Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Writer's Error

In a recent video clip, I misquoted my own granddaughter. In that video, I said that inspiration for The Unfinished Angel came from my granddaughter Pearl, who told her first story at age two. Her correct story is/was: "Once upon a time in Spain there was an angel and the angel was me." In the clip, I omitted 'in Spain,' an important element in her story and in sparking my imagination.

I was fascinated that she would include 'in Spain.' How could she know what or where Spain was? My daughter explained that she had recently read Ferdinand the Bull to Pearl; that story begins with, "Once upon a time in Spain. . ." I love knowing that. I love the thousands of ways words and stories shape our imaginations.

I was so intrigued by Pearl's one-line story that I repeated it each night, like a mantra, before I went to sleep, hoping my subconscious would find the story. Several times I tried to jump-start the story, but I kept getting stuck on that Spanish element. I have not lived in Spain; I do not speak Spanish fluently; the Spanish angel remained elusive. Then, four years after first hearing Pearl's story (not six or seven years as I said in the clip) (sometimes I cannot add or subtract), my husband and I spent a year in Switzerland, where we had worked twenty-five years ago.

The above photo shows our view in Lugano, Switzerland.

And there I found the angel. I saw where the angel lived and heard how she/he spoke. So: it became a Swiss angel instead of a Spanish one, and once that element was discovered, the story unfolded one scene at a time.

Now, one more error to admit: I also misquoted Pearl on the book's dedication page! Ack! Every other page of the story had been read and re-read and proofread dozens of times. My editor, proofreaders and I are all sticklers for accuracy. There was no way for them to know, however, what Pearl had actually said, so they could not detect my error. I don't know how I made that mistake. It bothers me that I did.

My only defense is this: in the space of three weeks in January--just before I submitted the dedication--four people died: my beautiful brother Dennis; mentor and friend Mary Crist Fleming; and two cherished librarians, Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz. Their names appear on the same page as my misquoted, brilliant granddaughter Pearl.


  1. I was rattle-brained for months after my father-in-law died. Surely you are entitled to some slippage in the wake of all that loss.

    We are counting the days here until your book arrives. May it soar with the eagles!

  2. I bet your brilliant Pearl forgave you in a heartbeat. And it makes sense that you would omit "in Spain" because even though that piece of Pearl's pearl was one of the most important elements to you when Pearl said it, after you moved your angel to Switzerland, the Spain element ceased to be important to you and shifted into a supplementary folder in your brain. This public confession speaks to your integrity as a person. The fact that you did not substitute 'in Switzerland', putting words in Pearl's mouth, speaks to your integrity as a writer.

  3. What a beautiful view in Lugano, Switzerland! I Googled it and went there.
    Sharon, the fact that your granddaughter was listening intently as her mother read "once upon a time in Spain" is so wonderful. That shows she was paying attention and at a very young age her minds computer was storing the info she heard. Kids have these marvelous imaginations.
    Several lessons can be learned from the communication you had with Pearl and also how the whole story evolved. Neat!

  4. Cate, brattcat, and Mary Frances: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You are three sensitive readers, and I'm grateful for you.