Soon after my article on snapping turtles appeared in Highlights for Children, I was thrilled to receive a call from a newspaper reporter who wanted to interview me for The Daily Gazette. Our telephone talk went well. Her questions were clear, my answers articulate. Her rapid-fire typing never faltered.
Two days later, my headline appeared, “Story Highlights Turtle’s Life,” along with my photo, captioned “Haugh.” The opening sentence was perfect, but from there things deteriorated quickly. In line two, my surname inexplicably morphed from Haugh to my maiden name, Hobday, and so it remained for the duration.
I cringed when first quoted: “The turtles come out to the area they were born where what used to be a potato field, so we still get turtles settling in the driveway and see them start digging.”
OMG! I don’t speak like that – really!
Some of her statements were correct. Far more were not.
“She values (Highlights for Children’s) science articles and always reads them to her three sons.”
This one had my mother in stitches. “Sorry, Wen, but I can’t quite picture you reading Highlights for Children to Henry, Josh, and Zach.” Possibly because they were 18, 16, and 14.
Another one stated, “Hobday has lived in her Burnt Hills home for seven years but grew up in the Forest Road area.” At a glance, this sentence might seem okay. But since I currently live in the very same Forest Road area where I grew up – and since Forest Road is definitely located in Burnt Hills proper – I found her distinction baffling.
As the article drew to a close, I prayed for a merciful ending. No such luck. The writer, you see, had been fascinated to learn of our passive solar home, built by my husband. “How can 150 tons of sand in a basement possibly heat a 2,900-square-foot home in upstate New York?” she challenged me.
After eagerly fielding her many questions on the subject, I seriously considered writing an article on passive solar myself – until she did it for me: “Hobday’s house is heated all winter by a method called sand-mass.”
Not to nit-pick, but the heating “method” could more accurately be termed a “system;” and the system is “passive solar,” not “sand-mass.” But that sentence was nothing compared to her riveting wrap-up regarding our novel heating system: “It involved a pile of sand.”
I hurled the newspaper aside, appalled by the writer’s shoddy treatment of her subject, humiliated by her failure to proofread and, even more, profoundly disappointed. I’d trusted this fellow word-slinger, and she let me down. She met her deadline but totally disregarded what I consider to be a writer’s foremost responsibility: to be true to her subject. Just two minutes later, though, my disappointment abruptly vanished, replaced by an incredible sense of relief.
“Thank goodness I was only the subject!” I exclaimed to my husband, Chuck. “Far worse to have been the writer.”
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Wendy Hobday Haugh, a freelance writer from upstate New York, writes stories and articles for a wide range of magazines, including Highlights for Children and Woman’s World. Three of her cat stories appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s My Very Good, Very Bad Cat, published in February 2016. Currently, she is hard at work on a middle-grade novel.
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At this moment, thousands of would-be authors are slaving away on their keyboards, dreaming of literary success. But their efforts won’t count for much. Of all those manuscripts, trade book editors will sign up only a slim fraction.
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