by Hugh Gilmore
In previous episodes, I described tinkering for 12 years with a book I’d come to title “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour.” In actuality, I worked and reworked it for six years, a process akin to dragging an arched-back two-year-old somewhere he doesn’t want to go. Then I set the book aside and wrote other things for the next six years.
Last August I puffed myself up and vowed to rewrite”Gorilla Tour” by New Year’s eve. That I did. I self-published the book in time for a book launch party at Musehouse in February. I should have begun my sales campaign then, but I discovered, after publication, that my book had 25 errors in it. I was mortified.
To avoid further embarrassment (I’d sold 50 copies already), I corrected the mistakes and resubmitted the book as a ‘revised edition.’ (That cost an additional $50) The publisher told me it would be ready by mid-April. I could then revive my promotional campaign.
Not to be. I’d met ‘la femme mystérieuse’ whose “real” pseudonym I’ve promised not to reveal. I’ve named her “Felice” for column purposes. I knew little else about her than that Facebook name. All communications were by Facebook message system.
Felice was a fan of my column, but not of my books. In fact, she intensely disliked my novels. I found that bearable, but I was crushed when Felice read “Gorilla Tour” (before the revised version was available) and sent me a list of 110 errors she’d found, 77 of which I’d missed. I’d been too hasty and full of myself last summer when I returned to this project.
I was chagrined, certainly, but glad I hadn’t sent copies out for review or for professional notice. (All I’d done was ripoff my friends and fans.) What follows is based on our continued correspondence during these dark hours of my writing life.
I wrote to Felice and told her of my grammatical/spelling scorecard tabulations and thanked her for helping me.
She replied: “As for me catching 110 errors, there were only 109. I read and it’s like stumbling when walking when I come across an error. Maybe like someone with perfect pitch who hears a discordant note, though I don’t have perfect grammar, etc.”
I wrote, “I’m really worried that I’ve hurt my progress.”
Felice replied, “I don’t know that you hurt yourself all that much. People care more about the story than the punctuation. My intent was to help make the book more polished and professional. You do have writing ability, but you can’t just dash something off and assume it will be pearls. (I know, you didn’t just dash it off, you worked hard at it. But you know what I mean.) Just because you weren’t an instant success doesn’t mean you’re hopeless – far from it. You CAN write, but you need to be rigorously honest about where you’re falling short and work on that.”
Amen, sister. Meanwhile, 40 copies of the 2nd edition arrived. I did not even bother to open the box, since I’d already seen the proof. That box cost me $280 – for 40 books containing, en masse, 4,360 errors, each of which stung like a mocking laugh. At least Philadelphia allows books to be recycled.
A week later, I wrote Felice, thanking her again and telling her that I’d incorporated her revisions into my manuscript. I’d sent the “3rd, revised edition” to the publisher. (Another $50) The ‘final’ version would not be ready until mid-June. Quite a way from my original February launch date.
And then, suddenly, the party was over.
Felice wrote, “I told you way back when we first started writing that I was eliminating FB because it is a distraction. I’d always expected our conversation would wind down, but it just kept expanding, and into more and more topics that for me are very thought-provoking. As much as I’ve enjoyed our correspondence, the time is just right for me to take that path I’ve chosen, and I fear it won’t come again. So I need to fade out. I know you’re willing to wait for me to come up for air, and I won’t say never, but the reality is, I can’t see that … So I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but good-bye and I wish that all kinds of great and wonderful things come into your life.”
With that, my fairy godmother “twinked” and disappeared.
I didn’t know whether or not to say goodbye, but, just in case I wrote “Thank you.”
Two separate stories had merged during the months of my knowing Felice in the limited way that I did. First, there’s the story of me getting wised up about myself. I should not have hurried my ‘Gorilla Tour’ book into print. I’d been captured by the idea of self-empowerment, made too simple by the ease of self-publishing.
Three books in a year. Three public engagements. Each of them successful as an evening’s entertainment. The experience, as an author, is quite heady, quite seductive. But the pain of embarrassment that follows poor ‘quality control’ after a ‘product launch’ is mortifying. I apologize here and now to all who bought my book and minded its sloppiness.
The second story involves the woman who helped me find the error(s) of my ways by pointing out, voluntarily, the technical weak spots of my book. Only after our correspondence was well under way did she reveal to me that she was hiding behind a pseudonym. I guessed that revelation meant that we had opened a deeper layer of friendship, and I let the secrecy stand.
I’ve ventured many personal guesses about who she is. I don’t think I know her or have met her in person. I don’t think she’s married. (Is it possible to exchange thousands of words over the course of months without one “we”?) Sometimes I think she’s young (“OMG,” “awesome,” “LOL,” plus: she still has dreams and ambitions). Sometimes I think she’s over 60 (“ I loved Richard Brautigan.” And the tone of authority with which she sometimes spoke). It matters not.
Although I’ve had some fun in this column referring to the mystery of her hidden identity as if she might have been a femme fatale, she never said or implied anything of a spicy or invitational nature. It was just never an agenda item.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I were at a restaurant or book event and she came up and introduced herself to me as Felice, I’m not sure how I would feel. Happy to meet an old friend? Disappointed to have a charming mystery taken away? I feel we’ll talk again somehow, but probably still through gauze in dusky light.
Ahem. I should end this seven-part story here, but I wonder if my readers might prefer the truth. Probably not, but here goes.
My “Gorilla Tour” book: Felice’s suggested corrections incorporated, I submitted the revised 3rd edition manuscript. The proof of the book arrived just when Part Seven of this series should have been published. I’d anticipated saying that a clean, error-free copy of the book was now for sale. Apologies to all. Really. And now we’re back in business!
Except: the Local held my Part Six column two weeks ago for lack of space (against more timely news stories). And wadda ya know? Just yesterday, fresh in from Seattle, an email from a grammar-bound friend arrived. He said, “I enjoyed the book. And as a Ruth Rendell fan, I very much liked the loose cannon of a Rendellian character you created as the fulcrum of the story.”
Oh how nice. He was referring to the character named Linder. But he went on, “You’re probably going to hate me – but it looks to me as if you got progressively more tired as you approached the end of the book. Here are a bunch of suggested corrections, which I’m sending to you as an attachment because I can’t make some typographical points clear in my email program.”
“Ha Ha Ha,” I cried madly, tearing my shirt, and falling across the great boulder I’d been so cruelly chained to. His large, Oxford-trained shadow loomed over me, blocking the sun. I turned and held up my Felice crucifix.
To no avail. He’d caught twelve mistakes that Felice had missed. “Ha, Ha, Ha,” I cried again. Then, screaming to the Universe, I cried, “Twelve mistakes? Do you expect me to send my manuscript back again, and pay 50 bucks again, and wait six weeks again, for a lousy twelve mistakes? Do you?”
An error-free version of “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour” should be available by Labor Day – if Hugh doesn’t make any new “friends” over the summer.