The Eternal Typo

By David Corbett

Looking for Pari? Fret not. We’ve traded places this week, since I’ll be in the air …

… heading to New York on Wednesday. Look for Pari’s post then.

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My first two novels and a brand new story collection are coming out in ebook format tomorrow through Mysterious Press and Open Road Media.

Open Road and Mysterious Press have also re-issued the works of fellow Murderateros Gar Anthony Haywood, Martyn Waites, and Ken Bruen. Click on their names to see the books available.

I’m particularly jazzed about the story collection, for it includes a new story not previously published, the eponymous “Killing Yourself to Survive;” plus “Pretty Little Parasite,” which was included in Best American Mystery Stories 2009; “The Axiom of Choice” (a personal favorite), which appeared in Strand Magazine; “It Can Happen,” which was nominated for a Macavity Award and has been optioned for a film; and several other nuggets that have appeared here and there but have never been collected in one place.

I’ll let you know how to track down the books below. For now, in celebration of the re-issue of The Devil’s Redhead, let me tell you about the most embarrassing—and perversely resilient—goof-up in any of my books. (So far. That I know of…)

On page 301 of The Devil’s Redhead hard cover edition (page 313 in the mass paperback), you will find this curious phrase: “sandstone palavers.”

In isolation, it has a certain surreal/dada/Lewis Carroll quality. If only that were what I’d intended.

I wish I could blame some drudge in the bowels of Random House, anyone but myself. Note to aspiring writers: Never edit when you’re blind with grief.

The word I wanted, of course, was “pavers,” a word I’d never heard until my wife, Terri, used it as we were choosing tiles for a rehab job on our back porch.

Part of the word’s charm was her usage, a kind of giddy almost childlike pleasure that she brought to everything. And when it came time, a few years later, to describe a Monterrey-style décor in a Mexican hotel, it seemed the mot juste.

Except my brain couldn’t find it. It rummaged around in “similar sounding” bucket, and came up with “palavers.” I knew this was wrong, and mentally earmarked the spot for revision once the right word came to me. Unfortunately, it never did.

The reason? By the time of this rewrite Terri had died of cancer. The manuscript for Redhead was purchased by Ballantine six weeks before her death, and I reworked the passage in question after her passing.

She was forty-six, the love of my life, and I was devastated. Anyone who knows that kind of grief knows it turns your mind and memory to slop. The simplest things confound you. Both the inner and outer worlds acquire a smudgy dullness, as though wreathed in a leaden haze, and the only light you see comes in lightning bolts of helpless pain and rage.

Such was my state of mind when the copy-edited version of the manuscript reached me.

When I came to the page in question I saw the copy editor had corrected it, but had been so baffled by my misuse, so unclear on my intent, that she changed it to another inappropriate word, with a question mark in the margin. It felt like a violation, given the word’s link to Terri, her happiness, but I still couldn’t conjure the right word myself. I stetted angrily, once again hoping that before I returned the pages the correct word would come to me. Then, of course, I forgot.

I forgot a lot of things back then.

The typo has proved to be as immortal as a Transylvanian count. In edition after edition, even in the U.K., the lousy little monster remains. (God only knows how the Japanese translation must read.)

I promised myself that, should a new edition appear I would finally, once and for all, erase this blight from the book. But when I sold the rights to Mysterious Press, I didn’t have a Word document I could go in and change at will. All I had was a PDF. But that allowed me at least to place a strikethrough mark on the telltale “la” that turns “paver” into “palaver.” I wrote a note pleading that this error be addressed in the final version of the ebook.

We shall see, said the blind man. I’m not, as they say, holding my breath. Typos, unlike the rest of us, are eternal. And who listens to the author anyway?

I’m sure somewhere, Terri is chuckling way. This is what I deserve, she no doubt thinks, for losing my temper. I wish I could tell her: Oh baby, I know. I know.

* * * * *

So, Murderateros: What’s the worst in-print gaffe you’ve committed, and have you been granted a dispensation, given the right to go back in and tweak the little sucker? Or does it sit there still, a troll beneath the bridge of your otherwise perfect prose?

* * * * *

Now, for a bit of TBSP [Tediously Blatant Self-Promotion]:

Here again is a little author profile video that the team at Open Road Media put together to help publicize the launch.


And here are links for purchasing the books:

The Devil’s Redhead 

Done for a Dime

Killing Yourself to Survive

If you haven’t yet tried my work, give one of these babies a spin. I’m proud of each of these books in different ways. I’d be honored and pleased if you decided one of them was worth a look.

* * * * *

Jukebox Heroes of the Week: I’m choosing two, one for each of the first two novels. Music always figures prominently in my books, and these two tunes were signature pieces for Redhead and Dime respectively: Rickie Lee Jones with “We Belong Together,” and Charles Mingus with “Moanin’:”


13 thoughts on “The Eternal Typo

  1. David Corbett

    Dear readers: It's been an interesting few weeks luckwise. My computer is in the shop, limiting me to my iPhone, and my foot is still in a cast, limiting my ability to go somewhere else to work on another computer (can't drive). So my responses may seem brief, cryptic and infrequent. I apologize. But please chime in, my fellow Rati will pick up some of the slack, as will all the other usual suspects (he says confidently).

  2. Allison Davis

    Hooray for e-books.
    Did you see the NYT article this Sunday?

    Talks about publishers wanting more than a book a year, two books a year and a short story. Readers are demanding more. Can we really read more on e-books? So as the world changes, is there really more demand for books?

    I love how the article says that the "novelists" only need turn out one book every ten years but the crime fiction writers need to turn out two or more a year….and that's because….crime writers actually get read perhaps?

    You've made the typo famous now all that palavering about pavers. Great music choices this morning.

