AG: In Search of Perfection
Past, present, future perfect—sort of.
First, you had better sit down. I refuse to be responsible for any goose eggs popping up on any noggins resulting from fainting.
Here goes. I’m not perfect.
I know, I know, it’s hard to hear, but it’s time to face the truth of things. Worse, you’re not perfect either. Well, maybe Angie. The rest of us tiptoe along the sloping curb of imperfection doomed to slip and twist a mental ankle.
I have written before about my propensity to make typos that make sense—much to my embarrassment. (Namui ate rice from a rough wooden bowel,” when I meant bowl; “The widow was enormous,” when I meant “window.”) Shocking as it is to hear, I make another kind of mistake; mistakes known among literary professionals as the “factual-boo-boo.”
Actually, I seldom make errors in facts. I try to have three sources for any facts that appear in my books, but sometimes something slips by. The real problem comes when I decide to make a change late in a project. For example, I had a minor character, a secretary to my protagonist Perry Sachs, who makes a couple of short appearances in A TREASURE DEEP. For some reason that I have been able to successfully scrub from the Teflon walls of my memory, I decided to change her name. I did a good job of it, successfully searching and finding every occurrence of her name…except one.
I got letters.
In A SHIP POSSESSED, I struggled with a supporting protagonist who just wasn’t cooperating. Then I uncovered the problem. The man, a navy ensign, was in fact, a woman. With a quick literary snip-snip, I performed a sex operation and the problem was solved. I even made all the appropriate pronoun adjustments. I got waylaid, however, by something I didn’t ever realize I had written and that had nothing to do with the major change over which I had been so punctilious. In the book, I weave two plot lines around a single MacGuffin (a WWII submarine) like DNA strands. In my 1940’s story, I have a character at sea, in mortal danger, and recalling his wife and home…and how they watched Milton Berle together. Which is fine, but I was just a tad early…say, eight years.
I got a letter.
Not long ago, in BENEATH THE ICE, I researched at length the types of aircraft that fly to and over Antarctica. I studied everything I needed to know about a particular cargo plane. I had it down pat. Then I decided to change aircraft in favor of a more likely candidate. So I dutifully altered the mentions of wingspan, fuselage length, engine size and so on. Good Al. Except one aircraft has propellers and the other doesn’t; one lands on skies, the other doesn’t. Somehow, I forgot that I included those details. Bad Al.
I got a scathing review on Amazon.
Sometimes the mistakes aren’t research related. In SUBMERGED, I describe a fisherman watching F-22 jets zoom overhead. Except the keyboard didn’t respond and I wrote F-2. I didn’t catch it. The editors didn’t catch it.
Oddly, a couple of readers caught it.
Since I’m not all that fond of parading my stupidities, I need to find some point to this. How about this? All writers must learn to live with their mistakes. Past, present, and future tense are fine in grammar but hard to find in life, especially the writer’s life. I find gaffes in almost every book I read. Sometimes we focus so much on the big things, the little embarrassments slip by.
What amazes me is how often those anal-retentive readers who feel compelled to inform us of our faults are themselves wrong in their corrections. (Reminds me of a letter sent home from my children’s English teacher that required great restraint on my part not to correct and send back for a rewrite.) Such is the price of being human. The writer-human, however, gets his or her mess-ups printed by the thousands and distributed to the public.
So what’s a writer to do?
Simple. Just remember that the Navajo rug weavers purposely inserted mistakes in their work so as to offend the gods.
I think it was the Navajo…or is it Navajos…Navaji…
While I figure this out, why don’t you post your favorite boo-boo.
AG (who wants the reader to know that any typos in this post are intentional and intended for the entertainment of all.)
Alton Gansky lives and blogs in California where all the girls are beautiful and all the men look like Arnold . . . however you spell it. www.altongansky.com.