I have come to terms – almost – with the idea that I will never produce a perfect book. Bear in mind, I’m not speaking of aesthetic perfection, which I always knew was beyond my abilities. I’m talking about a book without typos or factual inaccuracies.
So far, I’ve learned of four mistakes in WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. So far. Those who have contacted me, by e-mail and in person, have been exceptionally kind. Usually, the factual errors – inconsequential to the story, but of great consequence to me – would bother me the most. But in this case, I am far more upset about one of the typos, in the author’s note. In discussing the Lyon sisters, I transposed the “i” and the “l.” Her name was Sheila Lyon, and I am heartsick over the fact that it does not appear that way in the text. It will, in the paperback edition and any future editions of the hardcover. But still . . .
Given that I recently was upset by a non-apology apology, I am more determined than ever to say “I’m sorry,” without any additional rationalization, explanation, defense. It’s hard. It’s always hard to be wrong, but it’s particularly hard in this case. Still, that’s all I can say: I’m sorry.
Over the past month, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about the Lyon sisters, which is somewhat ironic, as I purposely limited my research into their story, determined to create a novel that was, as Patrick Anderson said in the Washington Post, “wholly fictional.” As readers of this blog know, I was asked if I used a real-life case in order to spike sales. I also have been asked, at almost every local appearance, if I tried to contact the Lyon family while writing the book.
I thought about it. I thought about it quite a bit. But, in the end, I thought such a call would have been more about me than about them. I would have been seeking benediction or permission. Worse, I might have seemed a ghoul, intent on feasting on their tragedy. So instead of calling them or writing them, I locked myself up in my own mind and tried to think my way into an unimaginable tragedy, one experienced by a family of my own particular creation, characters whose inner lives I could know. In the end – actually, from the beginning – I knew I could never tell the story of the Lyon family. Even in a nonfiction narrative, I doubt that one could truly tell that story.
When I explain this at book-signings – and I explained it just yesterday, at an event at the Randallstown branch of the Baltimore County Public Library – I feel that the answer doesn’t really satisfy. That’s the thing about real life, unlike a crime novel. The answers often don’t satisfy. Sometimes, there are no answers.