Monday, October 31, 2011

The Great Typo Hunt Author Interview

Hi everybody! This is the transcript of an interview I did with the authors of The Great Typo Hunt, Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson. Enjoy and please leave me a comment!

1. Do you have a typo "pet peeve" and if so what is it?

Jeff: Unnecessary apostrophes in plural words are the scourge of humanity-- the scourge!  They drive me banana's. [sic ha!]

Benjamin: I’d have to roll out the classics: you’re/your, their/there/they’re, and its/it’s.  In my own writing, I’ll occasionally go back to make little changes during an edit but fail to properly reconnect everything, introducing a new error.  Few things are worse than having to say, “Yeah, I must have made that error when editing,” which Jeff heard me say a few times.

2. What projects are you currently working on?

Jeff and Benjamin: Well, November is National Novel Writing Month, and both of us have done participated every year since 2003.  NaNoWriMo fits nicely with our mission because they urge people to feel free to write away, reminding them that they can always edit later, which is where we come in.  Recognizing the power of the edit, by the way, is the cure to writers’ block. So we’ll be spending November working on fiction.  We can’t promise that either of those projects will ever see the light of day, but we can definitely say that come December 1st, we’ll each have 50,000 words we’d never dare to show to anyone without some serious editing.

3. What is the first book you remember reading?

Jeff:  I have early memories of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which inspired some preadolescent binge eating in hopes of growing my very own pair of beautiful wings.  But the first book to get me excited about words and language must have been The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

BenjaminJames and The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl kicked off every summer vacation.  I know we had a library book club, thirty books over the summer, and for multiple summers that would be book number one.

4. When did you know that you wanted the hunt to become a book? How did it feel to turn Typo over to an editor?

Jeff and Benjamin: As we told people about our mission during the original typo hunt, many of them asked, “Are you writing a book?”  Our reply started as “Huh?  No,” which soon became “No?” and then evolved to “Maybe, but we’re just concentrating on enjoying the trip,” or “Why?  Would you like to read a book like that?”  Eventually an agent hunted us down and made the process so easy that it was hard to refuse.  Eventually we stopped laughing about people asking us if there’d be a book and starting saying to each other, “Gee, maybe we should write a book.”
By the time our editor and then our official copy editor saw the book, it had been worked over many times by both of us, and we’d gotten feedback from mothers, girlfriends, and our agent.  They still managed to find things to correct, though.  Also, we collectively felt we’d entered meta-joke territory when Crown's editors edited the book on adventures in editing.  Our wonderful copy editor remarked that it was his “apotheosis as a copyeditor.”

5. The TEAL kit is brilliant. Whose idea was it to send the TEAL kit to reviewers? Have reviewers been inspired?

Benjamin: The original kit was all Jeff.  In the lead-up to the book’s release, we were fortunate to have a really engaged publicity team at Crown, and the idea to send out kits to reviewers came from one of the conference calls with that team. Just like with editing, publicity efforts can be improved greatly by suggestions from other folks.
As for whether reviewers have been inspired, you’re more exception than rule in taking kit and camera in hand and joining the effort.  For that, we salute you!

6. How did it feel to see your book in a store for the first time?

Jeff:  I'd already bullied everyone I knew into preordering the book in the months before the release date, and ogled its listings on all the major retailers' websites, so by the time the book physically appeared in a store, seeing it on a table or shelf was a bit anticlimactic.  Still, we were doing a reading in a Borders in Manhattan (now dearly departed) for our debut, and it was pretty cool to have something I'd written for sale in a store in the self-professed center of the universe.
Benjamin: It’s definitely a rush, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  I used to go to bookstores all the time (I’m a bit of a book monster), and I’d always stop by the science fiction section to push some books aside, making a little space for where my book would go, someday.  (There’s always room in H in sci-fi; I’d be right next to Herbert’s Dune series.)  It’s funny to discover that when it really happened, I appeared in a non-fiction section, and also that I’m shelved under Deck.

7. How has Typo changed your lives?

Jeff:  Ever since The Great Typo Hunt came out, I've had a greater sense of just how many other people are out there who care about promoting good spelling and grammar.  I'm heartened to think about all the other typo hunters scouring the country's text, knowing now that this can be a broader mission beyond us.  Never again will it feel like a lonely effort.  Oh, and we got to meet Al Roker.  I haven't washed my hand since!

