Source Materials

Image by Sapphir3blu3, used under Creative CommonsI was pondering some of the books I’ve read recently, and wondered about something: do you notice if there are source materials or reference books mentioned in the back of your romance novels, in what I believe is called the “end matter?” Sometimes, I’ve seen author’s notes about books that rocked the author’s world during writing, or additional sources for more information about real people who appeared as characters in novels, and I always find that to be very cool. I have looked those books up online and peeked at them.

But I wondered if there were readers who didn’t like (or never really noticed) source materials or works cited in a fictional novel, and whether they had defined feelings against the practice. I personally am pretty nosy and if a book really grabs me, I love to learn more. I’ve Googled all manner of things after finishing a book, from skiing lessons (Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis) to language instruction (Twelve Nights of Christmas by Sarah Morgan). However, I’m definitely not the only type of romance reader out there.

With the relative ease of adding material to digital books (and by “ease” I mean not facing additional costs of adding more paper to the finished product), would you want to see more source material, references, or suggestions for further reading at the end of a book? I don’t necessarily think every book demands a reference or cited section, but I’m curious – would that be something which would grab your interest?

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Milena says:

    Oh, yes, I love source materials! Particularly if they pertain to something I don’t know much about, they’re a great addition to the novel. And nowadays, links—not to wikipedia or google, but to dedicated sites and/or forums, for instance—would be a great thing to see.

    Spamword: probably25. Well, thank you very much!

  2. 2
    Suzannah says:

    I voted “Meh”, but there are some books where I think notes can be useful, and particularly in historical romance where readers might not know much about a particular period, and might wonder about certain plot points.  It happened to me on the weekend when I was pretty sure that a legal issue in a historical romance I was reading wasn’t actually an issue at the time.  The author did address it a bit in a note at the end (although by that time I’d spent the whole book wondering about it, so maybe it shouldn’t be an end note but a front note (that may not be an actual term ;-) ).  I’m less keen on suggestions for further reading.  This is because every second line of my credit card statement already says “amazon Kindle download” so I don’t really want to make it two lines out of every three!

  3. 3
    AgTigress says:

    A question after my own heart! 

    I LOVE to be given references and suggestions for further reading, especially in the case of historical settings.  A couple of fine examples spring to mind:  one of Sharyn McCrumb’s novels (can’t remember the title!)  has a lot of intriguing source material cited for the Appalachian history and background, while Rita Mae Brown’s High Hearts (1986) has a wealth of information in the endmatter about known cases of women masquerading as men during the American Civil War.  Without those sources, it would be easy to perceive that fictional tale as pure fantasy (‘surely there can’t have been any female soldiers in the American Civil War?!’):  with them, one is informed not only about that conflict, but also about the many other historical examples of women who passed as men throughout their lives, at different times and places in history, in order to be able to follow professions and lifestyles that were closed to females.

    Learning new things is fun, not some miserable chore.  And anyway, the endnotes/sources are optional reading.  If you prefer the story ungarnished, then nobody is forcing you to refer to them.  But if they are not there, you have no choice.  These days the internet makes it easier to follow up points of interest than it used to be, but to be given specific references is terrific.  While on the subject, I think novels should have indexes, too.  How often have you wanted to look up a particular scene or dialogue in a novel and been unable to find it?

    :-D

  4. 4
    AgTigress says:

    maybe it shouldn’t be an end note but a front note (that may not be an actual term ;-)

    A footnote?  ;-)  Many people find footnotes visually off-putting, though I don’t — they are more convenient than endnotes as long as they are brief.  I always look at the end of a book before I buy it anyway, so I would be aware if there is an afterword or series of references at the end before I start reading.  However, if there is an historical point that has a major impact on the plot, and which is perhaps fairly complex to explain, I think it is best dealt with in a foreword or introduction.

  5. 5
    AgTigress says:

    I’d be interested to hear the arguments of those who really dislike the idea of having additional factual information cited.

  6. 6
    Suzannah says:

    I think I meant foreword ;-)  I agree that footnotes don’t really belong in romanceland, although I remember reading right through Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (I think) a few years ago, puzzling over the dialect and even asking a friend from the area what certain words meant, only to find a glossary at the end.  That was a d’oh! moment.  I never look at the end of books before I buy, in case I see the end and it’s not a surprise any more.

