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Letter from Laura
July 2002

Mistakes Were Made

The Last PlaceThis is the season of limbo and regret, the time when my next book is out of my hands, but not yet in yours. Galleys of "The Last Place" are making their way into the world and the proofreader has made some excellent queries, which gives me the false hope that we might make this one perfect. I count myself lucky to have such insightful readers as Barbara Douglas of Houston's Murder by the Book and the incomparable Martin Meyers.

Both caught an egregious error concerning the film "Laura" before the drop-dead date of June 20th, giving me time to fix it. Thank you both. And rest assured, I now go to sleep at night muttering Dana Andrews, Dana Andrews, Mea maxima culpa, Dana Andrews.

I once saw a reader remark in an online forum that mistakes in novels are clearly the fault of lazy hacks who don't really give a darn. Okay, I may be paraphrasing. But the sentiment is accurately reflected.

In my experience, I make mistakes when I'm sure I know something. I'm never more wrong when I'm positive I'm right. After all, that's what you don't fact-check. (Dana Andrews, Dana Andrews, Dana Andrews.) I made a similarly boneheaded mistake about a Marx Brothers film in "In a Strange City," and a reader corrected me with such gentle good-humor that I wanted to hang my head in shame. I am positively hubristic when it comes to my knowledge of the Marx Brothers. Well, I used to be. Today, I would double-check whether Groucho was Rufus T. Firefly in "Duck Soup."

A cinematic slip-up in "The Last Place" was especially tough on my pride because the book is filled with film trivia, most of it provided by a new character, a man who knows more about the movies than he does about so-called real life. There are references not only to "Laura" but "West Side Story," "Manhunter," "The Wild Bunch," and "Once Upon a Time in America." "The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3" should have been mentioned as well, but that remains a great missed opportunity.

I can't help wondering if the readers who zero in on my mistakes will get the joke of Tess acting out the great death scene from that film over a bowl of kreplach, croaking: "Noodles, I slipped." Or pick up an extremely obscure reference to "Men in Black." In other words, I don't mind if you pick my nits, if you'll just give me credit for getting some things right, too.

Tell you what: When "The Last Place" goes on sale, I'll send a truly cool gift to the first reader who spots this allusion and writes me. Hint -- play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon by starting with an actress who once played a waitress in a Baltimore-based movie, and then segue to the movie where she was Bacon's co-star. The title of that lightweight '80s flick is the clue to the scene in "MiB" that is referenced in my book.

Laura's signature

And yes, for the record -- I know the line isn't word-for-word. Remember, nobody likes a smart-ass. Or so my mother keeps telling me.

Read Play With Yourself.
Read Musings and Advice.
Read We Were Haranders.
Read Spying on Harriet.
Read Gone Baby Gone.
Read The Last Good Saturday Night.
Read In a Strange Kitchen.
Read The "D" Word.

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