Please take out your pencils

Alysa Salzberg
8 min readJan 7, 2024

Please take out your pencils

January 07, 2024

In the nearly three years since I published Hearts at Dawn, I’ve had a few surprises, but by now, I figured they were over. But I didn’t take into account that people notice different things, which makes writing (not to mention life) endlessly surprising.

Recently, a new writer friend and I have been reading each other’s books. I was thrilled that he liked Hearts at Dawn — but there was something he’d found confusing. He’d noticed that at one point Orin describes Beauvoir, the town Claire’s brother lives in (and, eventually, an important plot point), as being “almost exactly due east” of Paris. But every other time I’d described where it was situated, he noted, it was said to be west of the city.

When he told me this, I was totally shocked.

In all this time that Hearts at Dawn has been out in the world, no one else has ever noticed this — myself very much included. I’ve re-read my manuscript multiple times, including once last year, just before my friend Rip Coleman, founder of Bohannon Hall Press, very kindly surprised me by saying he wanted to reformat it and asked if there were any small typos I wanted to fix. Sometimes, it’s hard to spot your own mistakes, but time often changes that. And yet, the line about Beauvoir being “due east” of Paris still didn’t catch my attention.

What made things even worse, to me, is that not only is this statement geographically incorrect; it would also have totally changed the stakes and situation behind Orin’s plan to help a certain character (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here). East of Paris, the Prussians occupied large swaths of France, notably in the Alsace-Lorraine region, which they ultimately took as their own from France (the French only regained these territories after World War I).

Beauvoir, on the other hand, is in Normandy, which was only partially occupied by the Prussians. Although French troops would have been watching carefully for any sign of invasion attempts, based on my research, it didn’t seem like this small village a bit distant from major occupation and combat zones would be under extremely heavy surveillance from French troops, though Orin would of course still have had to be careful. Although it still looked magnificent, the nearby Mont-Saint Michel itself wasn’t what it is today — it was being renovated after a stint as a prison. Soon, it would be valued for the breathtaking sight it is, and well deservedly become a major tourist destination and symbol of France.

I could say that another reason I was shocked by my mistake is that I’ve actually been to Beauvoir. In 2020, my husband, son, and I made a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel from a nearby seaside town we were staying in for a week-long vacation. You pass through Beauvoir just before arriving at Mont Saint-Michel. Not only that; I figured that while we’d likely spend a few hours exploring Mont Saint-Michel, we’d also be stuck in the area for a lot longer due to trains to and from the town we were staying in only running two or three times a day. I checked to see what we could get to without a car if we needed something else to occupy our time (we were traveling with my young son, so we couldn’t have just chilled out at a cafe all afternoon). It turns out that in addition to a few stores and restaurants, Beauvoir is home to Alligator Bay, one of the largest reptile zoos in France.

We ended up spending several morning hours admiring Mont-Saint Michel from the bridge and sand outside it, then climbing its winding streets and taking in the beautiful view from its summit. Seeing la Merveille (the Marvel), as locals call it, was so stunning that I embarrassed my husband by crying a little, and I wondered why I’d never made this trip before, even though I’d dreamt of visiting Mont Saint-Michel ever since I’d first seen a photo of it on one of my French textbooks in middle school.

When it was time to leave, we caught the shuttle bus that stopped at Beauvoir. Before heading to Alligator Bay, we decided to have a picnic lunch along the banks of the Cuesnon river, a narrow string of water that flows out to Mont Saint-Michel. I was excited to see that the place looked just like I’d pictured it. In Hearts at Dawn, I’d written: “a little village was there along the straight slice of river, like a pendant swinging from le Mont-Saint-Michel.”

People who know me know that I never talk about what I’m writing, so my son and husband had no idea that going to Beauvoir meant anything more to me than what we were doing there that day. As we sat on the river bank, I took some photos, not just because there was a far-off view of Mont Saint-Michel, but also because it seemed like the perfect place for Claire’s brother to have his home and photography studio.

