With the ever-increasing use of personal computers, laptops, and telephones that can send text messages, contact between readers and writers has also increased dramatically. These days, readers can easily find writers’ email addresses and are far more likely to send their thoughts and comments to the author of a book they’ve just read—or are still reading—than they would have when it meant putting pen to paper and stamp to envelope. Usually, this makes writers happy, too. Getting fan mail is always a treat.
But with the good comes the not-always-so-good. Many readers yield to the urge to point out mistakes—everything from typos to continuity errors to out-and-out bloopers. The problem, of course, is that the book is already in print. There isn’t much the writer can do about the problem, except feel foolish for having let it slip past during proofreading. Or is there?
The first thing I do when someone points out an error to me—unless they do so in such an obnoxious manner that I don’t feel obliged to reply at all—is to respond with my thanks for pointing out the problem. Sometimes what the reader thinks is wrong is actually correct. If that’s the case, I back up whatever fact is at issue. Ages ago, when I was writing contemporary romance, I made brief mention of a calico cat and referred to it as a male. A reader wrote to tell me that all calico cats are females. Most are. But not all. In fact, one male calico even took first place in a cat show. In general, however, the mistakes readers catch really are mistakes. If there’s an explanation as to why I didn’t catch the error, especially if that explanation is at all humorous, I include it in my reply. And I usually say something to the effect that I hope the mistake (or non-mistake, or multiple mistakes) didn’t prevent the reader from enjoying the rest of the novel.
Then what? Forget about it?
At my website (http://www.kaitlyndunnett.com/bloopers.html) I have a Bloopers Page. I use this in a couple of different ways. First, I acknowledge the bloopers people have pointed out to me and give explanations of bloopers that aren’t really bloopers. This is also the place where I expand on issues. One reader in England questioned my description of scones in Scone Cold Dead, #2 in the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Series. This led to an entire section on scones, including recipes, and ended up including email correspondence from several readers.
A truly glaring blooper appeared in A Wee Christmas Homicide (#3), one that, as far as anyone has let me know, only one reader caught. The plot revolves around the celebration of the “Twelve Shopping Days of Christmas” in the tiny Maine village of Moosetookalook. Liss MacCrimmon is in charge of a pageant that includes representations of each of the twelve stanzas of the Christmas carol. However, instead of having nine ladies dancing and ten lords a leaping, I (and Liss) reversed those two. And we did it three times in the course of the novel, so there’s no blaming it on a typo.
This has duly been acknowledged on the Kaitlyn Dunnett Blooper Page, but it seemed to me that there was more I could do with it. There was no opportunity in #4, The Corpse Wore Tartan (paperback due in stores next Tuesday, October 4th), but as I started work on the 5th Liss MacCrimmon mystery, Scotched, which will be published in hardcover in just a few weeks (on October 25th), I recalled that in previous books I’d established that Liss 1) can’t carry a tune and 2) has trouble remembering song lyrics. If I’d been clever enough to catch the ten ladies blooper before publication and been smart enough to think of it, I could have used that character flaw to create a running gag in A Wee Christmas Homicide. Fortunately, it’s never too late to have a little fun with a blooper. The very first scene in Scotched starts with a reference to Liss’s embarrassment when, several months after the Christmas pageant, someone pointed out to her that she had ten ladies and nine lords instead of the other way around.
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. If you’re a writer who has made a blooper, why not confess all on a Bloopers Page, the text version of a bloopers reel? After all, on a DVD, the bloopers are always one of the “bonus” features.