Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Many Proofreaders Does It Take...

Q: How many proofreaders does it take to make sure your book is error-free?
A: At least one more than you have.

I work for the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, which has been publishing her backlist since 2005. We started with Fictionwise. Fictionwise, alas, is no longer with us, but its (multi-format) inventory was acquired by Barnes & Noble and converted to Nook eBooks, limiting the format available to ePub. Because the Trustee and I both have Kindles, we took the original source files and published Kindle editions. Recently one of our readers complained about the quality of Falcons of Narabedla, or, more accurately, its lack of quality.

I read the publicly-available version and was appalled. Did we release this, or did it escape? I'm amazed that nobody ever said anything before this. I really hope people don't think we consider something filled with errors as acceptable quality. For the record, we don't. We replaced the files for both the Kindle and Nook versions, and we did a paperback edition while we were at it.

The eBook files for most of our older books are created by purchasing a used copy and having it shipped to the Humanities Computing Lab in North Carolina. They do great work there, so the digital files we get back are in pretty good shape. We do, however, need to check every Darkover book to make certain that the spell-checker has not changed coridom (the Darkovan term for the steward of an estate) to condom, which is in its dictionary. Ditto laran and loran (LOng RAnge Navigation), a problem made worse when MZB named a couple of characters Loran. Sigh. When your source is an old paperback, it is all too easy for "ri" to become "n" and "rn" to become "m" (I had to change comer back to corner in quite a few places), and for commas, semi-colons, and periods to become hopelessly confused. Nowadays we have somebody who has not read the book before (i.e.: not me) proofread it before we put it on sale.

This year the Trust joined Book View Café. Our debut book, The Complete Lythande, is being released on November 5th. Everything but the last story in it has been previously published, some of the stories are available separately, and the book was proofread after we turned it in. Then it went to the formatter, who found still more errors.

I have become convinced that no matter how carefully any number of people proofread a book, there are still going to be errors. A misplaced comma. Dialog in the middle of a paragraph starting without the opening quotation mark. "To" when the word should be "too"; "wondered" instead of "wandered"; "worse" instead of "worst"; etc. (the last three come from a short story published by Baen).

Most readers will not notice a few minor errors because readers get caught up in the story and they see what should be there. So we do the best job of proofreading we can manage and hope that the story is sufficiently absorbing to cover the rest.

Marion often repeated something her father said: "God only made one perfect man, and look what they did to him." I'm not certain whether that's supposed to be comforting or not.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


First thing Monday morning I went in for my annual mammogram. It's like eating a live frog before breakfast; I can hope that nothing worse will happen to me this week.

For the benefit of those of you who have never had a mammogram, it's a screening test for breast cancer: a digital x-ray of both breasts from two different angles (i.e.: four images). It hurts, but it's a lot better than it was when I started getting them. Now, instead of two pieces of cold metal, the breast is compressed (OK, squeezed painfully) between room-temperature plastic, and the technician can tell immediately if the image is good enough. In the old analog days, they would take four shots and leave you sitting there while they developed the plates. Then they would come back and usually re-shoot at least one.

I get one every year, so it's a fairly routine experience, until this morning when the technician told me there would be eight images. I yelped "What?" loudly enough to be heard in the reception area. She said, "Don't you have implants?"

I said no and was about to follow up with "are you sure you have the right chart?" when she realized that she had read across the wrong line. What I had, some years ago, was a bilateral reduction mammoplasty, more commonly called breast reduction. If you've ever seen the movie Weird Science, where two teen-age science geeks create their dream woman, you may remember the scene where they're designing her and start to give her horrifically large breasts. Fortunately, they think better of it, but I cringe every time I see that part. What most people don't realize is that having large breasts hurts. They also cause backaches and make bra straps dig painfully into neck and shoulder muscles. My insurance didn't cover the surgery, but I still consider every penny of it well spent.

There is no way I would ever get breast implants. I think anyone who wants large breasts is crazy (or, at the very least, ill-informed). And if having implants means that your annual mammogram has twice as many painful images taken...

Ouch. Definitely ouch.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Media Vita

"In the midst of life we are in death...." It's the first line of a Latin antiphon, a hymn (actually, several hymns), part of the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer, and songs by at least two current musical groups.

The original Latin is:
Media vita in morte sumus; quem quaerimus adjutorem, nisi te Domine, qui pro peccatis nostris juste irasceris? Sancte Deus, sancte fortis, sancte et misericors Salvator, amarae morti ne tradas nos.
Thomas Cranmer translated it to:
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
This year it's beginning to seem to me that it could also be paraphrased to "in the middle of our lives we are surrounded by death."

Since the beginning of the year, nine people I know have died, two of them last week. The list includes two first-cousins-once-removed: Villette (it's a family name) died in January; and her brother Robert in August. It also includes one of my favorite authors, Barbara Mertz, who wrote fiction as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. There were two people from my generation, but the rest were the mothers of four of my friends. The mother of a fifth friend is in the hospital and is not expected to regain consciousness.

I suppose that I have reached the age where statistically my parents' generation is dying. My father would be ninety now if he hadn't died fourteen years ago. Smoking really shortened his life. So did living with a smoker; my mother died of cancer almost five years ago--after nine years of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, remission, repeat ad nauseum.

I wish that my friends didn't have to go through the pain I went through, but the death of a beloved parent is not something where they can profit from my experience. All I can tell them is that the people they loved were wonderful people, and that there is nothing wrong with missing them or with crying over their deaths. They are worth grieving over.

I believe sincerely in the resurrection of the dead and in life everlasting, as do many of my friends, but that doesn't mean that we don't miss the people who are no longer in our lives.

May they rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My I Want to Read List

This is good month for new books. Mercedes Lackey's Bastion, the final volume of the Collegium Chronicles, came out on the first, and today, in addition to the new Percy Jackson book, The House of Hades, there's a book out by one of my favorite authors: Fixed. It's the second in a series, and I'm just finding out about it because she used a pen name I didn't know about. So now I have two more good books to read.

Of course, this is not helping my New Year's semi-resolution: less reading; more writing.