  7. 7
    Kilian says:

    I enjoy any little extra that the author chooses to give me. My favorite genre is historical fiction, so those author notes are leading me on to more good reading. One of these days, I’ll understand the Wars of the Roses, and it will all be due to historical fiction set during that time of unrest. Thank you, Margaret Frazer!

  8. 8
    LG says:

    I like them. I may not necessarily go out and read the books listed, but I still like to see them. I think Deanne Gist had a note like that at the end of The Measure of a Lady, and the great part about it was that it confirmed that the sign the book started with actually existed.

    I think I’ve seen these kinds of notes more often in historicals, but I don’t think I’d be put off if I saw them in contemporaries. The way I figure it, if I didn’t want to know what the author had looked at as part of doing research for the book, I could just not read this last bit. It’s not like it’s necessary to read these, just like no one has to read reading group guides or excerpts for future books when they’re included at the end of a book.

    So far, I haven’t read an e-book with this kind of info at the end. I might feel differently about it in that case, especially if it’s long enough that I think I’ve got a lengthier book on my hands, and suddenly it’s all over and I’ve still got 10 or 20 pages of info about the author’s research. Maybe if there was a table of contents, with the source materials bit at the end clearly listed, at least if the source materials part is longer than a page or two?

  9. 9

    Personally, I don’t really like end notes.  That comes from my own belief that all authors create their world. It may borrow pieces from a historical period while other pieces spring from the writer’s imagination.  But then, my stories – like me – are a little bit different and a lot over the top.

    If a writer is selling a work of fiction as historically accurate and wants to include end notes, I don’t think the end of the ebook is the place for them for a bunch of reasons. One of those is that I think readers prefer ebooks that are a little shorter.  Another has to do with issues of legibility. 

    If a writer wants to include end notes, I’d suggest a one sentence note at the end giving the author’s website.  It would provide the material for readers who want to peruse it.  It would also allow the author to link to sourcebooks, sites, etc.  As a side benefit, it might interest readers in more of the writer’s work.  I think that would be all good.

  10. 10
    Kerry Allen says:

    I avoid books with “Look at all the research I did!” sections because every book that ever made me feel as if I were sitting in a classroom being lectured on a subject that had no bearing upon my understanding or enjoyment of the story contained such a section. To me, that bibliography is a red flag that portions of the story will read like a textbook. I love learning as much as the next person who loves learning, but I’m less keen on being yanked out of a story every five pages for a research-dump.

    When I read fiction, I’m not interested in what really happened, or even what is likely to have happened. I want the extraordinary, when events didn’t unfold in the expected, predictable way and everything went to hell. That’s the basic principle of storytelling, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want an author to prove to me a story is realistic; I want her to write a story that makes the implausible feel believable.

    My dislike of end matter has nothing to do with seeking to deprive anyone who enjoys it. It simply means something entirely different to me than it does to that very different type of reader.

  11. 11
    Chelsea says:

    Being a huge geek I absolutely will look up any topic that a book makes be curious about, so I’m all for references.

    Back in high school I read Shannon Drake’s series set in medieval Scotland, and I recall she had a timeline of real life events and some source references as well. I ended up doing a presentation on William Wallace for European History, and her source material was a nice jumping point.

  12. 12
    Las says:

    I’d love that! I really enjoy classic Susan Johnson novels for her pages and pages of endnotes. She let us in on all the cool facts she found during her research without weighing down the actual story, unlike a certain author *coughcoughDianaGabaldoncoughcough* who’s books I find unreadable because she finds her research so fascinating that she wants it front and center in the middle of the story instead of in endnotes where they belong.

  13. 13
    Bri says:

    I’ve never noticed them.  For a ‘regular’ romance, I dont really care.  I wouldn’t mind them for some of the historicals or the ones were real people are invplved in some way, but that is the history geek / history teacher in me coming out.

  14. 14
    Carin says:

    I answered “meh” because I can probably look up anything I’m really curious about on my own.  Also, I do NOT want to pay extra for end notes.  If excperts from an upcoming book can be called “bonus material” I don’t konw what actual bonus information would be called or priced at!

  15. 15
    DS says:

    I do not like ebooks that are shorter.  In fact I generally check the number of pages or file size (although that can be deceptive) before buying because I don’t bother with novellas being sold as novels. 

    I do think that end matter adds to my enjoyment of a book.  As for referring to the net- how many times have you clicked on an intriguing link only to get a 404 error?  Few things are more annoying.

