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.