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.