I hate to be embarrassed. It’s an almost pathological dread. My kids will tell you that when they were little, if we were out in public and I hissed, “You’re embarrassing me,” they knew they were in big trouble when they got home. Needless to say, they were quite well behaved in public.
My psychiatrist-in-training daughter, Kerry, could probably explain this phobia. I’ve always just written it off to being a bit of a control freak. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to relax and laugh at myself more, but it was quite a problem when I was younger. I was teased often when my face turned bright red whenever I felt I’d made a faux pas.
It still embarrasses me to make a mistake in my books. I work very hard not to make errors, doing research, proofreading over and over — and yet, it has happened. Out of 90 plus books, there have been mistakes that slipped past me and my copy editors. Only to be found by readers — usually my mother, who seemed to get a kick out of catching me. I remember three specifically …
In one early book, I wrote an entire scene centered around the heroine’s allergy to roses. She sneezed, her eyes ran … it wasn’t a pretty sight. And yet, when I belatedly decided to write a hasty, very brief epilogue to the story to describe her wedding, what bouquet did she carry? Red and white roses. My mother called me to ask teasingly if anyone noticed that the bride was sneezing and blowing her nose all the way up the aisle. I assured her that the roses in the bouquet were made of silk (when the truth was, I simply forgot about the allergy).
In another story, I had a secondary character telling of her travels around the world. She’d recently visited Africa. Someone asked if she’d seen a lion, and she said no, but she had seen a tiger. There are, of course, no tigers in Africa. I don’t even know what I was thinking when I wrote that, but once again, it slipped past my proofreading and my editors’. I’m sure I meant to say that she saw the tiger during another trip — to Asia.
My mom caught another blooper in one of the last of my books she read before she passed away. She called to ask, “What side of a horse do you get on?” Not knowing why she asked, I replied, “The horse’s left side, of course. Why?” “Because in your book, you said the hero walked to the right side of the horse and mounted — to prove he still remembered how to ride,” she answered smugly. Shrieking in disbelief, I rushed to check, and yes, that’s exactly what I said in the book. My dignified response to my mother? I meant that he got on the ‘correct’ side of the horse (which, of course, would be the horse’s left). Truth was — I have no idea why I typed “right” when I meant “left” (and I can’t blame my city-slicker editors for missing that one). Mother got quite a laugh out of that last “gotcha.”
Since the humiliation of the ‘horse incident,’ I’ve worked even harder at catching errors before they make it into print. My daughters have done their part when they had time by reading my manuscripts and galleys. When I find mistakes in other authors’ books, I sympathize with them, because I know how hard it is to get it right every time (though I do have a problem with non-Southern writers writing Southern characters who use y’all as a singular pronoun. For anyone who doesn’t know — y’all is plural. Always! That mistake is as cringe-inducing to me as my hero climbing on to the right side of the horse probably was to my western readers. But because I shouldn’t be throwing stones from my glass house, I try to be understanding).
So, if you find any “gotchas” in any of my books in the future — be kind. I’m trying. My goal is to provide a good story, a few hours of entertainment and escape, and if I’ve accomplished that (preferably with no glaring mistakes), I’m pleased.
For those who’ll be celebrating Mardi Gras this week — Laissez les bon temp roulez (and by the way, my research gave me three different spellings for that final word. So if I’m mistaken — blame Google!)
May your good times roll.