Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Books Are Never Really Done

Part of writing non-fiction books is that even when you think you're done, you're not. My wife always wonders why I don't purge all my research when I'm done with a book. I understand her concerns, but it took a lot of time to pull all of that material together and you never know, you might need it again.
I keep the material so that if new evidence or data emerges, I can cross-reference it. Despite the hard work I do in archives around the globe, there are things that come out that both surprise and delight me every year about the subjects I write about.
A few cases in point:
This week I was reached out to by a member of the Rapson family regarding my book, Terror of the Autumn Skies. They wanted to connect with the members of the family I had talked to and to fill n some of the genealogy of their family tree. Wow. I hadn't looked at that material in years - but I had it. Also, the person that does genealogy for me, was all over this request as well. We both got over names and addresses etc., so that this person could connect with their roots. It was pretty cool. Two of the people I had interviewed had passed away, but she was finally able to make contact with one of her long lost cousins.
A San Diego historian reached out to me on the same book a month ago, attempting to explore my research into the Rapson family in terms of their San Diego ties. Very niche research and - very cool.
I get things like this every few months or so, and answer them best that I can as long as they aren't belligerent. I had this guy write me a message about Cruise the Sea Eagle, my book on Count Felix Von Luckner about three months back. This guy, let's refer to him as "Mr. Ass," sent me two pages of "corrections" I needed to make to the book. His "credentials" (his word, not mine) was that he was born in Germany and, "I know more about Count Luckner than you." To be blunt, he had two mistakes that I learned of after the publication (back in 2005). The rest were either wrong, subject to his twisted interpretation, or just pointless. One I couldn't even find in the book. I didn't respond to Mr. Ass. The lack of a time machine (mine disappeared six months ago and, according to my calculations, should be reappearing in six weeks) makes such messages pointless. I'm not going to go back in time and correct the book, though I'm more than willing to make updates in future editions… if necessary. As I've written in Cubicle Warfare, 'Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll get dirty and the pig likes it."
You have to have a little more credibility than saying 'I'm an expert.' There are a handful of exceptions to this - like Jon Guttman and Alan Toelle, who are very intelligent and have strong areas of expertise. In these cases they have never said they were experts - I made that determination on my own.
I am in a constant state of learning. Look, I'm a historian - my whole career here is about learning new things. I enjoy that part of my work. No matter what, there are always things that people find that they question - and that's healthy. I had one person argue with me on Lost Eagles about the spelling of a small French town. I was quoting an official report and used their spelling, which was off by a letter or two. I should have stuck a (sic) next to it but missed it. Oddly enough that minor nit was something that drove him nuts. I didn't mind this though, because he was friendly and nice about raising the point with me.
I do want to know if I have made mistakes…but tone and presentation is everything. If you are seeking validation of your importance in the universe, I'm not the guy to reach out to.
I know you're all dying to know if I responded to Mr. Ass and what I said. I did not. This blog entry will have to serve and I assume, because he reads everything I write so he can refute it, he will see this and respond…so watch the comments below!
The difference in these requests is simple. One was a request for information or assistance. Glad to help as long as you realize it will take some time to dig up the info. The other is a scathing critique from some self-proclaimed expert with his head firmly planted between the pale white cheeks of his own butt.
Rant mode: OFF

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