Tuesday, July 25, 2006

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.
Seated? Good.

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.


At 9:24 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

I love it when authors have a sense of humor. Great post, Al. Thanks.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

Perhaps you included this boo-boo in the post just to keep us awake: "one lands on skies, the other doesn’t." I think you mean skis, but after all, people who live in glass houses...
My attitude is that some people aren't happy unless they can find a mistake, so, aiming to please, I try to include one in everything that I write. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Keep on writing, keep on blogging, and keep on blessing us (including those fledgling authors like me whom you have encouraged so many times).

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

I was fortunate to find one mistake partly through the first draft of my book. The term "OK" came into use during the 1800s and had no place in my 1776 novel.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Sign out said...

Thank you for sharing your pain, Al - and (once again) being an example.


At 3:08 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great post. I for one am shocked to find you make mistakes. That's most disturbing. Your picture and surrounded by the pillar candles is coming off my mantle.

Most books have an error somewhere. The only ones that really bother me are the "oh puleeze!" ones that contain scenarios that I just don't buy. The little things my mind just mentally fixes and then moves on. Like the plane landing on "skies". I knew what you meant and barely registered it.

Are you tempted to edit the reader's letters in red marker and mail them back? Hah. Funny but probably not so good for business.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Alton Gansky said...

All right you guys (especially Doc Mabry and Gina Holmes) you need to read a little more closely. By my initials is a parenthetic phrase that states all typos in the blog post are intentional and meant for your amusement. If you insist on pointing them out, I'll have to quit making them. Okey...um, okay?

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Alton Gansky said...

All right you guys (especially Doc Mabry and Gina Holmes) you need to read a little more closely. By my initials is a parenthetic phrase that states all typos in the blog post are intentional and meant for your amusement. If you insist on pointing them out, I'll have to quit making them. Okey...um, okay?

At 7:56 PM, Blogger Karen Hancock said...

Um, Al, don't you mean that those Navajo weavers insert their mistake so as NOT to offend the gods? Not that I'm trying to correct you, or anything. Not that I even know... I was just wondering.

I love it that we make mistakes. Keeps us humble. In my last book I had a scene where the viewpoint character was initially sitting in a study. At the last minute I changed it to having him stand in an art gallery. Only after the book was in print did I discover the line where he was sitting in the now-non-existant chair! (Or is it existent? Where's the spell check when I need it?)

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Pam Halter said...

Sometimes the mistakes are not the author's.

I'm a children's author. My pet peeve is picture books where the words don't match the pictures. Guess what? In the printing of my second book, they left out three lines of the manucript! The words now don't fit the picture. In fact, it makes no sense at all! And there was nothing I could do about it.

I think it's God's way of keeping us humble. :)

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! :)

As an avid reader I can tell you I never find mistakes in books. I've usually escaped so far into the author's world that any mistakes just slip by without notice.

I also don't go to the movies with people who point out mistakes. I'm not a critic or editor. I'm there for entertainment. Period.

Any typos in this comment are there because I can't spell. :)

Thanks for the post - very entertaining!

At 9:34 PM, Blogger kc said...

I love to find mistakes in things. That's because I'm a perfectionist. No, recovering perfectionist. While I realize things can't be perfect, I do want them to be the best they can be. That leaves room for a lot of subjectivity, however...
Love ya Alton,


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