Misteaks From The Blue-Eyed Boy

March 23rd, 2010 by Max Allan Collins

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA has been nominated for the International Association of Media & Tie-in Writers “Best Adapted” Novel award. The Scribes Awards are held at San Diego Comic Con.

Barb, Matt and I had a nice turn-out at the Borders in Davenport on Saturday. We’re not really doing a book tour for either ANTIQUES BIZARRE or YOU CAN’T STOP ME because the sequels to both are in process right now, and the time just isn’t there.

In fact, ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF was completed this weekend. By the time you read this, it will be in the hands of Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton. ANTIQUES BIZARRE in particular and the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery series in general are doing very well – BIZARRE landed on the Barnes & Noble hardcover mystery bestseller list. And there looks to be a strong possibility a new contract for more Brandy & Mother books is coming…stay tuned….

Meanwhile, YOU CAN’T STOP ME has been on the Kindle bestseller list, sparked by a several-day giveaway but lasting well beyond the freebie stage.

Over the years, David Burke at the Quad City Times has given me lots of coverage. This Sunday he did a very nice write-up about YOU CAN’T STOP ME, ANTIQUES BIZARRE and the collaborative process as it pertains to Barb, Matt and Mickey.

A fun blog from comics writer Valerie D’Orazio called Occasional Superheroine has a list of five female comics characters that deserve revival, and MS. TREE is one of ‘em.

And here’s a blog whose list of the best movies of the past decade includes ROAD TO PERDITION as one of the best five adapted from comics. Cool.

Sean Leary, an excellent writer and all-around talented human, used to be the entertainment writer at the Rock Island Argus and Dispatch. Now he has an entertainment-oriented Quad Cities web site, Get Your Good News. He did individual interviews about the new books and the collaborative process with Matt Clemens, Barb and me. These are good – check ‘em out.

I want to talk briefly about reviews, but I want to talk about a very specific aspect of them. After all, everybody has a right to their opinions. And I strive not to bask in the good reviews because that means I would have to take the bad reviews seriously, too. No, I want to talk about reviews (and this particularly happens on the non-pro reviews at Amazon and other internet sites) that revel in finding mistakes in the text.

A number of Amazon reviewers – not just talking about my stuff, but reviews I encounter all the time when shopping for books – will give a book a low-star rating and a terrible review if that book is (in their view) poorly copy-edited or if it has mistakes that the author or the copy editor should have caught (again, in their view).

A review of YOU CAN’T STOP ME (one of only two less than stellar ones out of a whole flock of positive ones at Amazon) dismisses the book largely because the lead character, J.C. Harrow, is initially described as having brown eyes and later as having blue eyes. The book is over 100,000 words long and I promise you it gets a lot of things right, including the descriptions of its large cast of characters.

Here’s what happened, or anyway how it happened. If you’re at this site, you know that YOU CAN’T STOP ME is a collaboration. My co-author Matt Clemens likes to “cast” a story – he puts actors and sometimes other celebrities in the roles, and even sends me photos of the cast. Which, frankly, I ignore, because I don’t work that way. Matt likes to start with the reality of a real human to describe and an actor’s voice to hear in his brain – it helps him, and it’s not a bad technique. But it’s not mine. As it happens, he “cast” Pierce Brosnan as Harrow. I said I thought Harrow was more like Dennis Farina in CRIME STORY, but only vaguely so – a craggy guy in his forties, not James frickin’ Bond. This started a cheerful disagreement between us, which actually became a running gag. I would say, “It’s possible our lead character is under-characterized, if one of us thinks he’s Pierce Brosnan and the other thinks he’s Dennis Farina.”

We were shocked and distressed when we went over the copy-edited manuscript and discovered that Harrow’s eyes were described as having two colors (we had settled on Farina brown, but the initial Brosnan blue crept in). As it happens, we had a copy editor who had taken a fairly heavy hand to the work – my pet peeve – and I put a lot of it back the way it had been, and in fairness to the production folks at Kensington, they got a fairly messy copy-edited manuscript back. Still, we had caught the blue/brown thing – yet it crept through into the galley proof stage, too. We caught it and corrected it again…

…and yet it still got through wrong. How? Who knows? Mistakes and typos happen, particularly with a book the size of YOU CAN’T STOP ME. With typos, sometimes a new typo happens when a change or correction is made that requires new, last-minute typesetting. It’s easy for tiny screw-ups in a book this size.

