Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The Bullet and the Moon
Back in the days when giants walked the hallways of The New Yorker offices on West 43rd Street, none had the stature of the late E.B. White. Not only did White write many of the magazine’s editorials for a quarter century, he also edited one of the most popular features, what I call the mistake fillers. These were excerpts from books, magazines and newspapers that featured embarrassingly funny mistakes, to which White would often add precisely the right quip at the end.
I actually sold a couple of mistake fillers to The New Yorker over the years and always enjoyed reading them. There were several that ran under standing headlines, such as “Block That Metaphor!” and “Our Forgetful Authors.” The latter consisted of quotes from a book, usually pages apart, in which, for example, the author would describe the leading female character as a blonde on page 65 and as a redhead on page 132.
At the time I shook my head over such errors, wondering how an author could be so careless. Then I wrote a mystery novel myself, The McHenry Inheritance, and came to appreciate how easily it could happen.
Where’s The Bullet?
A book is written and rewritten over a long period of time — years, in the case of mine, and, lame as it sounds, the author can’t remember every detail. Sometimes an entire section is added or removed along the way, and everything still has to remain consistent, not that it always does.
The first chapter of my book, “The Angler and the Sharpshooter,” didn’t even exist in the first few drafts. It was added a couple of years later at the suggestion of an agent, who thought it would be good to get a dead body into the first few pages, on the theory that readers who don’t encounter a corpse within a few minutes are apt to give up on the book.
So I added that chapter as a flash-forward, from a different point of view, to the murder that occurs in Chapter 4. It was quite well-done, if I do say so myself, and has received a number of compliments. There was just one itty-bitty problem with it. In the original draft, I had the bullet lodging in the victim’s body; in the flash-forward, I had it going clean through. That was a lot more dramatic, but given how the scene was described, it would have been nearly impossible for the sheriff to recover the bullet, which was a vital clue.
Two Full Moons in a Week
Don’t ask how it happened, but this July, days before the book was to be submitted to Amazon, I realized there might be a problem there and caught it when I re-read the two chapters. I rewrote the opening to keep the chain of evidence intact.
Several years earlier, on about the fifth rewrite of the book, I was tinkering with Chapter 8, where the action takes place under a full moon. Something at the back of my mind told me I’d mentioned the moon in Chapter 3, which took place five days earlier, and sure enough, when I checked, the moon was full then, as well. Since it mattered to the story in Chapter 8 but was merely descriptive in Chapter 3, I shaved a little off the moon in the earlier chapter.
That made two close calls, and who knows if there wasn’t a similar mistake I failed to catch. If you spot one, please e-mail me. On Amazon, at least, it’s easy to make revisions.