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Loki and Stitch

It's Monday and that means that a lot of us are grumbly zombies. I'm caffeinating in hopes of assuaging myself of this horrible Monday Rage, but that might take some time. However, my beloved Angela posted this yesterday...

The only way this picture could be more ME is if Loki were wearing a bumblebee or something. Seriously! This is teh awesomesauce.

I feel loved just looking at this picture.

And some Hiddlebliss.

So have a good Monday, dammit.

Dissecting Star Wars

So, yesterday Lou Anders posted a link on his Facebook page to an article by Tor.com contributor Ryan Britt. The article posits that in George Lucas's beloved Star Wars universe, the citizens are illiterate. In the comments of Lou's post, a discussion began about why this might have happened and the various ways other sci-fi/fantasy franchises have included reading, art and culture.

What results from this discussion? My brain will not shut off on this and now, I feel the need to inflict it upon you. So, join me after the jump for some dissection of one of film's greatest fantasy franchises...

*Note: Everything I posit hereafter will be using the six canon Star Wars films. I will not be including the Clone Wars, video games, novels or Christmas Special in my considerations. 

Britt's article is concerned that because we don't see the citizens of the Empire using the written word, they clearly don't know how to use it. Let's think about why the written word is used at all in our culture. You've got 3 main reasons:

-Art/entertainment (books, plays, poetry) -Communication (small scale - letters, emails, texts, social networking) -Information (large scale - newspapers, magazines, encyclopedia, record keeping)

All of these serve as a collective memory. Now, as we've seen in our own history, knowledge is power and those with power use the written word. Teaching a person to read has always been touted as the greatest form of empowerment. However, it has become so much more than that. Look at our text-based culture. Email, texts, Tweets... this blog. It's part of every day life. Our key forms of entertainment start at their roots with words. We rely on and revere the written word so much that we cannot imagine a humanoid culture living without it.

While I see where Britt is coming from, I think there are a few aspects of Lucas's worldbuilding that need to be taken into account. And not all of them are pretty. Believe me, I'd rather walk on my own lips than say anything negative about the original trilogy, but the more I think about this the more holes I see. My inner three year old is screaming as I write this, but in terms of storytelling... Star Wars is terribly flawed.

Iconclast

As we see in D&D and other such fantasy settings, there are multiple cultures that make up the Republic/Empire, but they all speak a common tongue. It cannot be easy to get Tridarians and Wookies to talk with one another. Hutts probably don't mix well with Gungans. Something about the inability to gargle, one presumes. Anyway, if you look at the senate scenes in the prequel films you see that the Republic is made of tons of races. We don't know who made first contact or how these many planets and civilizations came to form their Republic, but we do know that at some point they had to start talking.

Now, in his article Britt laments that most of the communication done in the Star Wars 'verse is video (holograms) or radio. "No one texts!" Britt says. When trying to wrangle a bajillion races--each with its own language, culture, nuances, etc--this actually makes sense. Have you tried texting with a Hutt? He fat-fingers everything and even auto-correct can't help you translate. Fuck that. Seriously, though, I suggest that this lack of written communication might be a necessary tool in Lucas's galaxy. When trying to govern and integrate so many different peoples, it might be easier to adopt an iconographic language that everyone can understand.

While it's necessary, it also robs ALL of those delegations of any semblance of culture. In shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5 you get a definite idea that each world has its own culture, its own literature and music and tradition. In fact, on these two shows, preserving that cultural identity is always key. I know that Narn opera is probably the worst thing you could do to your ears and that even Klingons dig the Bard of Avon.

However, in Star Wars we don't see any such reverence of art or culture. That massive library that the Jedi have compiled seems to house history and science. Did it have digital copies of Jabba's self-published romance novel? Or the scrolls of the Wookies' creation myth? The only hints we get of individual culture come in Episode 1 (the celebration parade between the Nubians and the Gungans, and Amidala's costumes), Episode 3 (the bubble opera thing, the myth of Darth Plagus), and Episode 6 with the Ewoks' reverence of a golden idol. But the Ewoks are treated as primitive teddy bears, so how important can their hokey little religion be? In fact the only religion we see is the Jedi faith and it seems that they are tolerated because they also bring peace. After the fall of the Republic, though, the whole system appears atheistic.

