30 June 2017

Typos, Grammar and Writer Instusion

O'Neil De Noux

Persian rug. Lisan al-Gaib.

Errors in books are like fleas. And some of my books are infested with them. I tried Advantage, Advantage II, Revolution. They don't work.

I first spotted these bastards in my books published by Zebra (Kensington) but no one called me on them because there was no email back then. Hell, they didn't alter the books and after the publisher corrected the spelling of my name on the cover of the first book, I blew it off.

I noticed errors again after one of my short stories was selected and reprinted in a Best Of anthology. The femme fatale's eyes changed color midway through the story. I thought - how the hell did the editor do this - until I went back to my original submission version and I had done it. I checked the magazine that first printed the story and the editor there didn't catch the mistake either. That story has been published 5 times now and no editor or reader has ever caught the error. Then again, maybe the only six people ever read the story. Me and the editors.

On the rear cover of my LONE Hurricane Katrina novel, we spelled the name of the hurricane as Karina. No one noticed. Two years later, I did and quickly made the correction. One of the benefits of print-on-demand books is the ability to instantly correct all subsequently printed volumes. How did we miss that?

When we formed BIG KISS PRODUCTIONS, we gathered a number of people fed up with the way they were treated by traditonal publishers - writers, editors, copy editors, artists, artist models, photographers, publicists, literary attorney, literary agent and proof readers. We are responsible for the entire production of each publication. Everything we do is checked and rechecked at least 8 times by multiple people and there are STILL errors. Frustrating? Yes. Infuriating at times? Absolutely. But mistakes happen.

I find errors all the time in traditionally published books. It happens. No big deal. I know Mark Twain knew how to spell 'season' and Kate Chopin's editors know it is 'lullaby' and not 'lulaby'.

Kate Chopin, a Louisiana writer

A reader once scolded me at a writer's event about two typos she found in my BATTLE KISS (a book of 320,000+ words). She said she expected perfection in a book that cost her $4.99. That's the eBook price. That's right - 5 bucks. I spend more than that for coffee these days.

I have come up with an re-usable answer to this question and I used it with that woman. I said, "We always leave a typo or two in every book. We follow the lead of persian rug makers who explain why they always drop a stitch in each rug because only Allah is perfect."

She asked what I meant by that. I repeated, "Only Allah is perfect." I then added, "Lisan al-Gaib." Her eyes went wide and she sat down. Didn't bother telling her "Lisan al-Gaib" has nothing to do with any real religion but is a phrase from Frank Herbert's great novel DUNE.

If you wanna talk grammar, call Cornac McCarthy.

"But he broke the rules," said in a whiney voice from the monkey gallery. "That's not the Queen's English."

Well, I don't use the Queen's English either. I don't even use English. I use a bastardized form of English called American English. And not Ivy League American. I use New Orleans American. If I don't remember the grammar rule, I make up my own rule. Bottom line - if you can undestand what the writer means to express - then what the hell are you griping about? This ain't grammar school. Writers are artists. Would you go into Picasso's studio and tell him those last few strokes should go another way?

Writer intrusion? Check out Thomas Harris's HANNIBAL or Harlan Ellison's brillant short story "The Deathbird" HUGO Award winner for 'Best Novelette' where he intrudes in a story about the end of the world with, "Yesterday my dog died." The author gives is a touching tale about his dog, which of course connects to the theme of the piece, but he INTRUDES.

"But it interrupts us. It reminds us this is a BOOK." Right. That's what you're holding in your damn hand (unless it's a Kindle).

Kindle Paperwhite

That's all for now folks.


  1. O'Neil, I don't think if we had a super artificially intelligent robot read our stuff that even it would catch all the errors. Like you, I try to make sure everything "clean," but inevitably things get missed. And sometimes they're things I know quite well, not talking typos here, but for some reason I put the wrong info in and then I feel like a total idiot. I guess it's just one of the hazards of the trade.

  2. Beyond typos and just careless errors, I suspect every writers has a set of frequent errors- in my case, spelling and altering the name of a character from one chapter to the next.

  3. O'Neil,

    For one of my books, I interviewed two people who were diabetic and a family member because a character in my story died from a diabetic coma. I also talked to the state medical examiner about how he would diagnose the death.

    Years later, a reviewer who was also diabetic emailed me through my website and told me I'd mis-stated the information. I still don't know how that happened.

    I constantly find that characters change hair color or the car they drive in my early drafts, but I don't think any of those gaffes have made it to publication...yet. I DID leave out a word in an early scene in one book and nobody caught it until I was selling copies at workshops...on revision, of course.

    Elmore Leonard has the wrong name of a character in one of his books because he had to change it (I don't remember why) and it was pre-computers. He missed one change in the typed MS.

    Most of us are human...

  4. I've had my name misspelled on a cover, too! The publisher was aghast, immediately corrected it, and sent me a new pile of author copies. It certainly has given me a lot of nice giveaways :)

  5. Spell check and predictive keyboards have destroyed the myth that robots could eliminate all typos. That's why we end up receiving strange texts like, "Do U want covfefe tongue?" That or I have a kinky stalker...

    Meanwhile, a very early story of mine has Grant Tripp married, which he certainly hasn't been since. And I misspelled the George S. Mickelson Trail in another story. And God only knows what else I've blooped on.

  6. Probably one of the best and most famous author intrusions happens in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five where, during the fire bombing of Dresden, he describes himself standing next to the protagonist in a crowded box car. "Somebody behind him in the boxcar said, 'Oz.' That was I. That was me."

  7. Great column, O'Neil. I too have made my share of errors of all kinds, in my stories. I've heard the ones you should try hardest to avoid are the ones that prove (or confirm) your ignorance, like its/it's, but none of us likes so see mistakes of any kind in the finished product. Recently I heard of a story whose protagonist used a wench to get his truck out of a mudhole (maybe she helped him push?). Yes, Spell Check is not always your friend . . .

  8. Good one, O'Neil. You told it like it is, and I liked the part of wring grammar in local New Orleans style. I tend to write my grammar the way I talk. As for typos and other mistakes, I mentally cringe when it's in a story by one of my favorite writers (it temporarily bounces me out of that story's world), but as they say at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, "Crap occurs."

  9. Speaking of spell check, in my lawyering days I was once worked on a brief written by a Department of Justice attorney who was a very fast typist but sometimes would miss a key. The brief dealt, in large part, with whether a particular governmental action was "in the public interest." In over half of the instances where that phrase appeared he had typed "in the pubic interest." When he realized his error he removed the word "pubic" from his personal dictionary, figuring, it's a word but I ALWAYS want a warning before I use it!

  10. Pubic interest. Funny you should mention that. In one of my early novels, an uneducated character called her pubic hair public hair in a humerous scene. The copyeditor changed it back to pubic which made the conversation between the characters meaningless. I finally changed it back when we re-released the book.

    Nice comments y'all. I thought this one would be a dud.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>