On mistakes in print

The worst mistake of computer science - Lucidchart

You know how it goes: you proof your book, your editor proofs it. Hell, you worked on the content together, sometimes combing down to the level of the word. Then the copy editor gets it. Then the proof reader. You probably had a spouse or friend or two look at it as well. Good to go. Thumbs up all around. Then the book arrives, you flip to a random page (probably to huff the gutter like a line of serotonin-based coke), and there it is. GLARING. A mistake. Then another. And another. I usually find about three per book in total. And I’m only working with a few thousand words in a poetry book. Novelists must find tons. Anyway, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few books go into multiple prints, but most books don’t. So that mistake is there. Your legacy. The scholars of the future, pondering over it. Pouring over your text that’s become central to the foundation of a post-apocalyptic belief system designed to harvest wisdom from the past to protect the future. Except, there’s this major fuck up and society falls apart again. Because of you. (Come on, you know you dream about shit like that, you egotistical bastard. You don’t have to lie to me. You’re among friends here.) Get used to it. No one cares anyway.

Any mistake is humiliating. It seems that it’s always too late to fix them, because we don’t know they exist until they’re in print. For the rest of my life, every time I walk through a used bookstore and see that book, I’ll know that the mistake is still in it. I’ll want someone to buy it, but know that if they do, I will be caught again. The next email is coming. And worse, the next error is probably already lurking somewhere in the manuscript I’m writing now.

The writer isn’t even always the source of the error. One of the most famous mistakes occurs in Melville’s Moby-Dick. A typesetter misread the words “coiled fish of the sea” as “soiled fish of the sea.” Nearly a century later a highly respected critic published an essay pointing out the brilliance of the choice of the word “soiled.” This was actually one of the events that prompted the founding of the Center for Editions of American Authors, an institution which gives a writer reason to hope that if he gets good enough, after he’s dead some professor will fix all of his mistakes in a scholarly edition. The Center adopted methods like reading a text aloud backwards while a listener followed along in a second copy, which seems to have caught mistakes, but must have driven both scholars mad while they did it.

Tuesday newsday

On rejection

Having grown up an egregiously nerdy, loud-mouthed, bespectacled, overly-freckled, bright-orange-headed-ginger, rejection has been part of my life for a long time.

Seriously though, this is probably why it doesn’t bug me. I mean, no one LIKES being rejected, but any ill feelings I might have after getting the notice are gone about an hour later. Why? Because I’ve been on both sides of that letter.

Sometimes, no one gave your piece a second thought and your rejection is nothing more than a testament to how overworked and undermotivated many people working in arts admin are. (I once received a rejection slip with one word on it: “Nope.” Classy.) Other times, it got squeezed out by either better work or work that was more to the editors’ tastes. (I’ve had a few award judges over time tell me I missed the shortlist by a hair’s breadth.) Either way, there’s nothing you can do about it, so you might as well get working again.

Sadly, this same rejection acceptance super power I have extends to acceptances as well. The enjoyment of approbation lasts about an hour and then we’re back to this… the work.

So, long story short: don’t get into this biz for the glamour, kids. \

(You know what’s frankly worse than rejection? Silence. Don’t follow? You’ll find out.)

There’s a fairly wide gap between what I expected as a preposterous young man and the writing life as I’ve lived it. I’m old enough to see how disillusionment is the price for adulthood in every vocation, not just writing and the arts. Yet, one facet of my writing life still surprises me with its wicked gleam. Once, I believed as a writer my most important skill would be knowing how to lay words in a line that’s solid as a cut stone wall. Nope. Turns out the most important skill for me as a writer, the skill I can’t live without, and the one that took the longest to learn, is a skill for failure.

RIP: Lee Maracle

The beloved Sto:lo artist and activist has died at 71.

“I was told, at the time I wrote Bobbi Lee, that they didn’t publish books by Indians and that we couldn’t write,” Maracle told CBC Books.

“A leftist publishing house, part of the Liberation Support Movement, actually published it initially. Then it gained notoriety and people liked it.

“It was an oral project, it was part of a course that my editor was teaching. It was teaching us to do life histories because I wanted to do other people’s life histories. But he liked the book and thought we should get it published. He went around and shopped it around, but he ended up publishing it himself because people didn’t want it and believed that ‘Indians can’t read.’

“It was not terribly well received, but it was an oddity. I was the oddity, actually. ‘Who wrote this for you?’ It was always the first question from the audience. And I said I wrote it. But I also spoke it; I’m an oral historian.”

Giller winner

Well, checking my newsfeeds full of lit types this morning confirms I missed the following: an awkward affair with too many cuts to Margaret Atwood. Regardless, Omar El Akkad wins for What Strange Paradise, a book you can somehow purchase at Winners even though it isn’t to my knowledge remaindered like everything else at Winners, is the… well… Winner. Congrats to all nominated. Hopefully the eye of the world lingers on you for an extra few hours today before you take that consolation cheque to the bank to pay your back taxes from 2018.

What Strange Paradise is a novel that tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don’t share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe. What Strange Paradise tells both their stories and how they each reached this moment, while asking the questions, “How did we get here?” and “What are we going to do about it?”

Monday news slog