(Blog Post for Tracy Cooper-Posey)
One of the odd facts about writing that the Internet has made more convenient for writers, and at the same time a more open fact for readers, is that writers use “beta readers” – readers who love the genre but have no intentions of ever becoming writers themselves, who agree to read a writer’s work before it goes before an editor. A beta reader provides essential early feedback to an author, and lets them know that they’re on the right track. Often, the writer is just looking for reassurance that the book they’ve just written doesn’t totally suck. J. Sometimes they’re looking for more subtle information about characters, story turns and surprises: “Did that come as a genuine surprise for you? Did I cover it up enough?” and so forth.
I don’t always use beta readers, usually because they’re so damned hard to find, which may come as a shock to most readers reading this. But authors are constantly looking for volunteer beta readers and there’s never enough to go around.
However, I’m getting past the point I wanted to make (that’s me, Aussie loud mouth).
I do reach out to beta readers when I’m writing a story that is unusual or outside my normal genre, and in the case of Ningaloo Nights, I absolutely knew I had to use a beta reader to bounce off, because I had to make sure that all the Australianisms didn’t leave the mostly North American readers scratching their heads and going “huh?” I’ve been having running arguments with the line editors for years over certain words and phrases that “aren’t real words,” that were real enough where I came from, but had to go because the line editors didn’t understand them. But in this case, because the book was very deliberately about Australia, and featuring Australians in their native element, I needed to make sure it was still comprehensible to non-Australians.
But the single question that came back from the readers had nothing to do with grammar. They all loved the book, understood everything in it and wanted to instantly pack for an extended vacation in the outback, preferably with a guide that looked a lot like Mason Hayward, the hero in Ningaloo Nights.
The single question I got back, though, was a puzzled and politely phrased disbelief. “You don’t really have to be that careful about travelling around the countryside out there, do you? Surely it’s not that dangerous anymore? You just tweaked it a bit for the story, right?”
In the story, Mason takes great pains to conserve water, as they have to cart all their own water to and from Derremawan. They also have to travel during the cooler parts of the day and into the night because it’s simply so hot that petrol will simply evaporate before it reaches the engine block. But they can’t travel completely at night because they’ll miss the tracks that others have left in the dirt, that are the only markings that show the way to Derramawan, the remote location where Sherry, the heroine, needs to reach to find her missing sister. Then there’s other precautions that include staying out of the sun to avoid sunstroke…and more that I can’t explain here without spoiling the story.
These are all valid and still viable safety precautions that every Australian traveller understands and uses in the more remote areas even today. I learned them as a kid, when I was travelling with my parents — right around the Ningaloo area where Ningaloo Nights is set. The fact is that the Australian country looks flat, dry and pretty uninteresting when you look at it in the hottest months of the year. Nothing moves but the heat hazes, and the odd snake. There’s not even any crocodiles in the west. Too hot, too dry.
Yet Ningaloo and the reef is some of the most spectacular and still mostly untouched territory in the world. It’s virtually unspoiled and very few people seem to have heard of it, yet. It’s like the world’s best kept secret. Plug “Ningaloo Reef” into Google Images, and brace yourself. It’s amazing.
But the land there can kill you in a dozen different ways if you don’t know what you’re doing out there.
So yes, I had to assure the beta reader that I really wasn’t exaggerating any of this for the sake of a good dramatic read. This stuff is still real and deadly, even today.
As an extra tidbit I wanted to share:
Ningaloo Nights won the RomantiCon 2009 Superstar Award for “The Most Erotic Use of a Chocolate Chip Cookie.”
Isn’t that great? If you have anything you’d like to ask Tracy please do so. I want to thank Tracy for taking the time to visit My Book Addiction.
*One lucky commenter will win a copy of NINGALOO NIGHTS from Tracy. So be sure to comment for your chance to win. You need to come back to see if you win, and to make sure you tell me the format you’d like to recieve the book in.Good Luck!*