At the final read-through stage (like the one Barb and I just did with ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF), we discover all sorts of stuff – little things like a very minor character’s name shifting, or fairly big things, like plot points that somehow (over the many months of writing) got confused.

A review of one of the ANTIQUES books has an Amazon review that makes a very big deal out of a reference to Aunt Bea from the “Andy Griffin Show.” This ruined the book for the reviewer and earned us a very low star rating. Talk about mysteries – both Barb and I are longtime fans of Andy Griffith. I was a fan of his well before his famous TV show – I remember as a little kid seeing the live TV play of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS before it went to Broadway! I saw NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS the film in the theater. I bought all of Griffith’s comedy records (“What It Was Was Football”). Barb also is a fan. I can’t believe either of us – and remember, we read the book after we turn it into the publisher in copy-edited form, and then at least once more in galley proof form (usually twice in the latter stage). The only thing we can think of is we spaced out, thinking of SCTV’s parody THE MERV GRIFFITH SHOW, on which Merv Griffin is transformed into Andy Taylor. We are stumped. Did a copy editor or someone in production catch “Griffith” and think it was a goof and change it to “Griffin”? It’s a mystery. Who the hell knows?

I do know it’s unfair to dismiss the rest of the hard work that went into the big writing project that is a novel by seizing upon such occasional goofs, whoever made them.

But I know from long experience, with Nathan Heller, that reviewers and readers love to find historical inaccuracies. Such mistakes would appear to be the prize in the Cracker Jacks for a lot of readers. I can’t tell you how many fan letters I’ve received that tell me how much they love a Heller book or maybe one of the disaster novels, and then without referring to one specific thing that they liked, tell me about the error they spotted. Sometimes these are real errors, and sometimes not (as when someone in Louisiana insisted a road in BLOOD AND THUNDER hadn’t been built yet when I had a vintage research book that said it had).

A very supportive reviewer (whose name I won’t mention) has consistently mentioned a mistake or two found in the Heller and other historical novels despite his very brief per-book review space. This is a reviewer who apparently really loves my work, but rather than comment on the voluminous research I’ve done and the thousands of things I get write (I mean, “right”) in one of the massive Heller novels, insists on grabbing that Cracker Jacks prize and displaying it in public.

Do I sound frustrated? I am. I hate knowing that every copy of YOU CAN’T STOP ME has Harrow with brown eyes and blue eyes. But it can’t be helped. It’s human error. Anyway, Matt and I will reveal in the second Harrow novel that those bastard executives in the first novel had made the TV host wear blue contact lenses on his reality show, CRIME SEEN! He will now have thrown them away….


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11 Responses to “Misteaks From The Blue-Eyed Boy”

  1. mike doran says:

    You know you’re running a risk here, don’t you?
    A post like this is a red rag to all us continuity dweebs out here.
    I cop to it here and now: any time I read or see any work with its basis in an actual event, my radar kicks into warp drive – worse if I happen to actually know someting about the event.
    When the movie QUIZ SHOW came out, I had to fight the temptation to tell anyone who would listen (andanyone else I could force to listen) exactly what the filmmakers got wrong – facts, people, outcome – and that particular flick was fertile ground indeed. I did manage to hold my tongue while the movie was in release, and even afterward. A while back, though, I did sort of give in when an opening presented itself on Roger Ebert’s blog. I’d like to think I was straightforward and reasonable about it, but I try not to kid myself: However correct I might be about these things, it still comes across as annoying as Hell.
    It’s less of a problem with pure fiction; I don’t keep rigid track of who’s blonde, who’s brown-eyed, who’s Presbyterian, and suchlike. Only tempted if something is really obvious, and then I figure it might turn out to be a plot point.
    Of course I never have this problem with your works. If you want to write in BOMBSHELL that SOME LIKE IT HOT was a 20th-Century Fox picture even though everybody knows that Billy Wilder made it for United Artists, that’s your artistic prerogative, and I’m not saying word one to anybody. **kidding**kidding**kidding***

    But seriously folks … if you want to swat me down next time you’re in Chicago, I pledge to only defend myself with my battered old copy of WHY NOT? by Dayton Allen (the book).