An atheistic society in and of itself isn't a bad thing. The problem is that Lucas erased all of these individual cultures--and the richness therein--more swiftly than the Emperor could have with the Death Star. George Lucas just removed any need for the written word for artistic purposes.

All Alone in the Dark Something else Britt brings up is the lack of news broadcasts. Even in the days before the Empire when Naboo is in a snit with the Trade Federation, you don't see evidence that this is being broadcast to the star system. It almost seems that each planet runs on its own. Each settlement keeps to itself. While this does keep with the Prime Directive that Star Trek made famous, it bodes ill for the Republic/Empire as a whole. Naboo can't get word out about the Trade Federation on any sort of grand scale. There isn't a system-wide outrage over what is happening, so Amidala has fewer avenues to seek help.

This punches a hole into the Emperor's grand plan, however. When Grand Moff Tarkin informs the big wigs on the Death Star that the Senate has been dissolved, he says that fear will keep the systems in line. "Fear of this battle station." Here's the thing... if no one but the Empire's lackeys and a prisoner sentenced to death witnessed the destruction of Alderaan, how are the regional governors supposed to use it as an example? Sure, you can say, "Hey, I haven't heard from Bill on Alderaan in a few days. My spice shipment is late," but that then takes manpower (time, money, fuel etc) to investigate. This plan isn't all that great for the Empire.

If Amidala had access to a large news outlet, could she have staved off the dire situation in the Senate that allowed Palpatine to grab power? Could the Rebellion have swelled at the outrage over Alderaan? Possibly, but would the written word have been the best vehicle for it? Doubtful.

It's one thing for someone to write about the tragedies going on every day in the Middle East, but it's more visceral when you see insurgents attacking with bombs and civilians bleeding from their heads. Telling you about 9/11 would not have the same kind of impact as showing you the destruction of the towers. (And part of that tragedy was based in cultural memory.) So, there's that aspect.

There are other benefits to using video/holographic media over the written word when trying to inform the masses. For one, you try an interplanetary paper route. For another, when able to see a person speaking, you get body language, inflection...things that just don't come across as well with words. I wonder, though, if video communication isn't as prevalent as it is in sci-fi because of 1960's earth life. With television becoming a powerful tool THEN, the writers of our beloved franchises are influenced by the visual and see the gains there. That's where the future is, right? Maybe that's the simple answer.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Firefly... all of them use video messaging. The Star Wars 'verse is the only one that lacks a widely broadcast news organization. Everything in Star Wars is word of mouth.

So we've eliminated art/culture and informative communication as reasons for the written word...but we've also established video communication and an icon-based system for the Galactic Republic/Empire. So, this negates the need for text-based personal communications. Thus, the need for the written word has been eradicated in Star Wars.

This Bothers Me And no, it's not because I'm a writer and love words. It's because I'm a Humanities geek. I love looking through the arts and mythologies of other cultures. I need to see that preserved as part of human history and hate the idea of homogenization. I don't like the idea that after a millenia of starfaring we lose our roots.

You see culture maintained and revered in Star Trek, Babylon 5 and even Firefly. Characters read (actual books!) in all of these television series. The crew of the Enterprise D enjoys watching plays that are--by their own calendars--800 years old! There are celebrations on Babylon 5 to honor the religions of each critter on that station. On Firefly you see not just high art but folk art and dance traditions throughout the smaller planets on the Rim.

Perhaps the difference is that these three franchises are Earth-based. They are projections of our culture, possible futures. Star Wars tells us immediately that this happened somewhere far far away from us. I've never gotten the idea that Tattooine was settled by some guy from Iowa, but I believe that same cornhusker is the Captain of the Federation's flagship. Firefly is able to establish that common culture immediately with the Sino-American influence and the mentions of Earth That Was.

One of the comments on Lou's feed suggested that Star Wars didn't have as much time for worldbuilding and establishing a culture since it is a film series rather than a television series. I think this is, honestly, a weak argument. It's a poor excuse for sub-par storytelling.

Let's do some math. Over the course of six films, Star Wars had 789 minutes with its audience. Star Trek had 3950 minutes with the original series and 9790 with The Next Generation. Babylon 5's five year arc had 4730 minutes. The numbers should say it all, right? Add a common heritage and of course Star Trek and B5 are richer worlds...they had the time.

But let's look at Firefly.

