Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Error on 99

Like my fellow writers, I understand one fundamental truth: words and characters are unruly. I start each novel or short story with a spark of inspiration, perhaps a rough plot outline. I settle down with the laptop, expecting to corral a raging herd of ideas, scenes, and dialog into 90,000 brilliant, perfect words.


Then the muses seize the reins and shove aside my feeble attempts at control. Should I try to pen them in, force them in directions they don’t prefer, they will shut down my literary flow like Beethoven blared at a redneck round-up.

During final editing and revisions, I have meager input. My latest Southern fiction novel, Suicide Supper Club, provided more than a handful of the muses’ “teachable moments.”

Weeks before the book went to print, I zeroed in on the final, marketable product. A talented copy editor, three beta-readers, and my critique group members helped to flush out the typos. For sure, the spelling and grammar computer-creatures miss a lot. If it’s truly a word, it is okey dokey with them. Hey, I meant to write shut and not slut—it’s only one small letter’s difference. Why quibble?

Yet no matter how many times I cull a manuscript, typos lurk. I know it. I hate it.

Final proof. I checked back one last time to make sure all of my changes stuck. I always suspect the corrections switch to their former imperfection the moment I close the file, a condition I label writer-noia.

Then, on page 99, the word popped out at me. It had snugged itself next to a correction. All of the trained eyes missed it. Even the word itself (the one I thought I had typed) was eerie: a slang term meaning “let it go!”

At first, I groused about having to redo the file. I couldn’t leave an obvious error in place. Or could I?

The lesson provided: if I could not let it pass on some level, I had missed the point. Missed life lessons have a way of repeating themselves until the thick human ego catches the subtle drift.

To note: I did not correct the Error on 99 in the Kindle version. Had to correct it in the print version. I’m too much a stickler. And that book will be on file in the Library of Congress. Besides, there are other errors hiding in there. They appear in all books.

At the same time—why let things ever be simple?—I was plowing through a difficult life transition. Things beyond my control had shifted my settled world. I struggled to find solid footing.

The Error on 99 appeared at the right moment, the right time. It even fit into the underlying theme of Suicide Supper Club.

Not everything can be controlled. Most things can’t. And left to their own, situations will work out exactly as they should.

That lesson, I understood. Thanks to the Error on 99

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Changes and New Year's Resolutions...HAH!


If I had my druthers, I’d stay much the same. No new lifelines (otherwise known and wrinkles), no serious drama, no changes in the family, or at work.
But would I prefer that, really?
I’ve learned a lot, being an author. Reaching the well-over-fifty mark hasn’t dented the learning curve either.
In a novel, no one wants to read about happy people living happy lives. Barbie and her perfect self, driving the latest pink convertible, with her waspish waist and high-riding bust. Ken with just-so rakish hair, cut muscles proclaiming an overabundance of testosterone.
 Snooze fodder.
Happiness is elusive, perhaps nearly attainable. There’s hope, but the reader isn’t sure if the hero will win, or even survive. These are the stories we want to keep reading, and miss when we flip the last page.
Show me the real Barbie—she goes by “Babs”—schlepping to the kitchen for coffee, her nappy over-processed hair sticking out like a scared cat’s tail. Ken’s in the bathroom, doing that three-fart thing he does every morning, humming to himself off-key and leaving whisker specks gummed in toothpaste trails across the counters. The kids are grown. One’s a recovering alcoholic, country-star wannabe in Memphis; the other sells manufactured homes in Lake City. The dog has ear mites, and barfs up pieces of rubber bands and pantyhose and anything else he can get his paws on. The cat shreds the furniture and has sprayed the back door so often, the porch smells like Wild Kingdom.
The toilet in the master bathroom sounds like a waterfall. When Barbie turns on the ancient dishwasher, she has to step outside to talk on the phone. Better out there anyway. Ken hates the mounds of cigarette butts she scatters like pixie dust. Heck with him. Her smoke smells better than his gas.
Have to use my imagination, when I think of Barbie and Ken. Keeps me from wanting to, I don’t know, shave their heads and pull off a leg or an arm. Perfection is annoying. Probably the reason my childhood dolls never made it to the “collectables” stage. Even as a kid, I sniffed a load of marketing hoo-hah.
One thing for sure: change promotes growth—with characters, and in real life. Some years, I face greater challenges. We all do. Death, taxes, jobs, relatives. A few things you can see heading your way. Others come at you like a texting, drunken reveler at a busy intersection. One minute you’re minding your own business, thinking about how you’re going to reheat that frozen vegetable soup for dinner; the next you’re steaming in the ditch with a 911 operator yammering in your ear.
This year, in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions, I made a list of things I wanted to manifest in the coming twelve months. A friend suggested this technique. Said she did this every January and hid the page so she could pull it out later to see what had come to fruition. Most things did.
Beat the heck out of swearing off sweets, or losing five pounds, or getting organized. I have pounded those poor resolutions down until they are flat enough to be a fetching wall hanging.
So here’s to a year of change. To crawling from the ditch, should I end up there by no intention of my own. To loving and supporting friends, to eating some chocolate, to writing some stories.
To living. Messy as it can be.