The Errors & Omissions of a Former Grammar Pharisee

My Road to Damascus Moment

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Errors & Omissions

Learning to Accept Imperfection

I graduated from the University of Florida. I earned two degrees. My B.A. is in History and German. My M.Ed. is in Secondary Education. I defended my dissertation in Administrative & Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh in April. I’ll soon graduate with a doctorate, the highest degree in my field. I teach both English and German. I help college students with essays and research papers. I’m considered an expert. In short, I’m no stranger to the written word.

My father-in-law found three errors in my published novel. My entire identity as a writer and scholar was destroyed by a single text message.

With the help of a strong community, and a lot of introspection, I’ve rebuilt my identity and self-worth. It’s stronger than it was before. Like the rest of my colleagues, I’m a flawed writer doing his best to tell a story. I will no longer demand perfection of myself or fellow authors with a misguided sense of douchy intellectual arrogance.

The How & Why

I was a smug douche for the first 34 years of my life. I sneered at CNN, Wall Street Journal, and other publications whenever I saw typos in their published copy.

“Fire that bum,” I’d say. “Automatic F”.

How could I commit such a cardinal sin? Should my novel also receive an automatic F from my readers?

In my shame, I thought it should. I was reluctant to even write this post. Why should I call attention to my flaws and write that F on the cover of my novel myself? Maybe no one else would notice it.

I talked to other authors. To my relief, I discovered I was not alone. Since I’m not alone, I felt obliged to start a dialogue on this important topic.

Indie authors and bestselling superstars alike suffer the occasional lapse in their published works. Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, spelled “wavered” as “waivered” and refers to Rupert Murdoch as “Rupert Murdock”. Sexton is a national political voice and a NYT bestselling author. I’ve found minor typos in the published work of some of my favorite writers of fiction. It happens.

But it shouldn’t. The questions remain. Why does it happen? How does it happen?

My publisher is a small press. Much of their editing is reliant on mechanical formatting software. Such programs won’t always catch omissions like a missing word.

But my editor should. Right?

Yeah. My editor is a saint. She caught 99.9% of the errors and omissions in a 472-page novel. However, she’s an academic like I am. We’re trained to read quickly, often scanning entire sentences and paragraphs with a single glance. When there’s a missing word, our brains fill it in for us. Many voracious readers of novels read books with similar strategies. Perhaps that’s why just one of my readers has noticed my novel’s flaws. On the other hand, perhaps everyone else is just being polite.

In short, both technology and the human eye are imperfect. Despite layers of protection, an error sometimes sneaks into the published draft.

Coping

I once took an urban planning course at the University of Florida. During one long lecture, our professor discussed all the measures different cities used to ameliorate traffic congestion. At its conclusion, the professor opined that city leaders should do their best to minimize traffic issues, but most accept the fact that some congestion is the price of prosperity and growth.

Like these mayors, we authors strive to ensure clean copies for our readers. Rest assured, I edit and revise until my contact lenses pop out of my eyes from staring at the computer screen too long. I hired an editor to do the same.

But it still happens.

When it does, we shouldn’t assume it’s a result of carelessness or stupidity. I’ve made both of those haughty judgments in the past.

It happens because writers, like everyone else on this planet, are imperfect. We should support and love our fellow writers when we discover errors and omissions in their drafts, blogs, and published novels.

As a former Grammar Pharisee, I’ve had my “Road to Damascus” moment. Having realized that I live in a house of glass, I’ll refrain from throwing stones. I hope that my readers will judge my work on the strength of my story, and forgive the occasional sin of syntax.

When the criticism of other Grammar Pharisees arrives, I will smile in resignation and accept it as fair recompense for the numerous times I’ve been an arrogant douche in my lifetime. After building a deficit of negative karma in this field, I must now hope for grace. There are probably typos in this blog post. Since I’m on a bumpy Amtrak train to New York, just putting a word together is difficult.

Feel free to share your own personal stories of error & judgment. As imperfect writers, we’re all in this together!

 

{RL}

The Terror of Judgment

Why write?

 

A mentor of mine at the University of Pittsburgh called writing a battle against “the tyranny of the empty page”. On many mornings, I lost that battle. The causes were numerous. Procrastination, random videos on Facebook, Playstation4, self-doubt, doing all the chores in the house…these are just a few of the reasons for past defeats.

