The “Feedback” column in New Scientist magazine likes to tweak people who publish obvious (to them) nonsense. On 24 September, they published an item Lee sent in about a discount of “÷20%.” To most mathematically inclined this looks like a five times increase in the price, not 20% off, which the store presumably meant.
We have a friend and fellow author, Betsy James, who like many New Mexicans is fluent in Spanish. In one of her classes she mentioned that she would never submit a story with Spanish that had not been reviewed by someone who speaks Spanish as their primary language.
The point of these vignettes is to warn all writers to have someone review statements to be sure they are accurate. A critique group helps with many things, but Flossie Q Fish was reviewed by a vulcanologist to ensure no geological errors. Ebolavirus was reviewed by a virologist, who said it wasn’t even remotely plausible, but at least it wasn’t rated unbelievable. Remember, no source is perfect, not even Wikipedia.
Minor errors will creep in, so to speak. But one of our duties as fiction writers is to be accurate, or at least try to explain away errors of fact or science. No science fiction writer of space oaters needs to worry about faster-than-light travel, but if his star ship makes a trip to Saturn in a few minutes, some foreshadowing and explanation should be provided.
As the virologist who reviewed Ebolavirus said, “You’ve got to get the virology right. More people will learn about viruses from your novel than from non-fiction sources.” It would be nice if the thriller sells that well, but her point is important: historical novels are more palatable and much more widely read than historical treatises; mysteries teach more people about police procedure than police academies; and so on.
But, despite our best efforts roadblocks remain. Another fellow Albuquerque writer had a bi-lingual children’s book rejected when the New York publisher’s Spanish language reviewer criticized good New Mexico Spanish as being incorrect. Cuban Spanish and [New] Mexican Spanish vary. For New Yorkers Cuban or Puerto Rican Spanish may be the only acceptable forms, but here in the Southwest, Mexican Spanish is preferred.
Some days you can’t win. Keep trying and ask others to help. Often they’ll love to.