Checking facts, with a little help from my friends

Here's something I did to check my facts in The Pericles Commission: I cold called a professor of classical archaeology, one who specializes in 5th century Greece and Persia!

The basic idea should work for anyone. For anything from theoretical physics to the sex life of the lesser spotted boll weevil, there's an expert out there, and if you're very lucky, they'll be as kind as Professor Margaret Miller was to me.

Margaret not only answered my questions with the greatest patience and attention to detail, but she very kindly offered to read the entire ms. Which was generous beyond measure since she had her own academic book to write at the same time.

As she read, I lived in daily fear of an email saying something like, "Gary, you idiot, character X was definitely dead in 461BC." Or, "That building didn't exist then." Or, "Didn't you read Obscure Reference Z which proves your entire premise is wrong?"

Incredibly, I survived her check. (mostly)

Margaret did point out a number of errors and improvements, almost all of which involved clothes and furniture. You have Margaret to thank for the characters wearing correct clothing, and the description of Pericles' home office.

Any errors which remain in The Pericles Commission are all my fault, and I wish you joy of finding them.

An odd postscript to this: months later I was doing research for the second book, on relations between Athens and Persia, when I came across an interesting reference. I started to read. The book I’d found was very useful stuff. Wow! Who wrote this? I checked the cover, and it said, Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC, by Margaret Miller.

Thank you Margaret!


ggray said...

Wow! What a wonderful testimonial to the generosity of experts and your guts. When I was a photjournalist, I interviewed local experts all the time. But I'm more nervous now that I'm writing fiction, but now you give me confidence. I'm writing a book where one of the characters is a qunatum physicist and I found an expert I wanted to contact just for pointers in layman terms but have procrastinated. You give me the courage to contact him and see what happens. Great revelation here.

Susan at Stony River said...

Congratulations on finding Margaret; she sounds like a treasure.

It does make sense that professors would help an author out if they had time -- they must have a passion for the subject after all, or they probably wouldn't be teaching it.

Amalia Dillin said...

Ahaha! Awesome that you found yourself reading her book later. Did you tell her? I bet she would have gotten a kick out of that!

One of my favorite professors from college specializes in early christian Byzantium, and he's got a lot of great connections in the classics world, so I emailed him for help when I started writing Helen and got a bunch of book suggestions. I was also lucky enough that my sister put me in touch with a native Icelandic speaker for my translation needs. So far I have not needed to cold call! But I might yet, especially for the bronze age Norse stuff, if I get much deeper into it.

I think that I'd be quaking the same way you were. I live in fear of my professor asking to read my book, honestly.

Stephanie Thornton said...

That is so cool!

How much of your MS did you send her? I have a couple things I can't find specific answers on for Hatshepsut. They're small (details on palaces that haven't survived into the archaeological record), but I'd like to have them correct. I have met a couple Egyptologists a few years back, but I never thought of cold-calling them.

Tahereh said...

wow. what a small world!! love these kinds of stories. thanks so much for sharing, and best of luck with all of your work!!

Gary Corby said...

Hello Tahereh, welcome to the blog!

Gail, no need to be nervous, the worst they can do is say no (or more likely, ignore you). Anyone brave enough to query their ms has the courage to ask an expert.

Susan, I've found that people in classics are almost uniformly friendly, helpful and interested. In fact, I've got to say the writer community + the classics people is one big happy family to me. It's a pleasure to be here!

Amalia, there was a talk at the last Bouchercon which you would have loved: on translating. I was very fortunate to meet the husband & wife team Steven Murray and Tiina Nunnally. They're both professional translators into and out of the Scandinavian languages. Steven is the translator of all Stieg Larsson's work.

(I also met the French translator Robert Pepin, who made sure I'll be known forever after to everyone in the room as "That Australian Guy").

Stephanie, Margaret read the entire thing, cover to cover! I can't begin to express my gratitude for that. It was unbelievably helpful in calming my fear that I'd made a bad mistake somewhere.

The most amazing part is there's a scene where Nico wanders around the agora, effectively a guided tour. I'm proud to say Margaret didn't find a single mistake there! (Which was a very tough problem, because many of the buildings we know in the agora weren't up yet).

Loretta Ross said...

Very cool that you found such a helpful expert! :D

Stephanie, you've piqued my curiousity. What are you trying to find out about Hatshepsut, if you don't mind me asking? Maybe I can help you find your answers. I always did better with the Egyptians and Romans than with the Greeks (sorry, Gary!). If you want, you can email your questions to me at elfstone (at) socket (dot) net. ;)

Merry Monteleone said...

Gary, that is very cool. I swear, the more I visit your blog, the more I want to dig back into history.

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Loretta and Merry! This whole writing thing has been such a cool experience. I've met so many interesting people I would otherwise never have gone near.

Amalia Dillin said...

Gary, I'm totally jealous! You're right, I really would have loved that.

irenesbooks said...

Puts your faith in humanity back ...

Gary Corby said...

Hi Irene and Amalia! Yes, it's great!

Marie R said...

Amazing! I will eventually need to do this for my novel re: Japanese language and culture, and cold-calling is one of my least favorite activities. I nearly have a phobia about it.

Any tips? Or is it just a matter of taking a deep breath and doing it?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Marie,

Take the deep breath. But also, try to contact someone who might be interested in the story you're telling. In your case, I would have thought there'd be lots of people knowledgable about Japanese language and culture. Maybe even look for a Japanese writer?