I remember the first mistake I ever found in a novel.
A tiny thing, a minor henchman in one of Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels (either Mariel of Redwall or Mattimeo, it was one of the ones I owned, not one borrowed from the library), who was described as a “her” first, and then as “him” elsewhere in the text. A nothing typo that had no impact on the adventure and didn’t change the character’s arc or eventual demise.
Served the varmint right, attacking the Abbey.
But I remember being stunned by the oversight.
Floored that Mr. Jacques, whose books gave me some of my earliest lessons in world building, dialect crafting, and weaving multiple narratives together, would allow a mistake of this magnitude.
At a time in my life when books were sacrosanct, not to be written in, I considered taking a pen and correcting my copy. Deciding once and for all the gender of this stoat (or were they a weasel? Definitely not a rat, because rats were almost always the lead villains, not the henchmen).
I remember telling myself that I, when I eventually exploded into the literary market as a fully formed and much lauded novelist, would never be so careless with my characters. That I would never forget any details about anything I ever wrote.
Sweet naiveté, thy name was Jenni.
Not only have I forgotten details from the one novel I’ve published; apparently I’m forgetting details of my research even as I enter the last hours of editing. Earlier this week, one of my mother’s comments as she proofread my doctoral thesis was: “Wasn’t the creature made in Ingolstadt, not Geneva?”
Yes. Yes he was.
Something that I really should know, seeing as I’ve devoted the last four years of my life to studying the creature, his construction, and Mary Shelley in general. You’d think that would be a detail I’d get right.
You’d think I would have found it glaringly obvious at some point in the hundreds of times I’ve read the passage she was commenting on. That I would have caught the switch myself and fixed it without help.
But I didn’t.
She caught that mistake, and it is no more but how many other little slubs like that lurk in my thesis?
In the novel I’ve published and the novels I plan to publish?
I know of at least six typos in published version of The Adventures of Dogg Girl and Sidekick, including a repeated, egregious misspelling of the word winery that someone really should have caught somewhere in the process.
How harshly will the future judge me for these mistakes?
In some, rational, corner of my brain I know that I’m grasping at these details because I’m in the last days of thesis editing and the stress of that is piling on. That I’m staring down the barrel of an uncertain future that could be determined by the quality of the work I eke out in the next week. That scares the living shit out of me.
And scared people make mistakes.
And scared people make mistakes.
And I am just a people.
One of billions of other people on this planet, all just as capable of making mistakes and just as capable of forgiving them.
With all the wisdom and experience of a ten year old, I found my first mistake in a novel. As an exacting reader with authorial aspirations and a memory that got me in trouble on more than one occasion, it seemed like a near-unpardonable offence.
Almost two decades later, I’ve a much kinder take on the gender of a single, barely named, character.
Would that my mistakes were so slight.
Chase thunder lovelies,
If you like Jenni’s writing, she has a book! It’s about super heroes and college students and friendship and fighting and all sorts of fun stuff, you can check out the first chapter here, and purchase it below!