    One of the great things about digital books is the ability to include all sorts of things without increasing costs, as mentioned above, but it could allow different versions of the book at the same price—one without the end matter/footnotes and one with.  Interesting to see which one sells better.

    spamword:  money69—oh what is my money doing when I am not looking?

  16. 16
    Donna says:

    To me, that bibliography is a red flag that portions of the story will read like a textbook

    I’ve found the opposite to be true. I, too,loved Susan Johnson’s footnotes for that reason, and I never find her textbook like. If it’s something I don’t care about or already know, well, Putting the background or source material in the back allows the story to move and it’s up to you if you want the deeper info right then or later.  It’s not like someone’s standing there with a gun making me review the source material.

  17. 17
    AgTigress says:

    I can tell you that British readers would sometimes benefit from notes and dialect glossaries for contemporaries set in the USA! 

    I would never buy any book without looking at the end, and if it’s fiction, I mean the end of the story, as well as any endmatter. (For non-fiction, my initial assessment includes the bibliography and index).  My way of assessing whether I want to read a novel is to read a couple of pages at the beginning, at a random point somewhere in the middle, and the last page or two.  I know this is a no-no for many people, but it is second nature to me.  I already know what happens in the many favourite novels I re-read frequently:  no surprises.  But I still want to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

  18. 18
    AgTigress says:

    @Donna:  I agree with you most emphatically.  The inclusion of sources is far more likely to indicate a good writer than a poor one.  One of the novels I mentioned, Rita Mae Brown’s High Hearts, is not in the least like a bad textbook, dry and dull;  it is compelling, colourful, emotional reading.  But it gives one, as a bonus, a lot of the author’s background research, adding (to my mind) extra impact to her story.

    Actually, a good, well written textbook should not be heavy going in any case, but that is a separate issue.  Whether a particular subject interests a given reader is absolutely personal;  for example, nothing could make me interested in the workings of modern firearms, or how to drive a boat.  But it is possible to write in detail and informatively about almost anything in such a way that a reader who does have a passing interest in it will find it fascinating.  Facts do not in themselves ever undermine clarity or vividness of style, any more than imagination and fantasy can guarantee that a text will be enjoyable reading.  I have waded painfully through certain fantasy novels (naming no names) which I found much, much, much more boring than reading about the evolution of Roman viticulture — and in French, so I couldn’t even read it fast.

  19. 19
    Diana says:

    Mmmm, yes please on the sources and suggestions for further readings. I devour these things. I read more historical than contemporary fiction, so mostly (especially) if an author had not added a works cited, I’m off on my own, googling phrases, picking up books that has to do with the time period, basically doing these things on my own, no matter the detail. It can be just a word that I didn’t know about, then suddenly, I’m on this research binge! I call it research and it may seem tedious to some, but I crave for it … the more I fall in love with a world that an author created, the more I want more information about it. But even in contemporaries, I find myself doing this as well. If I don’t know about a certain plot line or if it’s a new locale to me, the least I do is Google it. I haven’t encountered a lot of books with this at the end, but I’m definitely one of those readers who would cherish it and definitely find it useful! :)

  20. 20
    Chicklet says:

    I love bibliographies and end notes! It doesn’t matter if it’s in a fiction or a nonfiction book—I always want information. Actually, I’m not really in a mood to read romances these days, so I’m reading a bunch of nonfiction books from my TBR pile, and the next novel I read is going to be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre (I need to move away from crime novels, having just glommed the entire Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford). A well-written book will not be dull or boring, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

  21. 21
    Jen B. says:

    I love to find out about source materials, authors muses, great moments of inspiration and writing history.  I will admit to checking out locations and reference items online.  I have even picked up a couple of books that way.  The one thing I avoid is history books.  I have tried and tried and tried…you get the picture, to read historical texts and I just can’t.  Although, if I ever have insomnia they are the perfect cure!

  22. 22
    StacieH4 says:

    Two things: 
    1) I do NOT want to pay extra for bonus information
    2) I want the Table of Contents to show it so I know my story will be ending before the page numbers run out.

  23. 23
    JanLo says:

    I love it. Especially the end notes and additional information given by Diana Gabaldon. She had enough extra to write the Outlandish Companion. The factual references just enrich the stories. You never feel like you’re in the midst of a history lesson, but are woven into the lives and times of the characters. That’s IMHO how research should be presented in fiction. Love getting the extras.

