Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sins of Commission

by Jaden Terrell

You remember that dream where your alarm goes off and you realize that you have an exam today, but you don't know where it is, and not only have you not studied for it, you haven't even been to that class? Or the one where you're in a play, and you give a tremendous performance of Act I, and while you're high-fiving each other backstage, you realize none of you have ever, ever practiced Act II?

This week, I experienced something similar--only it was no dream. I received an email from my publisher that had been forwarded from a reader who had been given an advance review copy of my second book. The reader had a lot of positive things to say and then mentioned two errors she had found. I was horrified. My copy editor and I had scoured that book several times, and then I even went through it paragraph by paragraph from the end to the beginning, since that tends to keep you from getting immersed in the story and reading over the errors. I really felt I'd done due diligence to make the book as error-free as possible. Yet, here they were. And they weren't just typos, like "form" for "from". No, they were content errors. And one of them was such a glaring, silly, rookie error that I couldn't believe I'd made it. Surely someone else had inserted it by mistake. But no, I looked at the manuscript I'd written and approved, and there was no way I could blame anyone else. The mistake was all mine.

I shot back an email asking if there was time to fix them before the book went to print. Send me the corrections, I was told, and I'll see if we can get them in under the wire. I rewrote the offending paragraphs and sent them, along with the page numbers, to my publisher. Unfortunately, the printer was already two thousand copies into the print run, and it would have cost several thousand dollars to destroy them and start over. I felt queasy. If only I'd known a day earlier. I'd wanted this book to be perfect. Okay, I know no book is perfect, but knowing that didn't make me feel any better about it. I envisioned the hundreds of one-star reviews, the tanking of my writing career. How could I have been so stupid?

I still have hope for the first error. There is a scene in which a rattlesnake is shot in the head and goes limp. I'd seen a snake shot once, and I was pretty sure it did go limp, so I immediately went to look it up. Seems like a snake can sometimes wiggle for hours after being decapitated. I wished I'd known that, since it would have been an interesting image to use, but I did find enough descriptions of snakes not twitching after death to give me hope that it depends on the circumstances and the amount or type (or location) of the damage. I'm not a herpetologist, though, so I asked a friend who is a naturalist and park ranger. I haven't heard back from him yet, but I'm hoping there are circumstances in which my description would be correct.

The second error was different. Ben, I hang my head in shame for this, because I know better, but somehow did it anyway. Yes, you may have guessed it. I put a safety on a Glock.

How, you may be asking yourself, how could I have done such a thing? Especially after going to workshop after workshop and hearing over and over from firearms experts that nothing telegraphs a rookie who knows nothing about guns like putting a safety on a Glock? And why didn't the police officer/firearms expert who read the manuscript catch it? The only thing I can think of is that, once upon a time, I flirted with giving Jared a different kind of gun, and later, when I decided to go back to his tried and true Glock (probably after the police officer had read the book), I replaced the name of the gun without realizing that I'd made references to a safety. Why didn't I catch it on one of my many editing passes through the book? I honestly can't say. Maybe because my pistol, a Taurus, does have a safety, so flipping off the safety seemed like a natural thing to do, or maybe I was too focused on the grammar and the rhythm of the language for the factual error to sink in. Whatever the reason, I didn't catch it.

It still makes me a little ill to think about it--not that I made a mistake, but that I made that particular mistake.

Is it the end of the world? I certainly hope not. But it just goes to show, you can't be too careful. You can bet I'll be extra diligent with book 3. Even though I know it won't be perfect.

How about you? What's the worst error that ever made it into one of your books?


Mark W. Danielson said...

I think every author can feel your pain. Yes, snakes can slither for a long time, even after being gutted and skinned. (I've seen it first hand.) I had fifteen pages of corrections in one of my book that the type setter swore were put in, but weren't before it went to print. That was the only time I was not allowed to see the final product first. Thankfully, most of those were lost italics. You do the best you can and then move on to your next book.

Kay Elam Writes said...

It's not the end of the world, but I empathize.

I dare say, MANY of your readers will gloss right over the safety on the glock issue. As far as the snake's continued wiggling...I'd much rather it go limp--immediately!

I know these are enormous to you, but looking at the big picture, I doubt most of your readers will even notice.

Jaden Terrell said...

Thanks, Kay. In the scheme of things, it's only a speed bump, I hope. It makes me feel better to remember Raymond Chandler's famous novel THE BIG SLEEP. When asked later who killed the chauffeur, he said had no idea, that he figured somebody would be able to come up with a good explanation.