Please Don’t Play it Again, Sam, by Diane Chamberlain
Is your name Sam? Probably not. Neither is mine. Neither are seven of the eight major characters in my new novel, The Midwife’s Confession. But as I was writing this book, my Word program suddenly decided that if the name Sam was good enough for the guy who really is named Sam in the story, well then, it was good enough for everyone else, too! While Word was at it, it also decided that the town of Wilmington, North Carolina should be named Sam. Also, the fictional Hunter High School became Sam High School. And the fictional babies-in-need program I’d dubbed Stork Village? Word thought the name SamSam sounded much better.
But wait! There’s more! Like many of my high school English teachers, Word didn’t think I should begin any sentences with the word ‘But’, which I’m afraid I do all the time. To punish me, it decided all capitalized buts should also be named Sam.
Word picked the worst possible time to torture me: a few frantic days prior to my deadline. I was working on a scene when I noticed that I seemed to have written the name Sam instead of the name Tara. I scrolled back and discovered that somehow, all my Taras had been changed to Sam. Very weird, I thought, but I could deal with it. I would simply do a “find and replace” function to carefully select the Sams that needed to be replaced with Tara.
That’s when I discovered the terrible truth. Tara, Noelle, Emerson, Grace, Jenny, Haley and Anna–all of them were now Sam. Wilmington, But, Hunter — all Sam. Stork Village — SamSam.
What to do? I back up my documents religiously and in many different ways (thumb drive, Dropbox.com, emailing them to myself, etc), and I have Word set to save every single minute that I’m working. But my last backed up copy had been from an hour earlier and I’d written a ton during that hour, so I decided I would simply have to change the Sams back to their original monikers. If I had this to do over again, I probably would surrender and go back to an earlier version, because the path I chose took several hours of utter torture.
For example, what to do with a sentence like the following?
“What?” Sam asked, and Sam and Sam both leaned across the table toward Sam.
Or how about this one?
Although there were some exchanges between Sam, myself, Sam and Sam, most of them were with Sam and Sam about SamSam.
Word seemed to settle down after I made all the corrections (which were accompanied by many cuss words and the gnashing of teeth), but it did happen once again when I was in the midst of revisions. This time it was Noelle, the midwife herself, who tried to take over the story. I caught her before she could do too much damage, but I have to say it gave me a chill: both Sam and Noelle are dead. Maybe they were a little bit angry with me? I can assure you that as I work on my next novel, I’m keeping a very careful eye on the characters I’m killing off!