Every good author does research to make sure the facts are right. But sometimes mistakes occur. More often than not they’re just stupid errors, things we think we know, so why look them up? Or continuity errors—we start with a particular make of automobile in a scene and somewhere along the line change our minds and don’t catch the shift from a Camaro to a Mustang. Until astute readers call our attention to the faux pas.
Examples from my own work:
In my second novel, Boundary Waters, the opening scene has a man deep in the wilderness of northern Minnesota holding a burning stick from a beech tree. Why a beech tree? I wanted the stick to be a particularly hard wood, so I chose beech. I’ve seen beech trees in Minnesota, so I figured I was on solid ground. The book comes out, and immediately I get an email that praises the story but very clearly points out that there are NO BEECH TREES IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA! Not true, I think, and consult my Minnesota tree handbook. Where it states emphatically that there ARE beech trees in Minnesota, but none north of a line running approximately through the middle of the state. Crap.
In Red Knife, I committed two egregious errors, caught by many readers. The first involves a statement by a character in which he quotes a famous Southern commander in the Civil War. The statement is one we’ve all heard. To win a battle the bottom line is that you have to get there “the firstest with the mostest.” I’ve known that line since the 6th grade and I know it’s attributed to Nathan Bedford Forrest. In Red Knife, however, off the top of my head, I gave credit to Jeb Stuart. Man, do I get a lot of email about that one. But that’s not all. There’s a significant continuity error in a scene that’s only recently been pointed out to me. In a climactic confrontation between the Ojibwe and some very bad drug runners, an important gun magically morphs from a Beretta to a Glock in the course of a couple of pages.
One of the funniest errors deals with chronology. In one of the books, Stevie, Cork’s son, begins the story in the third grade. Near the end, he’s in the second grade. Stevie’s a bright kid, so the fault isn’t his. Just a stumble from the guy who created him.
All authors make mistakes. We’re working on such a large and complex scale in our thinking that sometimes we err in the small stuff. Or we hope that it’s only in the small stuff. But even these errors are embarrassing and unfortunate, because any error, no matter how small, can pull a reader out of the story. And no writer wants that.
If you find an mistake in my work, I don’t mind that you write me and point it out. Just don’t gloat, okay?