On the Vagaries of Research

There's a controversy a-brewing out there in literary land. A couple of them, actually - a(nother) plagiarism scandal, and a research scandal. For the record, there is no excuse, none whatsoever, to ever, ever plagiarise. So that's all I have to say about that. 

No, I want to talk about the research flap. The very fine author Jodi Picout has apparently infuriated the wolf world with her new novel Lone Wolf.  I can't see that pissing off a bunch of lycanthropes is such a great idea, but...

So Evil Wylie posted the following Tweet:

@Evilwylie NPR: "Wolf scientists howling mad at @jodipicoult over new book" is.gd/3a7Cvt   (where was their outrage with Twilight?)

Which of course made me giggle, then follow at the link. In case it doesn't work, here you go: Why Are Wolf Scientist Howling at Jodi Picoult?

There's something I've learned over the course of the eleven novels I've written. Research does matter. And you are never, ever going to make everyone happy. Having been on the receiving end of nasty grams when I mess something up, I know that firsthand.


We are writing fiction. Fiction. There's an age old debate concerning literary license. I fall somewhere in between, along the lines of in order not to strain credulity, hold to the iceberg theory - only show the teensiest bit of your research on the page, but do your research. There is no better way to lose a reader than to get something easily figured out wrong. Cocking the hammer on a Glock, for example, is one of the my most favorite screw-ups.

There's a fine line between fiction, stretching the truth to fit your story, and making shit up. Some readers are forgiving of mistakes, and some lose their minds. I try very hard to get stuff right, but I know I make mistakes, and sometimes, purposely distort reality to fit my story. I am a fiction writer, and that is my right.

I haven't read Jodi's book, nor do I know much abut wolves. But I do know that you can't make everyone happy. Any time you write something that has a bit of esoteric information, you'll manage to upset someone. So let that be a lesson - when in doubt, look it up. But don't freak out if you need to fudge things to make it work.

Since fiction, by its very nature, isn't reality, that's kind of the whole point, isn't it?