Firefly had 588 minutes with its audience (not including the film Serenity). That world is fertile. Like the Star Trek 'verse and Babylon 5, you can walk around in that setting and play, get your hands dirty and create. You can LIVE there. I'd say you can do the same thing with Star Wars. It's a world that you can describe and feel on a tactile level. Firefly, however, did more with its time than Star Wars in terms of worldbuilding.

And that's what it comes down to.

Time.

You have a limited time with your audience (be it film, television, radio or the written word). You have a finite resource and you must use it wisely and to the best effect. This is where Star Wars fails. For what it is, Star Wars is good. It is a staple of pop culture and one of my favorite geekdoms. It, like anything else, has its flaws. Limitations due to technology, money etc can account for some, but at the end of the day Star Wars is a story. It's a decent story that resonates with us because we can see ourselves in it, we see the familiar.

But... (and I hate that but)... it wasted many opportunities. And thus it falls short of the bar set by other franchises. That's not a bad thing. Just a sad thing.

Things That Make You Go, "WTF?!"

Good morning, folks. I hope your weekend was better than mine. I've got some caffeine and a bit of a rant brewing.

It is, of course, an election year and therefore everyone and their mother is sticking some appendage into their mouth or talking out of their ass.

By now you've probably heard about Republican candidate Todd Akin's outrageous and egregious claim about "legitimate rape" not leading to pregnancy. If you didn't, allow me to inform you. The Missouri nominee for a senate seat said,

"From what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy as a result of rape is] really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist."

Oh, sweethearts and dear ones, I don't know where to start with this one. Okay, that's a bit of a fib, I know exactly where I want to start, but I understand that some of you may not want to get into politics. That's fine. Those of you who do...let's get together after the jump and dive into the cesspool that is Horribly Stupid Soundbytes from Political Figures!

*Possible trigger warning. We will be talking about rape/sexual assault. 

Okay...for one moment let's forget that this is even about abortion. Okay? We're not going to talk about pro-choice/pro-life, ultrasounds, birth control or women's rights. We're going to focus solely on this gem of ignorance brought to us from Mr. Akin.

"Legitimate Rape"  What in the bloody blue blazes of Satan's scrotum constitutes "legitimate rape"? Here's how I understand it: Person A makes an unwanted sexual advance on Person B. Person B makes it known through physical cues or a simple "no" that these advances are unwanted. When Person A presses the issue and forces sexual activity to happen... this equals rape.

I know that our society likes to muddy the waters by taking pages from the Blame the Victim playbook. Rather than educate our youth that rape is wrong, we're telling our girls not to leave the house dressed like sluts. We're conditioning more women who will internalize assault as their fault and therefore be less likely to come forward. It does not help when judges let known rapists go because they feel the women were asking for it. It's true. Click the link and be prepared to calm your gag reflex.

So, is Mr. Akin saying that "legitimate rape" is one where a woman is ushered off the street into a back alley and violated by a stranger? According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), nearly 60% of all reported rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Does Mr. Akin feel that "date rape" is a sketchy area because clearly the woman wanted to be with this man, therefore, she can't possibly have been "legitimately raped"? I'd like to know what the would-be senator feels on this matter, but he hasn't clarified this statement. (Sure, he's walked it back and tried to weasel out of it, but he stayed away from explaining this particular phrase.)

Rape is rape. If Person A is told NO, but continues anyway? Done.

"A Really Rare Thing" Mr. Akin seems to be focusing on the idea that getting pregnant as a result of sexual assault is akin to finding a four-leaf clover. (We'll get to his reasoning why shortly, believe me.) But, there is some factual basis to this part. The US Department of Justice estimates that 5% of one-time unprotected sexual encounters will end in pregnancy. That's rather low, to be sure. There are many factors that may contribute to or skew this figure--particularly when trying to apply it to incidences of rape or incest--however, RAINN estimates that in one year, 3,204 assaults (out of the nationally reported 64,080) will end in pregnancy.

The frightening thing about RAINN's statistics, however, is that a woman is more likely to get pregnant from an assault than her attacker is to spend a single day in jail.

"...ways to shut that down..."

This is where Mr. Akin's statement takes a turn for the wacky and truly terrifying. While yes, we women are graced with a body that does amazing things in the nether regions, I think Mr. Akin gives a little too much credit to the feminine mystique. According to his statement, I've got a vagina rigged with trip wire, laser sensors and high explosives that James Bond couldn't get into with all the help from Q. And if he did manage to Mission: Impossible his way in there with his secret agent sperm, I'd have my uterus on lockdown faster than you could say Pussy Galore.