  3. Jake Nantz

    Beautiful as always, David. I can't even count how many gaffes I've had (and for an 'English' teacher, nevermind that I teach lit, not grammar, that's bad). The two worst I've had were when I stood in front of a classroom of seniors and couldn't write the word license on the whiteboard. I couldn't remember how to spell the damn thing. That was embarrassing.

    Then there was the time, on a message board, that I gleefully pointed out a Freudian slip that involved someone's speeling.

    Yep, I called him out on his speeling. Dammit. Maybe, as a dyslexic, I should hold off on doing that, huh?

  4. David Corbett

    Jake: thanks for the attaboy. Speeling ( which my phone's autocorrect wants to change to sleeping) — I love that story, thanks. If it's any consolation, we always had to help the head of the math department with long division.

  5. Sarah W

    Two things come to mind:

    I once changed a 9 mm to a .38, in a story (ironically because I wanted the MC to have *less* firepower) and left in the “mm,” because I’m shaky on firearms and meant to look it up and go back and didn't. Wasn't long before I received a heads-up that while a 38 mm handgun might be theoretically possible, when my MC fired it, the entire wall in front of her would go one way, and her arm the other. Accompanying this was an image of the closest caliber weapon to my mistake – it was mounted on a wheeled platform and surrounded by the military personnel it took to fire it.

    Luckily (for a given value of luck), the story was being workshopped at the time, so only thirty people were staring at me when my ignorance was revealed. I got the message, and am now *very* careful to get my firearm usage checked by people who know all about them (thanks again, Zoë!).

    Every so often, I receive a letter or e-mail from people who've read an article I wrote a couple years ago on the founder of a town. They want me to know that I made it seem as if this highly respected man had his heirs with his stepdaughter instead of his wife and I should fix this terrible mistake right away and send in an errata notice and promise never to do it again, etc.

    Luckily (again) I’m able to tell them that if a mistake had been made — I try not to judge (openly) until after I send in the article — it had been made 190-plus years ago by the gentleman himself, and I was just reporting what had been an open, *documented* secret at the time.

    But I do wonder/obsess about/grit my teeth over how many people think I have that wrong . . . it's worse somehow than acknowledging a real mistake, probably because I've had more practice at that. Every so often, I think about writing a companion piece: “Yeah, He Really Did: the Extenuating, if Self-Serving, Circumstances of the Honorable Mr. X." But it probably won't help.

    And also, thanks for the shot of Mingus. Don't know why, but he was the cure for a rough morning.

    (and I'm not admitting how many times I've spellchecked this comment before giving up)

  6. David Corbett

    Sarah: you're more than welcome re: the Mingus. You earned it and more by making me laugh. A 38 mm handgun. Dirty Harry, step aside. As for papa Stepdaddy and his denial-addicted acolytes – screw em if they can't etc.

  7. Tom

    This was spoken, not written, but since it occurred on-air at a 100,000 watt radio station in the middle of drive-time, the embarrassment factor should still be in the RedZone:

    "That was the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, with Jeffrey Piano as the guest Siegelist."

  8. Lisa Alber

    I just didn't land a job (yeah, one of those real ones in which I'd have sat in an office 40 hours/week). I wonder if I was passed over because at one point I said, "Because I'm frickin' good at what I do." (At least I didn't say "fucking.") A wee bit rusty with the interviewing skills, I'd say. 🙂

    Can't remember any written gaffes (thankfully)…My gaffes tend to be of the foot-in-mouth variety, alas.

    Covers look great — those are newly designed, right?

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Sarah W – you're welcome, any time 🙂 I'm still waiting to get my hands on a 12.7mm Barrett, or even a 14.5mm Gepard …

    David, the best/worst typo I ever came across was back when I worked (very) briefly for my local newspaper. The typesetters took in an advert for a local Country Club …

    … and missed the 'o' out of Country.

    Another nice one was a school history essay I spotted somewhere, which declared that Queen Elizabeth the first could never get any rest because Mary Queen of Scots was always hoovering in the background 🙂

    Beautiful story, as always, by the way. Hope the books do wonders!

  10. Tammy Cravit

    Sarah's comment is funny to me because I just finished reading a book by a very well-known author – to protect the guilty, I won't say which one – who talked about a character having an 18mm handgun for self-defense. 18mm weapons DO exist — well, 20mm, which is close enough — but apart from being frightfully expensive, they're decidedly impractical for self-defense. A representative sample can be found at for the curious. Not only is the rifle ungodly expensive and enormously heavy, but the ammunition it fires is $10 a round. Ouch!

    My most embarrassing wordo, now mostly corrected, was a spot in a story where my brain slipped a gear for a second and turned "an exquisite flash of pain" into "an exquisite pain of pain". Not quite what I expected, and it doubtless confused more than one reader.

  11. PD Martin

    Congrats on the new release, David.

    My typo/incorrect detail is SO bad I'm completely, completely embarrassed to admit it. I don't know how I did it, don't know how it got past so many editors. But it's still there in print and so far I haven't had the chance to change it.

    I'm shuddering knowing I'm about to write it…admit to it. Deep breath…

    In Fan Mail I talk about a case being FBI jurisdiction because the killer had crossed state lines. Problem was, the murders took place in San Francisco and LA.

    OMG…I just confessed to my HUGE sin. Seriously, feeling ill now just thinking about it and writing. And it's still in print.


  12. David Corbett

    Tom, Lisa, Tammy, Zoe & Phillips: thanks for chiming in and adding a few chuckles (I'm having a hard time ridding my mind of the image of Mary Queen of Scots vacuuming so near to Liz I.) wish I could respond properly. My Mac's mother board died. Fabulous timing. Just lucky I guess.

  13. Tom

    DAMN!! That's Cornelia-level suckyluck. Do you need a loaner? We have something you could use . . .

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