“A writer is a witness to the world,” said Toby Devens, Penquin Random House author, at a recent meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association. “We see connections.”Speaking about reseach, she mentioned details, such as Old Bay seasoning and seagrass, early in the story to set the mood for her newest book, Barefoot Beach, which was just released this spring.
The book is about women finding themselves, the immigrant experience, and friendship.
Editors and agents like to see books that are well researched and offer one or two interesting new insights, but facts must be authentic to the genre. Readers are willing to suspend belief (especially with science fiction and fantasy), but incorrect facts in any genre, can stop a reader cold.When writing, you can weave what you learned from your research into your story. For one of her books, she talked to a gynecologist about details and then attended a surgery, so details in the book were authentic. Readers must be able to trust what is in the story, but it may take a lot of research.
To Toby, research is fun, an adventure.
I agree, to a point. I love to learn new things and meet new people. That is what I liked about being a reporter. I made sure my facts where correct and tried to give my readers description and emotion. I don’t think I like research as much as Toby, but do find it fun if the subject is interesting and necessary to the story.
Back to Toby’s recommendations, details make a story more interesting, but not too many. You don’t want to stop the eye of the reader. If adding facts, that add texture to the story, make sure they are correct. even the smallest error can cost you credibility.For a book that included Korean/Americans, she read related blogs and spoke to people to get the accent, words and traditions correct.
One fan wrote and told how much she enjoyed the book and so did her mother. But her mother said that it included too much insider information for the author not to be Korean. They both loved all the specifics about Baltimore.You need to make an emotional connection with the reader, she said. A book may be fiction, but first, it must be authentic and accurate.
However, be careful your book isn’t too realistic. When using details, remember a little goes a long way. Too many can distract your reader from the story or make you look like a show off.“You are casting a spell,” Toby said, “making a compact with the reader. You want to get it right.”
Her book, Happy Any Day Now, was selected as a New American Library Accent Novel.
Toby was busy this summer promoting her Barefoot Beach, but is already working on her next book.
She also recommended being part of a critique group. Such a group can be helpful, but make sure your group members are supportive of each other. She has been in her critique group for the past 35 years. There are still 11 or 12 active members.
Don’t be unkind,” she said of critiquing the work of others, “but tell what you think is true about the piece.”
“People inspire me,” Toby said. “Usually they are happy to talk to you and help you.” She also likes to help other writers. If you get an opportunity to hear her, take advantage of it. She shared a lot more information than I presented here.
You can find out more about her at her website: www.tobydevens.com .