Look, it doesn't work that way. You see, a woman has no natural failsafe. Any college co-ed will tell you that we cannot will ourselves to Please God Don't Let Me Be Pregnant any more than a man can make one big boob by smooshing both of them together. We are not so in touch with our strange and mystical ovaries that we can make them stop the presses.

Funny thing: we all learned this in school. Biology class is nifty. Granted that Mr. Akin comes from the generation of "put an aspirin between your knees" birth control, but I'm pretty sure he went to school before No Child Left Behind started to dumb down the masses.

Akin says that he got this information from doctors. Unless those doctors are the same high school girls who think that you won't get pregnant if you have sex in a pool, spin around 3 times and bark like a dog after he comes... I'm dubious of Mr. Akin's sources. I'm betting they look like that guy up there.

At least he finishes off with a bang, that cooky Mr. Akin. He says that if our wily vaginas don't manage to purge the invader semen, the rapist should be punished. That's fantastic. I'm glad he's on our side. (See above reporting statistics and the average that 97% of rapists walk free.)

There Should Be Some Punishment Here's the thing: Would-Be-Lawmaker Todd Akin is right. There should be some punishment. Rapists should be held accountable, women should feel they can report these attacks without the blame-the-victim bullshit that inevitably ensues and we should live in a world where a football stadium full of people are not assaulted every year. However, there are these roadblocks standing in the way of that utopia. They're called "politicians". Redefining rape, trying to package rape and abortion, using them as wedge issues and ammunition in an onslaught against women's rights... Yeah, to put it bluntly, they suck. And there should be a punishment for that level of stupidity. It's fine to be that ignorant in the privacy of your own home, but when it affects my uterus, you're done.

It reminds me of John Waters (filmmaker of such cult classics as Hairspray, Cry-Baby and Pecker). He once said that if you go home with someone and you can't see any books, don't fuck them. I think we need to impose a similar rule in politics.

So, here's what I want you to do.

If you think that Akin and other such people seeking office on a platform that spews ignorance and outright lies.... Don't vote for them. Period. Don't let this shit into a position of power. If he doesn't have a grasp of 4th grade biology, he doesn't get to play with your rights or money. Savvy?

If you aren't sure, you're still on the fence and want to see what's what? Pick up a book. Educate yourself. Scour Google for hours and use reputable sources, not just Wikipedia. Feed your head with knowledge, then, once you've done that... Don't vote for this shit.

If you agree with Mr. Akin and think he speaks gold-plated gospel... DON'T VOTE. Period. It's your civil right to vote, sure, but if you're completely off reality and scientific fact in the process, you've ceased to live in our country and now inhabit the same plane as unicorns, snozwankers and vermicious knids. Feel free to blow bubbles into your chocolate milk and fuck some electric sheep, but please, don't screw up my reality because you've abandoned it.

Nerdmaste, my friends.

EDIT 8pm, 8/20 - Two things have been brought to my attention since I posted this this morning and I wanted to give them a place here. 1) A dear friend of mine made the comment, "No doesn't mean no. No is implied until removed." This is an excellent point. She went on to explain that the burden of consent should not be on the victim, yet that is where we place it. She finishes off her statement saying that if there is already a blanket consent--for example, in a pre-existing relationship--it is up to the "victim" to communicate when sex is off limits. I think she's got an amazing point when it comes to where we place the burden of consent. It's something to think on.  And 2) Someone shared this open letter to Todd Akin by renowned feminist and writer Eve Ensler. Read it. Have kleenex handy. --jw

Violence in Stories

Something like 10 years ago I wrote a paper for a college exam that compared and contrasted Jesus Christ with Superman. It wasn't tongue-in-cheek or trying to be subversive. Well, to be fair, I might have been giggling to myself because I'd had a similar argument with the guy sitting next to me in that class and it got under his skin, BUT, the point is that I did this as a serious topic. It was actually one of the better essays I wrote at that time. The teacher gave me an A+ and left smileys in the margins. Like many things from that time in my life, the original essay was lost in a flood.

I bring this up because I was thinking about storytelling as a psycho-social vehicle, and a few lines from that essay floated up in memory.

