Friday, December 14, 2012

Less Than Perfect

If you had asked me just yesterday, I would have sworn that I had a healthy respect for my own limitations. I copy edit and typeset for a living, and I've learned the hard way that no matter how diligently I read proofs, somehow, somewhere, an error will slip through. Big errors, small errors, errors I can't believe I missed: there's always something. As my (work) publisher once put it, “Nothing clarifies the mind [making it possible to see mistakes] like the knowledge it's too late to change things.”

As if editing were not enough, my relaxation method of choice is classical ballet. I took class as a small child and went back to it only in my late twenties. As a result, I have no illusions that I will ever dance well. For a long time, I continued to get better, and that kept me going. But classical ballet is an unforgiving discipline: even the best dancers strive in vain to achieve perfection; and in time, the body rebels. The knowledge remains, but the ability to attain the goal slowly declines.

My other hobby, writing fiction, also came to me in midlife and required long years of beating my head against a wall trying to improve without fully understanding what improvement required. I've heard it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill, and I have the experience to prove it: ten years of ballet to go from klutz to not-so-awful; ten years of fiction writing before I hit my stride. The editing is harder to measure, because I'm not sure exactly when I went from newbie to pro, but I've been comfortable with it for at least half of my almost two decades on the job.

So why I thought I could conquer the mysteries of audio capture software in a couple of interviews escapes me. Even so, when I finished an absolutely wonderful conversation with Karen Engelmann, author of The Stockholm Octavo—which I highly recommend (as do the New York Times Book Review and the Indie Book Awards, among others)—only to discover that for reasons that remain cloudy the software had captured my voice but not hers, I was livid. I don't mean quiet, ladylike annoyed. I mean pounding on the floor, take a drive in the car so I could scream without upsetting Sir Percy and the cats infuriated. Such a wonderful conversation! Such a great interview! And no one would ever hear it except me.

I'm sure that whatever the problem was, it came about through user error. Yes, it seems absurd to me, a regular person, that after I told the software program to call up Skype and record what it heard, its default position caused it to save only what came in through the microphone and not the person at the other end of the call. But if I had a better sense of what I was doing, I could have recognized the problem and fixed it before I wasted 45 minutes of Karen's time. Alas, that didn't happen.

The good news is that she's still talking to me. If I practice over the weekend, I should have a new interview up at New Books in Historical Fiction by the end of next week. Julian Berengaut gets a few more days in the sun, which he surely earned by agreeing to be my first interviewee. And I have learned that lesson, so I am one step closer to podcast mastery. But while you're waiting for the new interview, do seek out and buy Karen's book. It deserves a place on the bookshelves of everyone who loves historical intrigue. It’s not only a great story but a beautiful book (on which, see my earlier post, “The Beauty of Books”)

As I finish this post, the horrific news about the school shooting in Connecticut has come over the air, which exposes my petty concerns and irritations for the trivia they are. My heart goes out to those affected, especially the children. Peace and love to all in this season of goodwill!

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