Reading & Reality?

So far on this holiday I’ve been READING! I’ve read three historical novels — one set in Salem during the witch trials, one set in ancient Rome and a third set in ancient Egypt, plus a crime novel set in a part of NYC I know very well during the 1980s — when I lived there. Reading what Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef/TV personality/author did with well known organized crime figures from my old “hood” was fascinating. He turned Vincent “The Chin” Gigante into his own crime boss, Charlie Wagons, and the actor who played Grandpa in “The Munsters” into his own“ connected” restauranteur/actor “

I remember the real mob boss strolling around the neighborhood wearing a bathrobe and slippers, arm-in-arm with his confederates, giving orders outside the reach of FBI and NYPD recording devices. I never went to the old TV star’s restaurant. It was too touristy for me and, frankly, what money I had during that time wasn’t going to red sauce Italian tourist traps, as there were so many other ways to spend my money. Still, I saw the real deal in action every day during my time in Sullivan Street.

Having a personal connection with the time & place made me hyper critical of the atmospheric details and Bourdain came through with just enough reality to make it credible. This, of course, made me wonder about the credibility of the previous three novels. How much do I know about Salem, Imperial Rome and the Amarna period of ancient Egypt? Some, but perhaps not enough to judge the credulity of the fictional stories…

“I Am Livia” by Phyllis T. Smith was very convincing. I enjoyed the details of every day life among the Roman upper crust and the amazing political machinations. They rang true, but I don’t know if it was the author’s skill as a storyteller or her research that resulted in an exceptional read. Maybe it was both?

Robert Walker’s “Children of Salam” was a good read and he made a convincing case for the economic motivations of the witch trials. Still, my favorite theory about this historical phenomenon involves ergot — the hallucinogenic derived from a mold that grows in rye flour — and that was not part of his plot. I kept hoping it would show up.

Having researched the Amarna period for a novel (it will not see the light of day) a while back, I was less convinced by “Kiya: Home of the Pharaoh” — although a enjoyed reading the book and may go on to the next in the series.

I’m now wondering how much weight to put on credibility and the significance of background/atmospheric details. What do you think?



  1. Thanks for letting me know about Children of Salem – I’m always looking for good books on the witch trials. The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent is another good one – it doesn’t go into reasons so much as just detail life during that period.

    • Candy Korman

      I will check out The Heretic’s Daughter. I have mixed feelings about The Children of Salem. It kept me entertained on the plane, but it’s very repetitive and didn’t need to be. Oh, well… I love that subject too!

  2. It can be a tough call. Depending how much research you do when preparing, you can run the risk of becoming an info dump.

    For mich of what I write, I pull from the worlds I create. And even then I find there are times when I am info dumping instead of keeping the reader inside the world itself.

    Sometimes this is an aside to the reader for conspiratorial humor. And other times it is what can be considered pertinant information.

    It ends up as a delicate balance to find out how much is just enough.

    • Candy Korman

      YES… the risk is turning a story into a “info dump” of historical or atmospheric details.
      I can’t tell you how often I’ve read those and, unfortunately, how much historical detail I had to cut from various projects when I saw where it was heading. Sometimes too much is just too much!

  3. I’m not a huge fan of memoirs but I recently read one because it was about my local area. There were mentions made of the place where I grew up, and lots of detail about life on the land back in the early 1920’s. It was a real eye-opener, and thoroughly enjoyable so I can empathize with the connection to your ‘hood’. 😀

    • Candy Korman

      When the details are right — they’re right.
      I’ve read entirely too many book set in NYC that were written from people having seen movies set here. Terrible!

      I think that a credible background enables the author to tell any kind of story in the setting — science fiction, paranormal, anything if the stuff that makes the atmosphere rings true. The trick is, after all your research, how little of it needs to be on the page. LOL!