(If you’re wondering about Alligator Bay, I can tell you that we were very impressed. It’s a surprisingly huge place with a range of reptiles and an astonishing amount of alligators who live (and sunbathe) out in the open in a massive greenhouse with an artificial stream running through it). All of the resident reptiles seemed happy and healthy to us, especially the tortoises who live on a little area of the lawn and who you can pet (with supervision. I had never been so close to tortoises before and I appreciated their tranquil nature, which momentarily calmed my anxious one. I think if I were rich and had a lot of land, I’d definitely have tortoises roaming free there.)

I wasn’t necessarily shocked that I’d made the mistake of where Beauvoir is located in relation to Paris; mistakes and oversights happen when you’re in the throes of writing a novel. But the fact that I didn’t notice this pretty big error in of all the times I’ve re-read my book, shook me.

Even though Hearts at Dawn has been out for a while, I couldn’t let a mistake like this — factual as well as somewhat important to the plot — persist. So, all for one word, I contacted someone and asked them to create a new Kindle version with just this one change. I re-uploaded the edited print version, myself. Although self-publishing on Amazon is comparatively easy, there are always challenges. This time, Amazon’s Previewer software didn’t seem to recognize the fonts Rip had chosen, and my Kindle guy actually got confused and delivered the Kindle version with the mistake rather than the corrected one at first (luckily, I spotted this before I uploaded it to Kindle Direct Publishing’s platform and he fixed it right away).

But after some stress and anguish (too bad those tortoises weren’t nearby to calm me a little…), I can now say that both the print and Kindle versions of Hearts at Dawn have been updated to read “Beauvoir was almost exactly due west of Paris.”

I realize that this may seem like a lot of fuss for a single word. So if this all seems silly, no need to read farther, and I hope you enjoyed our imaginary jaunt to Mont Saint-Michel and Beauvoir.

But if you own a copy of Hearts at Dawn and you’re a stickler for accuracy, that means that your version has this mistake in it, so let’s try to fix it together!

Unfortunately, I can’t make the Kindle version automatically update. And while I would love to send an updated print copy to anyone who’s purchased one in the past, I’m sadly not wealthy enough to do that (as my lack of tortoises indicates). And I don’t expect you to buy another copy all because of one word. So, if you want your version of Hearts at Dawn to be as accurate as possible, please turn to Chapter 79.

Somewhere around the bottom of the page, you’ll see the paragraph that starts, “Beyond that, the land was dark.” The last sentence of that paragraph is the one to fix.

Print readers, please take out a pencil. Bar out “east” and put “west” in its place.

And for those of you who’ve purchased the Kindle version of Hearts at Dawn, feel free to head to chapter 79, find that same paragraph I mentioned above, highlight the word “east” or the entire sentence in which it’s mentioned, and add a note that this should be “west”.

Whether or not you choose to make this change, thank you from the bottom of my heart for buying a copy of Hearts at Dawn, and I’m so sorry this mistake somehow escaped my notice for so long. If you plan on buying a copy for someone or recommending the book to a friend, first of all, thank you! And secondly, the currently available versions have this typo corrected.

I hope that if you’ve had any recent surprises in your life, they’ve been good ones. If not, I hope that in this new year, they’ll surprise you again by turning out better than you expected.


A Beauty and the Beast retelling set during the 1870–1871 Siege of Paris, Hearts at Dawn has been selected as a Historical Novel Society Editors’ Choice book. It’s currently available in Kindle and paperback formats and is part of the Kindle Unlimited Library. I hope you’ll give it a read!

If you’re a fan of print books, my friend Rip Coleman, founder of Bohannon Hall Press, recently surprised me by reformatting the print edition of Hearts at Dawn. I can’t thank him enough.

I love the improved font, layout, & chapter headings, and hope you will, too!

Whatever the format, if you do pick up Hearts at Dawn, I’d be forever grateful if you left an honest review on Amazon and any other sites or social media platforms where you post. Reviews help books gain more visibility and credibility. Even a review of a short few lines can be incredibly helpful.

I’m still taking a hiatus from regular blogging as I work on my second novel. But I’ll be back as soon as I can with more interesting and strange things to share about life during the Siege of Paris. Feel free to subscribe to this blog or follow me on Goodreads or Amazon to find out when I publish new posts.

Until next time!



Alysa Salzberg

is a writer & worrier. She recently published her first novel, “Hearts at Dawn”, a Beauty & the Beast retelling set during the 1870 Siege of Paris.