The day of the Aurora shooting, I got into a civil discussion with someone who thought that perhaps the incident should be blamed on the glorification of violence in movies, television and video games. My personal feeling can best be summed up as, "No. Rational, sane people know the difference between fiction and the real world, they know acceptable social limits and will not run out to shoot someone because they play a first-person-shooter video game."

There is a lot of violence portrayed in the media. Sometimes I agree that said media is oversaturated with death, gore, shootings and other things that remove us from the realities of such things. However, most of us do not go out and repeat what we see on television because we are able to discern the crucial differences between right, wrong, art/bullshit and life.

She asked, then, if someone has influence and a mouthpiece to reach such a broad audience, why fill it with violence? Why fill one's head with that kind of "drivel"? My answer wasn't about social structure or broadcast standards, but about storytelling.

What is Best in life?

Storytelling, at its roots, is a place for a society to keep and hone its identity. All the way back to cave paintings, stories talk about our lives, what we experience every day, what we exalt and what we fear. For every protagonist there is an antagonist. For every deity there is a divine opposite. Without bringing morality into anything, there is always a dark to go along with a light. Stories define a particular culture's version of what is good and what is evil. Stories are the hope chests of their tellers. Our epic heroes--Jesus, Gilgamesh, Odysseus and Superman--represent what we believe is the best of us.

Yes, I just went there. Superman is an epic hero. Comics are the epic poetry of the 21st century. The spandex and super powers aside, these characters shine lights on what we--as a culture--value. Superman doesn't lie. He has empathy for a race as flawed as ours and fights for goodness. He defends us when we can't defend ourselves.

Bruce Wayne is rich, brilliant and uses his resources to fight the bad guys with his clever wit and gadgets.

Peter Parker's exploits remind us that with Great Power comes Great Responsibility.

We've enhanced them and given them a large scale for their problems. It's how we can distance ourselves and remain entertained but still get some message. (It's a whole new argument about why we've decided that Superman, the best of us, has to come from another planet and hide his true self.)

The Other

With all superheroes, there are super villains. Conflict in stories is necessary. Without conflict you have no story. Superman woke up one day, brushed his teeth, had a fabulous day and went to bed, that's it. Not entertaining. Not a story. Unless Superman is fighting against something, he is nothing more than a man. He's normal. There is now nothing noteworthy about this person, and thus, we don't need to waste ink or breath talking about him.

But, when we give him a Lex Luthor, a Brainiac--hell, give the man a kryptonite hangnail!--we give him a purpose. We give him a chance to define himself and be more than he might be. Bruce Wayne is just an eccentric, lunatic billionaire with grief issues if we don't give him a Joker or Riddler to match wits with. Our Avengers need Loki.

So, can we agree that a story needs a conflict? Awesome.

That conflict can come in many different ways. The classics are Man vs. Nature (The Perfect Storm), Man vs. God (The Odyssey) and Man vs. Man/Himself (The Dark Knight). Now, not all of these require violence. You can have a legal thriller or a mind-bending psycho-drama that never spills a drop of blood. You can have comedies where people are falling over themselves and messing up their own lives through situational gaffes.

So, if a society as a whole shuns the idea of casual, gratuitous violence and mass murder, why portray it in stories?

Because that's the other side of storytelling. We, as tellers of tales, don't just dip into the golden pool of what is best in life, we have to swim in the muck of what is worst about our reality. Stories aren't just about what we are, but what we may be. They are hopes and warnings.

Now, there's a whole slew of rants I could go on about splatter-horror flicks and fiction that insists every woman needs to be raped to be a "strong female character", but this is not where I will make those observations. Violence in fiction (television, movie, video game and literature alike), is there for a purpose. It is in our lives. It's a part of our collective self that we do not understand. Why do people do things like this? Why does mass genocide happen? Why do people go on shooting sprees or eat their neighbors? We don't understand. We can't wrap our heads around those kinds of atrocities because they are (thankfully) abnormal.

Brain Candy Stories are there to help us cope. They serve as a knot we can untangle safely, a way to come to grips with things we don't understand. If it can work out and end well in a comic book where aliens have landed and destroyed most of New York City, then maybe it will end well for us after some deranged soul opens fire on a theater full of geeks. If this character can find love and live again after tragic loss, maybe I can, too.

