02 October 2014

No Need to Complicate Things

Sarah Lyall of the New York Times noted some oddities in her advance reading copy of Moriarty, a latter-day Sherlock Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz:
In the reader’s edition, some copies of which were sent to The New York Times, “Moriarty’s” narrator, an American detective named Frederick Chase, is laying out the background to the story – how Holmes and Moriarty came to be at Reichenbach Falls and what is believed to have happened next. All of a sudden he switches to capitals. “NO NEED TO COMPLICATE THINGS HERE, I THINK,” the text announces. “WHAT I’VE WRITTEN IS BROADLY TRUE.”

Can the narrator be offering some meta-commentary on his own text? At first it seems so. But then it happens again. In a spot where Chase and a Scotland Yard inspector have found an important clue that seems to be an excerpt from a previous Holmes story written by Dr. Watson, things suddenly veer off-piste again. “IT MAKES NO SENSE FOR FREDERICK CHASE TO HAVE READ THE SIGN OF FOUR,” the text declares.

There are at least six of these capitalized interjections, and sadly, they turn out to have nothing to do with anything so exciting as postmodern cleverness. They are instead Mr. Horowitz’s notes to a copy editor or, as Mr. Horowitz’s agent in London, Jonathan Lloyd, said, some “mild author reaction to some copy-editing points.”
It seem that the book’s British publisher sent the wrong file to its American counterpart, and folks in the US didn’t catch those interjections while putting that file into proof form.

None of Horowitz’s comments, Lyall reports, is rude, profane, or otherwise embarrassing—and authors responding to copyediting can become heated. These are simply the sort of “stet” instructions that every published author has sent back at some point. Such copyedits and responses to them used to be confined to colored pencil on paper, but now they’re in the form of electrons like the rest of a manuscript, and it’s harder to keep them sorted out.

Those capitalized comments also indicate that Horowitz doesn’t use or trust “Track Changes” and “Comments” in a Word document, and I’m fully in sympathy with him on that.

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