A Thousand Fops or How I Got Into the Proofreading Biz
by Rodney Schroeter
At the 2004 Windy City Pulp and Paperback Show, I was on a mission.
Obviously, I was looking for pulps, originals, books, and any other miscellanea that struck my fancy. But my mission went even beyond that.
I’ve been to every annual Windy City show since it started in 2001. In the years since, I’ve picked up lots of small-press publications that reprint the kind of pulp fiction that makes me smile, clench my teeth, widen my eyes so that the whites show all around, and chuckle insanely, causing my wife to wake in alarm and order me to turn off the light.
And when I did finally turn out the light, I could not easily fall asleep. It was rage that kept me awake. The seething resentment that had built up, causing my skin temperature to rise, as I read publication after publication.
All those typographical errors!
How could they publish books with all those typos? Didn’t anyone actually read them before the manuscripts were sent off to the printer in Timbuktoo?
I don’t think the science of psychology is advanced enough to explain why I developed my razor-sharp ability to catch errors as I read. (Actually, I don’t think psychology is advanced at all, but that’s another rant.) Part of it has to do with my decision to master the English language. (I haven’t done that, quite yet.)
I think, also, that my error-catching mindset is due to the fact that I deliberately chose to never mentally skip over errors. I remember a nice lady that my mother knew, when I was ten, lending me some science fiction paperbacks. Even back then, I didn’t let the publisher get away with anything; I circled and corrected each error with my orange-ink cigar-pen before I returned them to her.
In contrast, most normal people would shrug it off. An error? OK, I know what it should be; let’s move on. But for me, it’s like tripping over a carpet.
Thus, at the 2004 Windy City convention, I stopped at each publisher’s table, gave them a spiel about how I could help improve their product, and submitted a business card. I’d also put an ad in the show’s program and here, for posterity, it is:
You put a lot of work into your book or periodical. But your publication’s attractive, professional look is all too easily undermined–made amateurish and substandard–by only a handful of typos.
I can help! My eagle eye, and mastery of the English language, make my proofreading skills and ability to spot typos unsurpassed.
And I’ll do it for free!!–the first time I work with you. Thereafter, you’ll find my fees so reasonable, my services so invaluable, that you wouldn’t consider going to press without first subjecting your manuscript to my stern scrutiny.
Have a project in the works? Please e-mail me!
Several publishers offered polite, “We’ll let you know” responses. As I walked down an aisle in the dealers’ room, one such publisher caught up with me. “Come to think of it,” he said, “I do have something you could work on.”
I returned to the tables of Dr. George Vanderburgh, owner of the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box press. I have asked him just what the Dickens that phrase means, but he simply responds with a cagey smile that it’s a reference to a Sherlock Holmes adventure. (Dr. George is a serious Sherlockian.)
“I have this project that needs proofing,” he said, bringing forth two thick spiral-bound manuscripts from one of his boxes. It was The Compleat Adventures of the Moon Man, written by Frederick C. Davis. I’d never heard of the character; working with Dr. George would prove to invaluably enhance my knowledge of pulp authors and characters. (Another recent tremendous boost to my pulpwood education is Robert Sampson’s 6-volume work, Yesterday’s Faces, which I’ll write about at some point.)
“Can you have this done in a month?” Dr. George asked. I thrust out my chest and said, “Sure!”
It was no idle boast. Proofing that nearly 800-page set of 38 stories was about all I did for the next few weeks, but I got her done. The absolute worst aspect of that job: I did not have the source material. So I was left guessing on a lot of mysterious typos, which will no doubt lead to pulp fiction historians, centuries from now, sneeringly making light of my work on that edition.
Dr. George has provided me, for subsequent projects, with that much-needed source material, so I have been able to check the input whenever that wacky OCR program has garbled up the output beyond all recognition.
And those subsequent projects? Here they are, to date:
(Most are part of a series called Lost Treasures from the Pulps, edited by and/or with input from Robert Weinberg and other collectors/pulp historians.)
2005, The Compleat Adventures of the Green Ghost, by G.T. Fleming-Roberts. Edited by Garyn Roberts. 2 volumes.
2006, The Compleat Great Merlini Saga, by Clayton Rawson. 2 volumes.
2006, The Compleat Park Avenue Hunt Club, by Judson P. Philips. Edited by Garyn Roberts. 2 volumes.
2007, The Other Seabury Quinn Stories, by Seabury Quinn. 2 volumes.
2009, The Compleat Saga of John Solomon, by H. Bedford-Jones. 3 volumes.
2009, The Macabre Quarto, by August Derleth (jointly published by the August Derleth Society and Arkham House). 4 volumes.
2009 (forthcoming), The Compleat Adventures of The Suicide Squad, by Emile C. Tepperman.
Incomplete and unpublished, The Strange Ocean Vistas of Philip M. Fisher.
In-process, The Compleat Adventures of Luther McGavock, by Merle Constiner.
In-process, The Compleat Adventures of Satan Hall, by Caroll John Daly.
Finally: In case you’re wondering, “What’n’e heck does that title refer to?” Well, that was one of the most interesting boners the OCR program pulled on my most recently-completed project, The Suicide Squad. The output: “a thousand fops”. The input? “a thousand Japs”. (This was published during World War II, so that kind of thing was OK then.)
Rodney Schroeter, in Wisconsin