One of the most onerous tasks of this writing gig for me is the review of page proofs. The developmental edit is done, and the copy edits are done, often just a few weeks before the arrival of the final typeset pages. Page proofs provide the absolute final opportunity to catch any errors on the page. The problem for me is that the always arrive when I’m deeply into the flow of the next book–so I’m distracted to begin with–and I just finished reading the damn thing (for the scumpti-fourth time) a few weeks before. The stakes are high, and yet I have a hard time focusing.
Just yesterday, I finished the page proofs for Crimson Phoenix, the first book in my new series featuring Victoria Emerson, an unlikely leader in the aftermath of a devastating attack on the United States. (Pub date: February 23, 2021) It’s about 95,000 words long, and I love it, but I’ve pretty much memorized it. I allotted two days to the page proofs–not much time for me because I am a slow reader.
I’d plowed all the way through and thought I was done last night. I was going to scan the pages and send them back to my publisher this morning, and then, while in the shower, a thought popped into my head from nowhere. Luke’s father couldn’t have died when Luke was a baby. I know that doesn’t make any sense out of context, but the timing I’d set up in the narrative would make much of what follows impossible. Thank heavens I found the error. Readers notice that little stuff.
(SIDEBAR: What is it about showers that triggers creativity? Perhaps it’s just me, but I cannot count the number of times that plot issues have resolved spontaneously under the flow of hot water.)
Back to the error. Here’s the thing: The timing of Luke’s father’s death really has no affirmative impact on the plot. In this case, Victoria is talking to another character about the boys’ father, and she says, “he never got to meet Luke.” That’s it. It’s a throw-away line that could have derailed the entire timeline of the book.
And this isn’t my first time. Some horrible errors have made it all the way into print, thanks to throw-aways. Probably the most egregious in my case occurs in Hostage Zero, the second book in the Jonathan Grave series. Harvey Rodriguez is an important secondary character who suffers from some serious PTSD issues. For the plot to work, he needed to be a former military field medical guy. An Army medic. In a monologue that I’m still very proud of, he expounds on the horrors of fighting in Iraq during the battle for Fallujah. Then, I realized that I’d been an idiot. Fallujah was a Marine Corps operation, not an Army one. No problem. I just changed Army to Marine and made a few other references to the Corps and Semper Fi.
But I didn’t change the word, “medic.” The Marine Corps does not have medics. They have U.S. Navy corpsmen assigned to their operational units. Tens of thousands of copies of the book went out to the world with the phrase “Marine Corps medic” repeated several times. I must have written over 100 letters of apology to Marines and Navy corpsman over the years. Given the audience for that series–and the fact that I grew up a Navy brat who was frequently stitched up by Navy corpsman–the barefoot walk across broken glass is good for me. We were able to change the error in the eBook versions, but there’s no pulling back the print and audio editions.
In Scorpion Strike, there’s a throw-away line where Jesse Montgomery drops his ditty bag into the back seat of his father’s convertible Corvette. My goodness, there are a lot of Corvette owners out there, and many are anxious to inform me that the Corvette has no back seat. Again, that’s on me, but I’m far less embarrassed by that mistake.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that it’s not the stuff you research that bites you. It’s the stuff that you’re sure you know. Or, even more often, it’s the stuff you throw in without thought just to add a little spice to a character or a visual.
What say you, TKZ family? Got any cringe-worthy mistakes you’d like to talk about? C’mon, it’s just between us. . .