Lately, I’ve experienced a few minor victories. I finally published my first novel, and I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation.

That should be cause for celebration. Instead, I’m experiencing anxiety. If the act of putting pen to paper is a battle against the tyranny of the empty page, waiting for sales reports and literary reviews consists of anxiety-fueled trepidation. After victory against doubt, a writer experiences the terror of judgment.

How does a writer determine success? What brings that writer back to the empty page?

I recently sat down at brunch with my wife and her cousin. I contemplated those questions while conversing with Cousin Robert, a published author and a kind soul. I told him and my wife that I was uncertain about whether I would write the next book in the trilogy. If few bought it, and everyone who bought it hated it, why keep writing? Wouldn’t that be a message to put the pen down and shut the hell up?

Personally, I don’t give a damn if people hate my dissertation. The opinions of four people mattered: the scholars on my committee. They said I passed.  If people hate it now, I don’t care. I’ll smile, forget their names, put my head on my pillow at night, and sleep like a baby. Additionally, academics are normally passive-aggressive with their hatred of work. They might give me an underhanded compliment at a conference presentation, or write a snarky message about my methodology on a comment card, but they are very unlikely to tell me I suck directly to my face.

Reviewers and Twitter’s Keyboard Warriors, on the other hand, can be vicious. My novel is also not an academic piece analyzing an aspect of public policy formation; it’s a part of my soul. It’s my own artistic expression and voice. If people think it sucks, then they think that I suck.

Finally, why would I write another book if no one buys the first one? Isn’t that the perfect example of Sisyphus-rolling my own writing boulder up the hill of futility? I might as well tell my story to the trees outside my window. At least there’s no chance that they’ll tell me I’m horrible.

Robert opined that I was looking at it all wrong. A writer should not look to others for verification about whether a book was a success or failure. Such conclusions should come only from the writer himself. Robert also advised me to avoid reading reviews. Neither ego boosts nor soul-crushing critiques were good for the spirit.

Likewise, sales reports are often an indication of an author’s visibility, rather than his ability. Indie and micro-press publications often only record around 75 sales, and debut authors can expect half of that. While my book is doing relatively well at the moment, I can’t expect to appear on any best-seller lists.

Robert’s advice and personal reflection have led me, I believe, to the most suitable approach to writing. I have to write for myself, and no one else. Sales and reviews are irrelevant. If I’m compelled to tell my story, I need to tell it.

In a way, the act of writing is simultaneously selfish and altruistic. It’s selfish in the fact that I will say what I have to say, even if the entire literary world tells me to be silent. It’s selfless, because I will bring the next chapter of my story to my readers no matter what, even if my audience is limited to just one excited fan waiting for Book 2 in her local library.

Charles Bukowski once wrote, “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it”. That short quote encompasses all of my feelings about writing. For better or worse, my story is bursting out. I await the world’s judgment of Realms of Glory. I will write its sequel. I am both anxious and excited about what lies ahead.

{RWL}

Origin Stories

There is Life after Death, but Heaven is no Paradise.

A Discussion of my First Novel, Realms of Glory

Origins

There is life after death, but Heaven is no paradise.

I developed that elevator pitch sitting at a bar with my brother, Erik.  With strangers, it’s wise to avoid subjects like religion and politics.  When Erik and I get together, both are regular discussion topics.

My brother insulted the traditional vision of the Christian afterlife. Floating on a cloud and singing hymns for eternity? He found the idea boring and wanted no part of it. I proposed a Heaven that was imperfect-perhaps even dangerous.  As an author and screenwriter, he thought any book on the topic was a waste of time. Erik might have thought that the Christian afterlife was tedious, but he also believed that the general public would like to imagine Heaven as a place of peace.  Who would want to buy a book about war and discord in eternity? And even if they did, how could people ‘die’ when they were already dead?

We argued.  Since I’m trying to sell this completed novel, five years after that bar discussion, I hope I’m right.

Regardless of religious belief (or lack thereof), people would like to imagine there’s life after death.  How many folks have friends and family members whose lives were cut short by tragedy? Novels often take us where reality can’t.  My novel illustrates the extra chapters of life stories that were truncated by death.

It is a coming of age story that occurs after the protagonists have died.

