Not So Pumped

I love my book club. I love the other women who make up our group, and I love the variety of books we read. Sometimes we read some big winners. Sometimes we read some big duds. Sometimes we read something in between, like our current book.

Later this month, my book club will gather to critique Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger. Krueger is a local author known for his tales of suspense and the recurring character of Cork O’Connor. In Northwest Angle, Krueger takes O’Connor to an adventure on Lake of the Woods, a large body of water bordering Minnesota and Canada. As its name implies, the area is very “woodsy”–a great place to escape from all civilization and to experience unblemished nature.

My Coleman camp stove has two fuel options: “pumpable” liquid and “nonpumpable” propane.

So it makes sense that the likes of a Coleman® camp stove would make its way into the story. After a devastating storm, one of the main characters happens upon a cabin stocked with food and equipment, including a Coleman. Early on (page 35), she uses the stove to heat some water… and, unfortunately, that’s where I get hung up on the whole credibility of the book.

The scene reads, “She lifted the Ball jar, unscrewed the lid, and pulled a kitchen match from the supply inside. She pumped propane into the Coleman stove, something she’d done a zillion times with her father on camping trips…”

I put the book down. I couldn’t read any further. Pump propane? That’s not how my Coleman stove works!

My husband and I have gone round and round over this in recent hours. Is “pump” really the right word in regard to using propane? Is propane ever pumped? Or perhaps the author got his fuels confused. Did he actually mean liquid versus gas? I’m stuck! What really happened with that blasted stove?

What really happened? I realize that Northwest Angle is purely fiction, but before I encountered this stove issue, the story was real to me. I enjoyed the characters. I was intrigued by the plot. I think it just goes to show that even the smallest questionable detail can remind readers that they’re being taken for a ride, and the magic is lost.

Are you the kind of writer who acknowledges the importance of fact checking, or do you dismiss it as a painstaking step unnecessary to your “art”? Whatever your approach, remember that your readers will notice.


WRITING PROMPT 1: Have you ever encountered a questionable detail or error in a book you’ve read? What was it, and why did you stumble?

WRITING PROMPT 2: Pick a piece of equipment (a stove, car, bicycle, drill, clock, etc.). Research the details behind how it works, then write about it.

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6 thoughts on “Not So Pumped

  1. Sarah says:

    Hi, Barb! I love reading the things you write! This one was good timing for me – since we are going camping this weekend. Of course, I have no idea how a camp stove works and what runs on propane vs. other fuel sources – but I’m glad to hear you do :-).

  2. Jerri L Yager says:

    I once made a mistake in a short story I was writing by mentioning the use of galvanized pipe in a discarded still. My dad was quick to point out that stills are made of copper and that moonshine made in galvanized anything would kill the drinker. Don’t ask how my dad knows these things. Those little bits of trivia can definitely be story stoppers.

  3. Peter DeHaan says:

    In a teen fiction book I once read, the author had a Whip-poor-will whistling “Bob-white.” (To non-nature lovers, they are two different birds with distinctly different calls.) Though I did finish reading the book, I essentially dismissed it at that point.

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