Part of my story takes place at a campground in Mt. Rainier. I’ve never been to Mt. Rainier National Park or indeed know anything about the park at all. So of course I began by doing research. Getting things wrong distracts the reader. And a distracted reader is a disengaged reader.
It’s a strange phenomenon, but a reader might be willing to suspend disbelief and accept that starships travel faster than the speed of light, that a character can go back in time, or that people can die and be reanimated as zombies. But in order for the reader to do that, there are some essential things in a story that have to be true. So, for instance, if the author puts Des Moines within walking distance of the Everglades, then it may be more than a reader is prepared to put up with.
The National Park Service does deserve a shout-out for their responsiveness. The ranger confirmed for me that deer live in that section of the park, that there are no black-capped chickadees but there are mountain chickadees and juncos, and which firefighting agencies fight fires in that section of the park. There are no bird-watchers in my novel, but birds are important to the story. Having black-capped chickadees where none can be found would be, to me, a problem. On its face, it’s a very minute detail, but someone who hikes the park or who knows about birds might know that it’s wrong. And I’d know that I hadn’t checked.
Next question is whether there is cell phone service in that section of the park.