Saturday, May 31, 2008
Rain and a writer's dilemma
It's raining today. One of those sudden summer thunderstorms that sweep dramatically through and leave the air feeling moist and warm and promising. The kind of storm that makes you want to put on your old raincoat and stand outside, catching raindrops on your tongue, and leaves the garden all fresh and dripping.
Anyway, here's my dilemma. I'm working hard on my novel, not writing as much as stewing over it. I'm hoping maybe you can help me. I'm trying to decide how authentic the setting should be. It's a fantasy, so I can make it whatever I want, but the question is... how much like real life should it be, and how much crediblity will I lose if I take liberties? Or am I just obsessing over details that no one will notice anyway?
Here's what I mean... I have set the story in the distant past, somewhat like Tolkein's Middle-Earth, so that it is pre-industrial with an idealized feudal system in place. The location is what I personally have dubbed the "Scotch-Coloradan Alps," a mountainous region combining elements of the Scottish Highlands, the Rocky Mountains and the German Alps. Here's the tough part. If my race of people, the Hanorja, live in this area and do not have trade with people from other parts of the world, then all of their clothing and foodstuffs would have to be indigenous. There would be no cotton, linen or silk; everything would have to be made of wool. It makes me itch just thinking about it! There would be no tea, no coffee, no ginger for gingerbread, no lemons or oranges, no sugar and no corn. They wouldn't have Mediterranean fruits like figs, dates or olives. They would not get enough hot weather to grow grapes for wine. There would be no tobacco, either.
They would be restricted to the dreaded British diet: meat, potatoes, vegetables, herbs, tree-fruits like apples and cherries, berries, cider, bread, nuts and honey. And since I have decided not to allow them to kill animals, their diet would be further limited to fish or fowl. They would also not be able to tan leather for saddles, boots, waterskins or anything else, nor use furs to keep themselves warm. I may have to rethink that decision!
My question is, if you were reading a story set in such a place and read that they had gingerbread with their tea, would you stop and say "Hey, wait a minute, where did the tea come from? And the ginger?" Or would you just accept it without thinking that deeply about it?