The afterlife is not a boring church service. It is an adventure where we can interact with family, friends, historical figures, and strangers while exploring a new and dangerous world.  The bar stool argument with Erik gave me the pitch for my novel, now I needed a plot.

Three teenagers arrive in Heaven, but instead of paradise, they find a land teetering on the brink of revolution.

If that doesn’t have high market appeal, I don’t know what does.

As I began writing my novel, I realized that I couldn’t make it explicitly Christian.  An omnipotent, all-powerful God would destroy any force that rebelled.  Boring.  What about an omniscient, all-knowing God who knew rebellion was coming, let it happen anyway, and destroyed it with omnipotent power? Also boring, along with sadistic.  Neither was a book people would want to read.

Therefore, my afterlife was based on Christian tropes, but more like Olympus.  Heaven’s king is powerful, but has the capacity to lose. Without the chance of defeat, there’s no dramatic conflict.  To keep the story from reading like a Homeric epic, it’s told from the perspective of teenagers.

Writing this novel kept me sane during my doctoral research at the University of Pittsburgh. It was my creative outlet after hours of policy analysis and dry, academic research.  I finished the novel before I finished my dissertation.  While I frustrated my advisor occasionally with my creative pursuits, I believe that crafting this book ultimately improved my academic writing as well.  I hope she’ll buy a copy.

If you are still interested in reading this novel, and don’t think I’m crazy, this post continues with a brief preview of the book.  Without spoilers, of course!

Short Preview

Devon Newcastle, Madison Camrose, and Patrick Varberg are three teenagers from Pittsburgh on their way to the mall to pick up tuxedos for their senior prom.  They perish in a car crash.  They arrive in Heaven, but instead of the promised paradise, they find a tumultuous land teetering on the brink of revolution.  Heaven is more like Olympus than the Christian gospels, with technology beyond their wildest dreams. But behind the perfect façade, a dark plot is brewing, one that threatens to plunge the realms of Heaven & Earth into the fire of war.

No one can remember the last two months of life.  The teens enter separately and meet new friends when they arrive in Eden, Heaven’s capital.  While solving the mysteries of their deaths, they find each other.

The teens take different paths in their exploration of Heaven.  Devon, a football star on Earth, joins Heaven’s Realm Defense Force, striving for the prestigious title of 1st Corporal.  Madison enrolls at university, while Patrick experiences his first heartbreak and struggles to find himself.

Madison and Eva, her university roommate, are recruited by Deborah and Matthew, high-ranking officers in the Realm Police Agency.  The girls work to unravel the plot to overthrow Olen, Heaven’s king.  They soon discover that the conspiracy reaches the king’s inner circle.  Madison, Eva, Deborah, and Matthew work feverishly to stop the scheme before it’s too late.

Following an embarrassing defeat at the beginning of his training, Devon redeems himself commanding troops during an important exercise, impresses his superiors, and is invited to the Academy. While learning from legendary instructors like Saladin and Joshua Chamberlain, Devon meets Stephanie, one of his rivals for the position of 1st Corporal.  Stephanie is a ‘lifer’, someone whose entire existence has been in Heaven. Because she died as an infant, she has no memory of Earth.  Lifers are a notoriously entitled and arrogant lot, and normally don’t associate with anyone with nostalgia for what they see as a fallen planet.

A mysterious leader is recruiting humans and angels assigned to serve Heaven’s residents.  Many are frustrated with Olen’s near-universal salvation policy, and the message of purging Heaven of miscreants and hedonists resonates with the rebels.

Devon, Madison, and Patrick discover there is life after death.  But a fate worse than death awaits them all if the forces of darkness turn their newly-won Heaven into a Hell beyond their worst nightmares.

Next Steps

The cover and back cover of the book have been approved. As soon as the print copy of the novel is cleared, we’ll set a release date and begin promotion of the book.  Information will be posted on my author Facebook page (Rudolph W. Lurz), along with my Twitter page (@RudolphLurz).  Once we have an exact launch time, I’ll let you all know where you can buy the book in person or online.  The present estimate for release is late July/early August, 2017.

I might be crazy, but writing keeps me sane.  Completing this book has been one of the major achievements of my lifetime, and I feel blessed to have friends and family members who have supported me along every stage of this journey.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of the book and its origins, and I look forward to sharing more as we inch closer to the release date.  Feel free to contact me on Facebook or Twitter if you’d like to learn more!

 

[RWL]