    By the By … my mother always called him “Andy Griffin”.
    She called another actor of the same period “Clu Gallagher”
    Not to forget “Victor Bruno”.

    And if I had time I could probably remember a bunch more.
    Come back to Chicago soon.

  2. Brian_Drake says:

    Max, Generally I’m a careful reader, and I’ll spot errors with guns (revolvers with safety catches or silences, for example), cars, and other types of equipment (where my interests lie) but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever spotted an inconsistency in how a character is described, so, for me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the eye color thing unless somebody told me, and I wonder if most “normal” readers are the same way.

    But you’re in good company. Conan Doyle messed up many times with Holmes and Watson (was Watson wounded in the arm or the leg in Afghanistan? Not even Doyle could remember at one point, and I hear he didn’t care). There are other examples that elude me–didn’t Fleming screw up with James Bond once or twice? And how about Don Pendleton, who had Mack Bolan as a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam at one point until one day, somewhere before book 38, all Korea references vanished. Oh, and one last one: Who shot Nice Guy Eddie in “Reservoir Dogs”? Not even Tarrantino can tell you, but he has a great story about it.

    Don’t let the nerds rile you up! Boo boos happen.

  3. I don’t mean to excuse mistakes — I work fairly hard to avoid them. But they happen. They particularly happen on stuff you think you know, but don’t, so fact-checking doesn’t happen. As for book-to-book continuity, that can be tough. Rex Stout practically made a point of changing Wolfe’s address and phone number constantly.

    The point is that reviewers who suggest that a book is invalid or unreadable because of a slip-up or two (or typos) are just mean-spirited jerks. And reviewers who like the stuff — and I include readers — who latch onto errors as if they just won Willy Wonka’s silver ticket (just keeping you on your toes) franklly irritate me.

    Why would somebody write me to say how much they love a book, and then say, “By the way, you got this wrong.” Am I expected to be impressed? Now, somebody who writes and says lovely things and then says, “By the way, I caught something that you might want to fix for the paperback edition,” that’s different. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, and I guess I’m just talking about about what my dad used to call “social intelligence.”

    Hey, I’ve been guilty of this, too. When Don Westlake and I were exchanging letters on a fairly regular basis in the early ’70s, I once asked him why Parker’s hair color was blond in one book and in a later one brown. He wrote me back a typically friendly, informative, wonderful letter, ending it with, “And as to Parker’s hair color, shut up before I throw you down the stairs.”

  4. Kim Frazier says:

    It’s just my humble opinion, but I honestly think people that nitpick a story or a novel THAT closely have WAAAYYY too much time on their hands. I myself am willing to overlook minor continuity errors, as long as the story is well-written and pleasing to me. A small goof doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of a novel, I just figure that people or machines make mistakes. We all do. I write fanfiction (don’t laugh) and believe me, there’s some really nitpicky folks in that realm of writing, too. They evidently scan each and every story with a magnifying glass, looking for spelling/punctuation errors, or continuity/plot problems. I particularly enjoy the ones who tell me they like the excitement and drama of my stories, but hate the way I portray the characters…which, the character portrayal is integral to the actual storyline itself, but they obviously miss that point. And I would think they’re that also missing out on truly enjoying a story or a novel, especially if they focus solely on looking for mistakes and not reading the fantastic plot or interesting character development the author has worked so hard on. I don’t read to find mistakes and point them out to an author, I read because I enjoy their work and can get lost in their storylines. Of course, if someone were to make a HUGE mistake, like writing a Civil War battlefield story and setting it in the 1940’s, I might have a weensy problem with that, unless it’s a time-travel/sci-fi novel.
    I figure, don’t sweat the small stuff. Mistakes and errors happen. A true fan is willing to overlook minor boo-boos. I think you do an utterly fantastic job of research on your works. I love your books, especially the Nathan Heller series, and I say, keep up the wonderful work!
    (PS, this is my first post to the site, but I’ve enjoyed the site since back in the day. I must say, it’s pretty nifty! And very informative, too! Glad that you have it for your fans to enjoy.)

