Authentic Historical Settings

by Jennie Goloboy

Back in the 80’s, Van Halen included a line in their contracts forbidding brown M & M’s backstage. Many years later, David Lee Roth explained that they weren’t being spoiled brats– the reason they did this was to be sure that their contract, which outlined the band’s detailed technical needs, had been read and understood in full. In one case, the floor of the arena wasn’t sturdy enough to support the  equipment, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of damage. If the brown M&Ms weren’t backstage, they knew there was going to be a problem beforehand.

I often feel the same way about small historical errors in novels.

These errors may not be important in and of themselves, but they can be a sign of deeper problems. For example, I was once reading a historical romance novel set in the Old South, in which the downtrodden heroine’s stepfather brought her back a new dress from Atlanta– the only special thing she’d ever owned– and she put it on immediately.

I immediately stopped reading the book. Women’s clothing in the 1840s was custom-made to fit the individual– the only way the stepfather could have arrived home with a finished dress is if it were pre-worn.

This might seem like a little thing, but it indicates that the author didn’t know how much time the typical woman spent in making clothing for her family, or the deep knowledge most women developed about cloth and sewing, or much about women’s work in general. The dress was a little thing, but it took me entirely out of the world of the novel.

So how do you prevent these problems, you ask? Luckily, I will be teaching this very subject at the Loft! Come see me at Authentic Historical Settings, on February 9, from 9-11. You can register right here.



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  1. kittykelleysutton on February 9, 2013 at 1:59 am

    I have a quick question about agents. I am already published with a really good small publisher that I don’t want to change. I write Native American historical fiction mysteries based on heavily researched, almost unknown events that have gone unnoticed and have almost been forgotten. My series is Mysteries from the Trail of Tears, the books are Wheezer and the Painted Frog and Wheezer and the Shy Coyote. I am working on a third now. The books can be classified as YA and also adult historical fiction. I give lectures locally on the aftermath of the Trail of Tears as well. My question is, what benefit can an agent give to someone like me? I would like to do more speaking engagements and I would want to explore film opportunities, but is that enough to attract a good agent? Or is there more an agent can do for me that I am not aware of? Thanks Kitty Sutton

  2. Jennie Goloboy (@JennieGoloboy) on February 12, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Hi, Kitty! If you love your publisher and have no intention of switching or renegotiating your contract, you don’t need a literary agent. If you want to do more speaking engagements, and are tired of doing the legwork yourself, you can hire a publicist. If you want to sell the film rights to your books, you would need an agent specializing in film (unless your publisher has the right to sell these rights– check your contract). You can find a list of reputable film agents here:

  3. Shayna Rox on March 18, 2013 at 11:58 am

    As someone who works in the music industry, I often cite this Van Halen story, which illustrates a very valid point about contracts in general. (One thing though: I think you mean if there WERE brown M & Ms backstage, they knew there would be a problem.)

  4. Jennie Goloboy on March 25, 2013 at 8:15 am

    You’re right, Shayna– and thanks!

  5. Jonathan Dalar on March 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    This is such a great example of attention to detail. Very well done!