8. What will you talk about at your next class reunion?

Jeff: We had our nine-year reunion at Dartmouth this summer (it was combined with other classes' ten- and eleven-year reunions to save money-- hello, brave new economy!)  Benjamin came along this time and kept reminding me to keep an ear out in case someone said something that might inspire a whole new book.  So far as I can tell, nothing's come of it yet.  On the other hand, we did have our book to "talk about" (i.e., mercilessly promote to our hapless classmates).

9. Did you eat more often at chain restaurants or local eateries? Did you have a favorite regional meal and if so what was it?

JeffWe ate at both chain places and local restaurants during the typo hunt.  When stopping mid-drive, it’s hard to find something other than a chain restaurant along the highway.  In the cities themselves, we’d usually make an effort to explore the regional cuisine. My companion for the West Coast leg, Josh, especially took a keen interest in finding new places to eat.  It also helped when we stayed with friends who knew the area; in Atlanta, Austin, and Seattle (to name a few), great restaurants had been pre-scouted for us.  I still dream about the delicious mussels and fries at a place on Valencia in San Francisco, and fresh cheese curds in Wisconsin were awesome.

Benjamin: The fajitas at this little spot on the town square in Santa Fe were amazing--flavors coming at you from every direction.  We couldn’t help but mention it in the book.

10. I have to ask this because I am a native Texan. Was Texas different from other states and if so how?

Jeff and Benjamin: My, that’s a mighty big state.  A strange Easter visit to Fort Stockton was the break between two of our longest driving days.  As far as typos go, we didn’t find evidence of regionally based typo variation; no one state or pocket of the country was more error-prone than the others.  So no, while everything else may be bigger in Texas, its errors are not.  Texas did offer us our first walking typo in Billy, the Subway “restaraunt” manager.

Muchas Gracias to Jeff and Benjamin for this interview. My first! I hope everyone enjoyed the interview and please leave me a comment. Thanks again, Michelle

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shock Wave

A Virgil Flowers Novel
By John Sandford
Putnam 388 pgs
From my personal library
Rating: Read This Book!

Virgil Flowers is back, our favorite shitkicker detective. This is the OK Corral: not only is he after the bad guys but he's cleaning up the town while he's at it.

Our story begins when a bomb explodes in a Michigan high rise housing the corporate headquarters of PyeMart, a builder of some sort of upscale Walmart things. Three weeks later another bomb explodes in Butternut Falls, Minnesota, at a PyeMart construction site. So the ATF shows up and requests assistance from the state of Minnesota and Lucas Davenport (of the Prey series fame) dispatches "that fuckin' Flowers" to investigate. Lest anyone object, this is a term of endearment and a running joke in Mr. Sandford's Prey and Virgil Flowers novels.

Our hero arrives and finds that everyone in town has an opinion on PyeMart, and almost everyone in town has a stake in the new store. The new store would provide jobs for the people of Butternut Falls. The store would put Butternut Falls merchants out of business from price competition. Some people need the new store for it's new utilities and city services west of town. Some people south of town, where the City originally planned to build, are going to lose big real estate money. When PyeMart came up for a vote in the city council, three members voted yay, three voted nay, and the mayor broke the tie with her yay. Now it seems a few of the people's representatives are skulking around town with a little extra money to spend. 

Shock Wave is again a great John Sandford book, a pleasure to read. Just when you become complacent, appreciative but complacent, he serves up a different tale. The bad guy here is building bombs, not stabbing anyone to death or something, so there's a more technical investigation this time. Not as much "guns'a'blazin."  I thought this book slowed in the middle but that may be because the author's books are usually more of a macho physical effort. Which I like. Very much. Anywho, Virgil breaks new BCA ground with cyber-sleuthing, and rest assured there are plenty of high explosives to go around. Another way Shock Wave diverges from the formula is that there is no romantic claptrap going on. Why do so many authors insist that the male cop has to fall in love with the female criminal who is beautiful but vulnerable, blah blah blah? Thank the Lord we don't have to do that again. The end is well-and deftly crafted, even elegant. So again I can confidently recommend a new John Sandford novel, Shock Wave. Enjoy!

