Thursday, March 14, 2019

Charles Town and the Internet

Bookworm's delightful post on her visit to Charleston reminded me of another way in which life has become much easier in this century -- at least for writers. Way back in the twentieth century I wrote a historical novel set in, I think, the early eighteenth century. (Oh, okay, to be precise it was a bodice-ripper; that's what was paying the mortgage back then. But I did my research!) I shipped off the manuscript (a big stack of paper. Remember those things?) and eventually it went past the editor and stalled out with the copyeditor. We had a somewhat acrimonious exchange that went roughly like this:

Copyeditor: There's no such place as Charles Town. Did you mean to write Charleston?

Me: This is a historical novel. At the time of the book there was no such place as Charleston. My characters refer to the town by its original name, Charles Town.

Copyeditor: No. There is no "Charles Town" in my atlas.

Me: Of course there isn't, you idiot, it's a modern atlas I suggest you consult an eighteenth-century atlas.

We went a few more rounds in this style. Eventually I trudged over to the university library, xeroxed a solid pound of contemporary documents referring to Charles Town, highlighted the references and sent the papers to the copyeditor. The argument ended; I don't have any illusion that I had persuaded her I was right, more likely she simply decided I was too insane to be worth arguing with. (In retrospect, there were a number of incidents in my younger days where I thought I'd won an argument with facts and reason, and now suspect my opponents concededed just to get me to stop talking.)

Nowadays, this particular argument wouldn't have happened at all... or if it did, it could have been resolved by a few clicks in a search engine.

For at least the next week, I swear that I will not grumble about the deleterious effects of the Internet on our social fabric without at least adding But I don't have to go through stupid fights with copyeditors any more!


  1. a) I didn't know you had a blog. How come I didn't know you had a blog?
    b)DO NOT bet on the internet making it easier. My particular similar moment came when a copyeditor scoured the internet for the names of the three musketeers (only one is named in the book. Aramis - Rene D'Herblay)
    She found the names used in a MUTE FILM in the early 20th century and tried to browbeat me into using them. When this failed, she went to the internet some more and searched until she found the names of the people The Three Musketeers was supposedly based on. This despite the fact that the story of its being "based" on these people is mostly a tourism getting device. (Look, in the "original" they were all cousins. And all Gascons. Which just invalided half the book!)
    THEN there was the ultra special snow flake who told me where Jane Seymour's wedding celebration had been ACCORDING TO THE NET. Forcing me to dig out the biography written by her descendant and copy the relevant page.
    And no, I don't think I convinced either copyeditor. I think it was more a matter of "make the crazy woman go away." :D

    And because I think this is going to sign me with the book-promo account -- this is Sarah Hoyt.

  2. Oh, how depressing! OK, you're right, you're right; there is enough stupid sh*t on the Internet to generate reams of crazy copyeditor nonsense. I had an unrealistically cheerful view of the matter, probably based on the fact that I haven't dealt with traditional publishers since the Internet was a baby.

    And yes... as I get older, I have regretfully concluded that some arguments I used to think I had won by my wit, brilliance and grasp of facts were actually just conceded by people who wanted to make the crazy woman go away. Starting with the time I got the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to allow me to substitute Anglo-Saxon for English Comp 101... for years I thought I'd actually convinced him that I could already write better English than the T.A.'s teaching the course. Ha! He almost certainly just took the quickest route to getting me out of his office.


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