I wish I’d said that

Dr. Gustavus R.B. Horner

One of the curious aspects of book publishing occurs toward the end of the process, when the publisher sends you copies of the pages of your new book. The pages look exactly as they will in the finished book. The author’s job is to read them one more time and sign a statement saying that everything looks fine. You’re done, and all you can do is wait for publication.

In my case, however, I think of a dozen things I wish I had said. History Press will work with you to make some changes to the text, even after publication. But those are few. You can fix an incorrect date or the misspelling of a name, but nothing substantial, nothing that would change the pagination, or the page numbering.

With this new book, Condemned for Love in Old Virginia, I had one of those second thoughts when I reflected on Dr. Gustavus R.B. Horner. Dr. Horner, a Warrenton, Va., physician, lived a few blocks from the Warrenton Cemetery, where Arthur Jordan was lynched in 1880. “Before breakfast I was informed of the hanging of a negro last night,” Horner wrote in his diary. He went to the cemetery and found “several men and boys of all colors looking at the corpse.”

I wish I had developed that paragraph further. What exactly did Horner see? What did he hear? Did the spectators celebrate Jordan’s death, or was the mood one of “gloomy terror,” as biographer James Boswell said of a hanging he attended in London in the 1700s. The questions are unanswerable; Horner offered few details. But I could have asked them anyway. I could have enriched the story by reflecting on what was there but also on what was not there.

Too late though. As I learned at the newspaper where I worked, your published work is not necessarily your best work. It’s where you were at deadline.

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