  24. 24
    cleo says:

    I love this stuff – I’m a geek and an artist and I like learning about an author’s research and creative process.  Too me, a good author’s note at the end, like a good preface, gives me a glimpse into the workings of the author’s mind and a (perhaps misleading) sense that I know something about them.  I think Eloisa James writes excellent notes at the end of her novels – about her research and her inspiration for the story.  I also love Charles DeLint’s forewords where he mentions what music he was listening to while writing the book.  Again, nice glimpse into his process.

    With historical fiction, I like knowing something about what is historically accurate and what comes from the author’s imagination.  I just finished Maid to Match by Deanne Gist and I enjoyed her Author’s Note about the setting of the story (the Vanderbilt estate in North Carolina in 1898). 

    I’m not much for assigned readings – I don’t think I’ve ever actually read a book mentioned in a foreword or afterword, but I usually enjoy reading about them.  On the con side, sometimes I’ll put off reading the end matter after finishing a particularly good novel because I don’t want to break the spell of the book and reading about research and process will take me out of my happy place.

  25. 25
    Diva says:

    I’m always impressed by the depth of work and study that goes into a successful novel, romance or otherwise, and I think it’s fantastic when a list of resources is provided to let me extend the experience as a reader if I want to. Plus it gives my nosy little self insight into how the author saw her/his projects based on what they researched and what they compared it to.

    I just read Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander (NOT romance…middle grade adventure, btw) and in her afterword she mentioned that beneath all the whimsy and world building, she viewed it as the story of a child entering enemy territory to rescue a prisoner of war. I found that so intriguing that it reframed the whole way I viewed the story after reading it.

  26. 26
    Lyssa says:

    I think a list of sources at the end of a fiction book is always good. After all, one of the things happening these days is an effort to move romance from the dark arena of lit.

  27. 27
    henofthewoods says:

    I like to see end materials because I feel like the author was excited over what they learned to write the book. I like playlists even though I have not yet gotten the music that the author was listening to – it just is an extra way to share the mood that inspired the book. I do look up things when I read the news but rarely during fiction, I don’t want to interrupt the flow.
    I wish that footnotes worked better in ePub/Stanza – there are footnotes with the frontispiece to some of the chapters of Kiss of Snow, but you can’t navigate back and forth well with them, so they just sit at the end of the text, abandoned. I don’t want to lose the flow of the book to flip through searching for one or two lines of information. (I read another book with flawed footnotes recently, the type that should say in which book a particular event occurred. Instead – no info. I think that is the Lori Handeland that was part of the Rita Reader Challenge.)

  28. 28
    Kilian says:

    Jen B wrote:

    The one thing I avoid is history books.  I have tried and tried and tried…you get the picture, to read historical texts and I just can’t.  Although, if I ever have insomnia they are the perfect cure!

    They’re not all dull. Try some Barbara Tuchman. The Guns of August is a gateway drug to her work that shows the buildup to WWI, or The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, telling the story of Australia’s founding and use as a penal colony. If you are into the Tudors, you will find that Alison Weir is very readable, especially her Henry VIII: The King and His Court.

    Straight history doesn’t have to be dull, it just usually is, unfortunately.

  29. 29
    KiriD79 says:

    I am going to reveal my geekdom here.  Both my hubby and I love when writes give sources and such.  We will sit down and read through like a contest to see who has read/see/heard more.  Our favorite was when we bought the Pathfinder Role Playing Core Book. (Think Dungeons and Dragons)  It has 2 or 3 pages of books, music, movies and such as inspiration for both their work and things you can use to inspire your stories.  Plus there were quite a few things on the list that Hubby and I are searching out.  If Pathfinder had not put that list we might have have heard of some of those books, etc.

  30. 30
    Kristen A. says:

    In historical anything (fiction, romance, mystery, whatever), I enjoy an author’s note that will tell me where I can read more about any real people or events in the story, or who inspired bits of the story. It assures me that the author is not just making stuff up. Well, of course the author is making stuff up, but I’ll know she’s making it up with some respect for history. Even if the author is altering some facts (not just filling in gaps but actually contradicting the recorded truth), I’ll feel a lot better if there’s a note that says “I changed this to suit the narrative, you can read about what really happened here” than if she’s messing with history and not mentioning it.

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