All in a Days’ Work

When I read Rike’s piece on places in romance, it made me think of another item that matters a lot to me in a romance – or indeed, in most things I read. I don’t expect an author to be an expert in every profession, but when someone misses a very important detail or gets the overall feel of a job wrong, I notice. I once read a book describing refugee relief workers out in the field in their crisp, white clothing. Nice fantasy. I left college briefly to be a relief worker, and I remember being so hot that we would strip down to our underwear and lay out on metal shelves in the basement during our off hours. And then there was the fact that I usually returned to quarters looking like I’d been dragged behind the van. Even when I manage to enjoy the rest of the story, I can’t help noticing these details and they pull me away from the action somewhat.

For instance, I’m sure we’ve all read the romance where the hero is a small-town sheriff who never seems to do any actual law enforcement work. He just hangs out with the heroine, and the plot contains little by way of information to show us that this man is a sheriff, as opposed to a plumber, doctor, cat burglar, etc…. Who knows? Maybe they play with the handcuffs!

And then there are the heroines who own their own businesses. This is a wonderful step forward from my grandmother’s books, where all the heroines were nurses or governesses. However, I do find myself mystified to see that these businesses require almost no attention, and even more puzzled by the vagueness of some business descriptions. It just doesn’t ring true and while I may enjoy other parts of the story, the lack of reality in what would normally be a big part of the characters’ lives makes it harder for me to believe in the world the author presents.

I notice this most of all within my own profession, perhaps because I’ve soaked up the details so deeply and subconsciously. Even though I really enjoyed the emotional side of Lynn Kurland’s A Garden in the Rain, one aspect of the book irked me then and bothers me about ten times more as I think about it now. Madelyn, the book’s heroine, is supposedly a brilliant lawyer. However, as she describes her fantastic rise to power, she doesn’t seem to understand how many law firms work(and she may be book smart, but she isn’t exactly street smart – but that’s a topic for another day). Supposedly she got a prime spot in the firm by grinding paralegals into the dust. Um…right. I’ve been practicing law for nearly 10 years, and one of the first things I learned is that you don’t do this job alone. You NEED those clerks, paralegals and receptionists to be on your side and since they work very hard, you better respect the effort they put forward. I’ve seen law firm staff outlast many an attorney who didn’t clue into this crucial fact.

On the other hand, Do-Over by Dorien Kelly gets it remarkably right. I When I first started at AAR, I remember having a conversation on email with the reviewer (Leigh Thomas, a former reviewer whom I miss) about the book and I knew that I had to read that book to see if it worked as well as Leigh said. From the politicking to see who will make partner to the long hours and less-than-glamorous gruntwork that goes into putting together a case or a deal, Lawyerland just seemed more real in this book than in most I’ve read. I’ve heard something similar about Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James, and I’m definitely going to try that one out.

While I notice when job details are either missing or hilariously wrong, I still love reading legal thrillers and other similar books. However, I’ve known people at AAR and elsewhere who just cannot bring themselves to read books set in their own career field. I’d love to hear what other people think on this – not to mention what major career details might be zooming right over my head simply because I don’t know the specialty.

-Lynn Spencer

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7 Responses to All in a Days’ Work

  1. LeeB. says:

    I work in a law firm also and I agree that some authors know their subject a lot better than others in describing what goes in the legal field. I’m not sure it’s because authors are using tv law shows as a basis for their research but sometimes I just have to either laugh or roll my eyes.

  2. Rike says:

    There are very few teachers (not governesses, that sort of work is too different from what I do!) in romances, but mostly I am more happy than sad about that. The few teachers I have come across completely identify with their students and try to do everything for them – which is not so often the case in real life, nor would it be healthy for the teachers, IMO – and when they meet the One, they can go out most evenings and go away over the weekend, with no marking in sight. I did like Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, however (not a romance). It was over-the-top in many ways, but still very true in a lot of scenes. :-)

  3. Katie Mack says:

    It’s books dealing with the intricacies of the criminal justice system that are most likely to irk me. Since that is my career choice, and one of my jobs is working for the local sheriff’s department, I know the ins and outs better than most readers. Many times it seems as though the author was doing her research by watching Law and Order or CSI re-runs, because I see the same mistakes and misconceptions on TV that I do in books.

    I still read these books – and in contemporary romance it would be virtually impossible to avoid them – but I really enjoy the authors who do a good job of portraying the reality, such as Michele Albert’s Off Limits. I also think that one of the reasons I love the JD Robb series is because of the futuristic setting. Whenever something happens that wouldn’t happen today, it’s okay because I can just imagine that policies and procedures have changed in the future. It allows me to sit back and enjoy the story instead of nitpicking.

  4. Corinna says:

    Although some may not consider this a “career”, per se, I grew up in the farming and ranching industry and am still involved with it to a small extent. I’ve attended hundreds of rodeos; I try to squeeze in a horseback ride several times a week; my eighteen-year-old son started riding bulls in rodeos at age fourteen and now both rides and works as the man on the ground that protects the fallen riders. I’ve been around cowboys all my life.

    So naturally, with the thousands of “Texan” or “cowboy” or “rancher” books out there, I’m going to run into a large number that miss the mark by a very wide margin. Sometimes it irritates me; sometimes it makes me laugh. I do enjoy reading the western genre, so I can’t very well avoid books that deal with work that is familiar to me. How much I roll my eyes usually depends on how good a job the writer has done with her characters. If she builds believable, interesting characters, I’m more likely to forgive less than believable farming or ranching scenes.

  5. Jessa Slade says:

    I totally believed every glamorous word of Romancing The Stone. It’s why I became a romance writer.

  6. Cora says:

    One book where an unrealistic job depiction bothered me was one of Anne Stuart’s Ice novels – Black Ice, I think – the one with the interpreter heroine. I am a translator and interpreter, I have handled sensitive documents, sat in on negotiations about military equipment (massively dull), I even had a client I suspected was doing some pretty dodgy business (I was actually relieved when that client retired). And none of that was remotely like in the Stuart book.

  7. NJ says:

    I worked for the military and WOW, where do you even start with the details many romances get wrong? Correct forms of address for officers and NCOs, paperwork processing, the availability of funding and the paperwork required to get something as small as a Blackberry, let alone secret spy equipment, the overwhelming amount of military personnel who are NOT actively firing guns… even the uniforms sometimes. And the fact that so many people on base are GS (government civilians) or contractors and not military at all.

    On the other hand, Merline Lovelace did a pretty good job in her older novels (haven’t read the new stuff). I think she was ex-Air Force, so that probably explains it.

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