If you're interested in John Sandford's other books this is the place to look:

Fun extra and he's got this about 80% right:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Night Strangers

By Chris Bohjalian
Crown Publishers 378 pgs
From my personal library
Rating - It'll Do and a Half

This is a weird little book. If you are familiar with Chris Bohjalian's work then this will not surprise you. He is a master at New England village life. You understand that his books could not be set anywhere else. There are hamlets in these mainly rural states that remain fairly isolated. This allows all manner of belief and behavior to take hold and hold on. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I rather like his villages. After reading Mr. Bohjalian you will know what "mud season" is. The author has written about midwifery in the hinterlands, which is not at all like midwifery in, say, Boston. There is water dousing going on (Water Witches), transsexuals learning to stretch certain parts (yes, I know), healers and so on.

In Night Strangers we have "herbalists."

Remember Sully Sullenberger who landed his plane in the Hudson River? Geese got themselves strung in and around the engines and down went the plane. Mr. Sullenberger accomplished a truly impressive feat. Unfortunately the pilot in Strangers is not so lucky. I say "lucky" because Chip Linton did successfully land his plane in Lake Champlain, but the wash from a boat created a wave that flipped the plane and 39 passengers drowned. Because Chip has been suffering from PTSD, he is taking a few meds and has been unable to work. His wife Emily has decided that what the family needs is a change of scenery and some peace and quiet. So they buy a big old Victorian in a small village in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, and move in with their twin daughters Hallie and Garnet.

As they unpack they find odd things hidden around the house, most notably a few weapons and a square-shaped door in the basement practically welded shut by 39 6-inch carriage bolts. 39 drowned passengers and 39 bolts, hmmm...... Anyway, a few of the women in town befriend Emily. They all have these elaborate greenhouses, lots and lots of greenhouses, and call themselves "herbalists." These women seem to have some sort of gardening club going on and they use the plants to cook and for herbal remedies and stuff. So far so good. Until the Lintons notice that these women feed them a lot; they bring food to the house and invite them to dinner parties; they have the twin girls learning gardening and recipes after school. Begins with "C" and rhymes with "oven."

Meanwhile Chip is decompensating at an alarming rate. We don't know quite whether the ghosts are figments of his imagination, a result of his drug cocktail or if he is having delusions from the PTSD. I don't think it matters where the ghosts came from because perception is reality, yes? The problem with the ghosts is what they want Chip to do for them. Hard to say whether Hallie and Garnet are in more danger from their dad or the herbalists. Begins with "w" and rhymes with "hitch."

The end of Strangers is an eye-popping surprise. Maybe not a very satisfying end and by that I don't mean that it should have been a typically happy ending. Neither do I mean that there really wasn't a finale. I just mean that if you are an herbalist you will get to enjoy the story for a long, long time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Great Typo Hunt

Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction At a Time
By Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
Random House, Inc. 269 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: Read This Book!

orthography    1.  The art or study of correct spelling according to established usage. 2. The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words. 3. A method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling.

I am nervous. I am about to review a book about typos and I will edit this thing within an inch of its life.

In 2008 Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson formed the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) and set out to right a great wrong. A great many wrongs. They took off on a road trip, a mission to rescue the English language from dire abuse and neglect, and educate whoever happened to be standing around. They looked for typos, otherwise known as “the black hordes of error,” at each stop and always found what they were looking for. There were countless misspellings, apostrophe confusion, possessive problems, homophones and many more. But finding the typos was only the first step. Mr. Deck carried with him  a TEAL Kit, a plastic bag containing the tricks of his trade: markers, Sharpies, chalk, stick-on letters and Wite-Out.  He did not pack glass tubing for neon signs but who knew? The thing is, Jeff and Benjamin not only looked for typos, they also corrected them.

I have been supplied with my very own TEAL kit. Here is an example of my efforts.

 First off, everyone please agree to ignore the part about Texas dirt. OK. This is one of my t-shirts. I call your attention to the 4th line. “Lets” should be “let’s.” It’s missing an apostrophe. As a contraction of the words “let” and “us” it needs an apostrophe to stand in for the missing “u.” See?

And here is the corrected shirt. I have added an apostrophe as best I could with the black Sharpie in my TEAL kit. In this photograph it looks a little like a fly.

