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Getting it right while reading

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I’ve spoken before about professions – like woodworking – being described in the popular media, and how they usually get it wrong. I read another book recently that got it right.

Doctors, cops, scientists and every other profession you can think of – yes, even us woodworkers – pop up in books, movies and TV shows from time to time. Invariably real doctors, cops, scientists and woodworkers cringe at the incorrect representations. Not maliciously incorrect (usually), but rather reshaped to what the reader or viewer expects rather than going with a 100-percent true representation.

Bestselling mystery novelist John Sandford has a new entry in his “Prey” series of novels about Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport called “Storm Prey.” In the process of running down a lead in his current case, Davenport visits a man who turns out to be a woodworker. He’s in his converted-garage woodshop turning a bowl on the lathe, in fact, when Davenport goes to see him.

The scene in the book isn’t lengthy, but Sandford adds nice details that ring true – how the guy’s wife flashes a small light to let him know she’s coming in the shop so as not to startle him while he’s on the lathe, his eye and ear protection, the lathe chisel, the smell of the shop – that sort of thing. Not a lot, but enough to show that Sandford did his homework. The scene played very believably as a result.

I once interviewed a Minnesota woodworker who had built a library-style work desk for Sandford on commission. I may be wrong, but it’s a good guess that in addition to getting some excellent custom-made furniture, Sandford also got himself a good source of information to realistically and accurately describe the atmosphere and feel of a real woodshop.

For most fiction writers, it’s enough to just describe that a woodshop has sawdust in it, on the assumption that the one small detail – a common one that readers might expect – is enough and be done with it there. But those are lazy writers and Sandford is not one of those. No matter who Lucas Davenport visits in his crime-solving pursuits, you can bet Sandford has spoken to the real thing for the sole purpose of getting the details right.

Maybe that’s why Sandford is a bestselling author in the first place.

Till next time,


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