Friday, May 11, 2012

What the Experts Say: Catherine Astolfo on Background Playing

Catherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries, published by Imajin Books.  Her novels have been optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc. Catherine is a Past President of Crime Writers of Canada and a member of Sisters in Crime Toronto.

Background Playing

There’s an old adage that says, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Most authors of fiction would probably agree that we can’t get all the research right every time. Often the situation just calls out for a manipulation of the facts. However, the background information provided in a novel is often fascinating, if not entirely accurate to the last drop.
We are all familiar with the detective story, police officer or private detective variety.  Think of how much we’ve learned about processing a crime scene because we’ve read these books. Doesn’t mean we could conduct one, but still… Other writers opened the world of forensic pathology , autopsies and morgues with the result that many shows on the subjects turned up in television.
Fiction covers the gamut: law, medicine, education, government…name the field and there is more than likely a novel that has, in its background, some details about that world that are new to you.
           The background playing is often part of the fun, the fascination, and the transportation of reading. By transportation, I mean getting carried away into another realm, one that was probably —and will likely continue to be—unfamiliar, but interesting. You can virtually learn something from every single book.
           In fact, the new plans from that big computer software company that we all know, are to introduce electronic books for schools. The “e” texts would include features whereby students can click on a name and find the entire history of that person. Currently, our ereaders give us definitions of words and other links that we can pursue for information. More services and tools are being offered all the time. What a huge education all in one little story/textbook!
Even in the “simplest”of novels, the background information is important. By simple, I mean they’re not necessarily focused on a field of work. They’re not primarily detective or legal or medical fiction, but tell a tale about rather ordinary folk. In my first book, The Bridgeman, I portrayed an old-fashioned lift bridge and the person who managed it.
My protagonist throughout the series (the Emily Taylor Mysteries) is a school principal in a small town. When the bridgeman is murdered in the school, I have to explain about how the education system would handle such a thing. Then there is the puppy mill: for this section, as difficult as it was, I wrote about the experiences of my niece as a veterinarian’s assistant. In Victim, I did a lot of reading about Ojibwa folklore—and shared that with my readers. Legacy (number three) returns to the school and its processes, plus there are tidbits about the effects of fire, inquests, and hypnosis. My fourth book, Seventh Fire, discusses a wrongful conviction and how these tragic mistakes often come about. My books are mysteries, but they still teach.
Although the stories are fiction, and some of the facts may not be one percent accurate, there is enough background information to give the reader a more in-depth picture of the setting, the characters, and how the plot plays out. It may even lead a reader to investigate the topic further. Just like an “e” text.

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