 The authors made necessary corrections, both overt and covert, throughout the country. As you can imagine not everyone was receptive of our heroes and their mission.  Apathy ran amuck but some shopkeepers, restaurant managers, park rangers, store clerks, museum curators, etc., were friendly, if puzzled.  Some were mostly concerned about where the blame for the typo would be placed, certainly not on them. Others were openly hostile. And then there were the criminal charges.

Here let me again offer an example of my efforts. I submit to you the following sign. “Alinement” is misspelled. It should read “Alignment.” I’ve seen this sign every day for years. It rankles. So I’m standing on the opposite side of the street with my camera when a man drove by. Then he backed up in the middle of the street and into the lot next to the building with the offending sign. He came loping across the street and demanded to know why I was taking pictures of his shop. Yep, the owner.  Good grief. So I had to explain what I was doing, about the typos and Jeff and Benjamin and my review, etc. So the guy finally says OK he was just wondering what I wanted with his shop. Then he said he had heard of the typo hunt. Kid you not.

The authors did wrestle with larger questions regarding their calling, lest you think this mere fun and games. How strictly do we enforce the rules? Should they be rules or more like guidelines? What about education? The authors visited elementary classrooms for inspiration. Should art be exempt from the rules? What part do idioms play? Should written language be stricter than spoken language? Should quarter be given?

I enjoyed this book so much. It encompassed two of my favorite things, language and road trips. Typos are my pet peeve and have been torturing me for years. I have raised three children whom I harassed about language all the time. I now  have two readers and one turncoat. This book has something for everyone: language, anthropology, sociology, geography, friendships, the open road and dark nights of the soul. I laughed out loud and learned some things too.

Our heroes are planning another road trip but have distilled their mission. Next time out they will EDIT. Which is what I’m going to do now.

Also I didn’t know “smoothen” was a word.

Please check out the authors and the famous blog:
Facebook: Typo Eradication Advancement League

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feast Day of Fools

By James Lee Burke
Simon and Schuster 463 pgs
From my personal library
Rating - Read This!

James Lee Burke is one of my top five authors. By my best accounting he has written 31 books. He is probably best known for the Dave Robicheaux novels that follow the life and times of a deputy sheriff in New Iberia, Louisiana. One of these novels, The Lost Get-Back Boogie, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Burke has a gift for description that defies description so I won’t try. I’ll just say that you can feel the humidity of the Louisiana Gulf coast on your skin, smell the drowsy summer bougainvillea and taste the craw fish jambalaya. Please everybody try this guy and if you don’t like him I’ll send you a dollar.

Feast Day of Fools is a Hackberry Holland novel. Mr. Holland is the sheriff in a rural southwest Texas county situated in the Chihuahuan desert, somewhere in the Big Bend region. As it happens, I live in West Texas and will vouch for the stark beauty of this land, dramatic vistas in every direction, 6,000-foot mountain peaks, deep canyons revealing a geological story of eons, fuchsia prickly pear blossoms, the lazy Rio Grande known as the Rio Bravo south of the border. Mexico is a pervasive presence, impossible to separate the people or the land here. Mr. Burke takes that raw material and spins a poem.

Back to the story. It begins with the grisly murder of an escaped kidnap victim from Mexico by a scary psychopath known as Krill. This murder is witnessed by an alcoholic Indian by the name of Danny Boy Lorca who believes he has ecstatic visions of his ancestors. And we are off! Sheriff Holland and his deputy Pam Tibbs begin an investigation that will, before it’s over, involve a Russian terrorist, a Chinese woman with a reputation for miracles, a sociopath called Preacher who if I tried to describe you wouldn’t believe me, a guy with a head for physics harboring a secret that very likely could get him killed, and a mobster looking for the guy with the secret. The theme here is absolution and aren't we all searching for that?

I read everything Mr. Burke writes. I would read a book by this author that was just description. His dialogue is spare and true to his characters. My only quibbles with this book are that it was a tad long, I think it could have been edited down some. There’s one character, another preacher, that I don’t entirely understand his function in the story. My other beef is that the plot is so circuitous that I got confused trying to keep all the characters straight in my poor brain and how they were related. Other than that I am a very big fan. Read it!