Day of the Jackal is so perfect, you can't see the seams between the actual historical events and the made up stuff. It also has a wonderful scene where Prime Minister Macmillan, who had been deeply disappointed when de Gaulle rejected Britain's EEC bid in January 1963, nonetheless tells Scotland Yard to do all they can to catch the Jackal and save the General's life. It's another example of a fictional event that works even better the more you know about the historical figures and events. The movie is awesome too. The real one, that is, not the context-less travesty foisted upon an unsuspecting world by Richard Gere....

  38. Love the point that introducing fictional characters changes the facts.

    Thanks, Ron and Susan, for a great post -- and great comments, too!

  39. Susan D. — language is tough because there's what we know and what we _think_ we know. For example, J.R. R. Tolkein coined the word "tween" to describe a hobbit in between childhood and adulthood — in 1937. However, if I used to tween in one of my novels, it would probably raise some eyebrows.

    Also, Churchill and his cronies regularly used initials such as O.M.G. for Oh My God. I'm not kidding. But can you imagine if I put THAT in?

  40. And then there's what one says in what company — for example, women of a certain social class during the early 40s didn't swear in public. HOWEVER, I have it on good authority from several London Blitz survivor ladies of a certain age that, when in women-only groups--these ladies would swear up a storm. So, again, there's context...

  41. Susan, your references to the exceptions to the rule (when people swore, the use of terms like tween and OMG, etc.) are so important here. So many of the criticisms that Readers and Commenters Who Sometimes Live Under Bridges offer of novels as proof of error are often (not always, but often) a reflection of their sense of how the past should have been. The past may be a foreign country, but there are sometimes more similarities to the present than people are willing to admit.

  42. Oh, Ron, you have coined it. RACWSLUB. Pronounced "rack-slub." Going to be laughing the rest of the day.

  43. All this makes me feel guilty for pointing out details in your books, Susan!

  44. There seems to be a lot of general agreement on this page, but I am curious to know if anyone here can think of one particular factual or other kind of error in a literary work or movie that really ruined the experience?

  45. Besides the Demi Moore version of the Scarlet Letter, of course, which should be up near the top of any such complaints....

  46. Movies and TV clearly are more vulnerable to such slips, both because of the need for better visuals and to compress complicated stories into shorter time periods. Is it possible that we hold novels to a higher standard because we assume the author has more time/space to get it right?

  47. And... since we've all been dancing around this one: is it an accident that the first examples that people think of when imagining someone correcting the TV/Movie/Novel are all male?

  48. A fantastic post. Thanks a lot. I don't get upset by a blunder in terms of material items (if they are at least close in time). It's easy to make a mistake--even when trying to be accurate. What really bothers me, however, is when an someone changes what I consider serious issues--like known relationships, completely changing behaviors or an outcome, or claiming accuracy and then purposefully subverting it. If the author called such writing "what if" or some such thing, I would accept that, however. No problem.

  49. I'm with you there, Pam. And I'm enough of a believer in trying to get things right that I don't like it much when a literary classic is bent out of all recognition. (See the Demi Moore comment above.) For that reason, the thing that bothered me the most about Troy was not that Diane Krueger played Helen, but that they decided to end the story with Achilles and Briseis killing Agammemnon (spoiler alert!). Way to try to strangle the Oresteia in the cradle, Wolfgang Peterson!

  50. No, no, Phyllis, I ASK you to point out inaccuracies in my books (manuscripts, really) and then I still have time to fix them. No, no, no, I love your edits and learn so much!!!

  51. Ron, yes, I noticed the all male thing too! My critics (who take the time to email me) are an even balance of men and women.

  52. I do wonder whether one can guess whether the corrector will be male or female based on the topic. Would it be sexist to assume that men will get all hung up on guns and uniforms?

  53. Just got back home. Big error? We were listening to a book on tape on a car trip some years ago. It was a James Patterson Alex Cross story set in New Orleans. The mansion on a hill (no hills in N.O. except for Monkey Hill in Audubon Park) had extensive cellars. No basements in N.O.; they flood. Two stupid things and I haven't read or listened to Alex Cross stories since.

  54. Bravo, Pat! Sounds like Mr. Patterson's staff didn't do much research on that one before cranking up the Novel-O-Matic 3000

  55. Too funny, Ron. That was the first and last time I had anything to do with James Patterson. He does churn them out, doesn't he. And does TV ads for them. Yeesh.

  56. I shouldn't hate on someone who is doing well at what he enjoys. There are indeed plenty of folks in both fiction and non-fiction who have turned themselves into brands, with armies of researchers and drafters to keep the product coming. If you are Tom Clancy, the machinery even keeps running after death.

  57. Thanks Jungle Reds for the conversation!