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


Malcolm Campbell said...

I'm enjoying reading "Suicide Supper Club" right this minute (well, not right this minute because I'm here typing the words "right this minute") and haven't found any recognizable typos in it. It's all cool even though the characters have truck load of life's hassles on their minds. I, too, think story drafts revert to their earlier condition of uncleanliness once they're saved and/or sent to people who don't want to hear about errors later on. Typos multiply like rabbits in Tate's Hell during the dog days of August. But hey, it's stuff to laugh about later.


Bruce Ballister said...

No format will highlight an error as harshly as the published version. Or the finished print.