  5. Thanks for the great post, Kim! If you think you’ve been attacked in the fan-fiction realm, try to imagine what some of the DARK ANGEL fans have done to Matt and me! (Actually, mostly they’ve been great, but you also hear from people who think it would be swell if you stopped breathing.)

    I wholly agree about books that get things wrong. My point was that in a fairly massive historical novel I might get maybe one hundred thousand things right, and one thing wrong, and the wrong thing is what a reviewer (particularly a certain kind of Amazon reviewer) latches onto. For example, I turned down the novelization of the Mamet-scripted UNTOUCHABLES, years ago, because the script was so lazily and stupidly inaccurate. There’s a much praised period mystery novel, fairly recent and by a writer I usually like, that has one anarchronism after another…and nobody has nailed him for them.

    One thing of interest: occasionally I have done something in a historical novel that I know is inaccurate — like have Nate Heller go to a restaurant that was real but that I know had closed a year or two prior to when I have him there. But the restaurant was perfect, and provided great color, so I used it. Whenever I’ve taken that sort of liberty…nobody has ever caught it.

  6. Mike Cornelison says:

    Then there’s the next level of “credibility judges”. My father utterly dismissed the film “The Godfather” because no one could put a horses head in someone’s bed without waking them up. I said, “Dad, he’s a movie producer. All movie producers take tons of drugs before they go to bed. And when they get up. That’s how continuity mistakes happen.”

  7. mike doran says:

    Did I offend?
    Didn’t mean to. Honest.
    Cold type has a way of taking the joke out of a joke. If I’d said what I said to your face at a booksigning, I would’ve made it sound joke-pretentious, and then you would’ve thrown me down virtual stairs, and we’d all laugh and go on to the next bit.
    Of course I could be overreacting to your not mentioning the other part of my effort. I pick the damnedest times to get sensitive, don’t I?
    So forgive me my trespasses. I really loved every word of BOMBSHELL; Someone is missing a sure bet by not filming it (how about Bob Hoskins as Khrushchev?). And if J.C.Harrow goes to series, I hope you and Matt get the cable deal of the new decade.
    So now, as Otto Preminger said in my favorite Christmas movie STALAG 17:
    “Und now, ve are all frenss, again.”
    (RIP Peter Graves, and try to spot Richard Erdman’s occasional walk-ons on COMMUNITY.)

    *and I really do have Dayton Allen’s book*

  8. Absolutely no offense.

    I have Dayton Allen’s comedy LP.

  9. SPKelly says:

    Once while standing in line for a book signing, I caught an error in the first pages (using Ravel instead of Revell for the plastic model company). I made the mistake of pointing it out to the author when he signed my book. I still feel bad about it because there was nothing he could do about it at that point.

    Mistakes happen and the writer, editors, copy editors and proofreaders will do everything possible to prevent them. It’s not my job to point them out after the book is in print.

  10. JSweet says:

    No surprise to me. I’m a writer myself (magazine/Web reporting, not fiction). At my first newspaper job out of college, there was a guy (a retired English prof) who used to take the paper every day and mark it up with a red pen and send them to us in a bundle once a week. Great example (as Kim said) of someone with too much time on their hands! My take on it has always been that most of these people wouldn’t do any better if they had to have their work examined in detail everyday.

    For what it’s worth, little mistakes don’t bother me, as long as the story is good. I’ve read almost all your stuff, and if I’ve noticed any errors, I’ve forgotten them just as quickly because the story makes up for it.

  11. Great comments.

    Yes, part of my point is, once the book is in print, what am I supposed to do about it?

    I’ve known many academics over the years who would be hopelessly lost actually having to create something worthwhile…factor in deadlines, and they are really screwed.