Stories are where we plant what is, contemplate what might be, and try to understand what is. Part of "what is" right now, sadly, is violence. Mass killings, war, random acts of chaos. You can have the chicken and egg argument--are we this way because of the media's glorification/desensitizing to violence, or is that in the media because we are violent--but in the end, it's part of our story.

I think it was Ari Marmell who said it, but what happened in Aurora, CO would be a hero origin story in any comic. It's from these tragedies that our heroes are born. Good people are forged and galvanized from such horrors.

And that is why our stories are important.

For all that they are, flaws and gore and truth, our stories tell us who we were, question and define who we are and determine who we will be.

Local Flavor

A couple of weeks ago Steve Weddle over at Do Some Damage penned a post about things that can knock a reader out of the narrative. He talked about things like figurative language, bad historical research, physical description as things that can yank you out of a story. Comments added bad dialogue and spelling/grammar issues. Today, I'd like to add something else to that: lack of attention to detail for your setting.

When we write a story, the setting is the 6th man on our basketball team. It is the landscape where all of your action takes place and has very real effects on your characters. In a way, it is its own character.

Authors, if you choose to use a real place in your story, you need to do your research on that place. Someone who called that place home will inevitably read your story. If you haven't written a narrative true to that setting, that reader will know, will call you out on it--at least mentally--and from then on, they are reading a book. That reader is no longer immersed in your story because they know you're lying. Disbelief is no longer suspended.

So, as an author, you need to think about this. You need to make sure that not only are you writing from a place of truth as far as your characters are concerned, but you need to write from the truth about the place you use as your setting. And in the day and age of Google, you have no excuse not to give a shit about the devil in your details.

For fun, let's say that you're writing about Terre Haute, Indiana. Now, this is a smallish town in the armpit of Indiana. It's a college town and its most famous alumnus would be Larry Bird. This is the general knowledge that most people would have about this place--assuming you've heard of it in the first place. A quick Google search can bring up a map, the names of local businesses and the mascot of Indiana State University. You can pepper your manuscript with these things, thus thinking that you're writing about Terre Haute, but that doesn't make it authentic.

For starters, Terre Haute residents (aka Hautians) live under a constant brown cloud, a funk that can only be described as, "Ah, smells like Haute." Why? There's a paper mill there. The place reeks. Locals may not notice it after a while, but a visitor can't help but notice. Hell, when you're driving into town on I-70, you can literally see the brown cloud over the city center!

Other than the funk, there are 3 colleges in this town: Indiana State University, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology and St. Mary of the Woods. Very different student bodies, different curriculum and attitudes. This also means you have a transient population. This will shade a story depending on how your characters interact with locals.

I'm not sure why you would want to do this, but for fun let's say that for some reason you're having a car chase through the streets of The Haute. Anyone who has ever driven a circuit just around the ISU campus will tell you that the number of one-way streets in this town is insane. Damn near every other street is a one-way. So, if you look at Google Maps, glance at the street names and just pick where you're going to lead your pursuit, you need to pay attention or else your protagonist's ride will be going to wrong way up 9th.

If you're going to go to a bar in Terre Haute, they will probably have Champagne Velvet on tap. Sure, you can get other stuff, but CV is a local brew with its own claim to fame in the area. Look it up and you'll understand the caption above. Bonus points if you can tell me in the comments.

Also, the ISU campus has a railroad track on every. single. side. There are train tracks EVERYWHERE in Terre Haute. When I lived there, I'd talk on the phone with my friend Patt in Arizona and he'd always ask, "Christ do you live under an El?" because he could hear the trains. Seriously. So. Many. Trains. That car chase is probably going to get stalled by a goddamn train.

These might seem like insane details. You might think I'm nuts for saying you should know them. But, when you've got a real place on a map there are people who really live there. You need to know. Even a little place like Terre Haute, Indiana where people can't agree on how it's pronounced. (Terry Hut? Tear Hot?)

For the better part of 5 years, that was my home. If someone writes about it and doesn't include at least some of these above details, I'm going to call bullshit. I'm going to know that this person has never been there, talked to anyone who did live there. I'm going to think they just threw a dart at a map to choose their setting.

And this is just a little town! What if you want to write about one of the big names? Phoenix, Vegas, New Orleans? These places all have a national reputation, but there's more to them than that. If you can't go there and physically walk the streets, you need to spend days on Google maps. Use the street view. Talk to people. Socially network and figure out how you can write like resident, not just a tourist.