Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Get It Right When You Write

I hate it when authors don’t get details right. One of my crit partners gave me a book by a popular author (whose books are found in grocery stores and Wal-Mart) because she thought the author had, er, borrowed heavily from Earl Hamner, Jr., and wanted me to see if I agreed.

The book contains two separate “back-list” novels reissued in a special Christmas edition. I haven’t yet read as far as the part about the elderly ladies and “the recipe” that my crit partner found suspicious. That’s in the second story.

However, I did read a description of a rodeo scene (page 15) in which a former bull rider, now married with two kids, signs up for a bull riding competition, even though it causes his doctor-wife considerable stress:

When Cal’s name was announced, Jane didn’t want to look but couldn’t stop herself. Cal was inside the pen, sitting astride the bull, one end of a rope wrapped around the saddle horn and the other around his hand.

Granted, my English-teacher self is bothered by the misplaced participial phrase, “sitting astride the bull” which most definitely doesn’t modify pen (although a pen sitting astride a bull is certainly an interesting image). Plus, I believe the author meant chute instead of pen. At all the rodeos I’ve attended, the rider mounted the bull inside a chute. The bulls were kept in a pen before they went into the chute and returned to a pen after the ride.

Little words mean a lot. As Mark Twain once wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Those who write for publication, should use the right words. And they should do a bit of research. Bulls do not wear saddles during the bull-riding competitions at rodeos. There is no saddle horn because there is no saddle. (Perhaps the author was thinking of saddle bronc riding? But in saddle bronc riding, a rope still doesn’t go from the saddle horn.)

Those who edit books should be aware of correct terminology and basic grammar. Why did the editor let this error-laden passage slip by?

So, how would I rewrite the sentence? “In the chute, Cal straddled the bull and waited for the gate to open.” Since the scene is written from the wife’s viewpoint high in the stands, I probably wouldn’t describe how Cal’s hand was secured to the rigging. It’s unlikely that she could see it.

Will I ever buy any books from this popular author? I doubt it. I expect books—even fiction—to be accurate. Or at least believable.



Blogger CountryDew said...

I reached the conclusion long ago that copy editing positions must have been among the first to go. Books are laden with tons of errors these days.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

And that irks me!

7:29 AM  

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