Thursday, March 31, 2011
Writing With (the patience of a) Saint
The following GAG post is comprised of two "Observations from The F.A.R.M." columns. The first segment was published on February 23rd, and the second portion will be printed in the April 6th edition.
I’m going to attempt something new. Something I’ve always wanted to try-- but I never had the opportunity until recently.
I’m going to write collaboratively with another author.
There are worries involved, of course. My co-author and co-conspirator is an older gentleman by the name of Saint. He is a native Midwesterner and grew up on the plains without the sheltering embrace of ancient mountains. He’s a Vietnam veteran, and the father of eight. Children. Eight children. You heard me, right? Saint has eight kids. Yep.
Saint has also traveled all around the globe. He is incredibly intelligent, articulate, and experienced in the ways of the world. And he raises Chihuahuas. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the species, Chihuahuas are similar to dogs, only much smaller.
My friend is a sailor, a teacher, a husband, son and brother. He’s also wicked sharp when it comes to computers—guts and all.
So you can see how much we have in common.
Nope, Saint and I are as different as night and day. Steel and mercury. Hard-headed man of the world and soft-hearted country girl.
This could be painful. I mean, how will two such diverse people work together productively, and in harmony? In what genre will we write? In what style? Should we showcase our distinctive techniques, or should we attempt to make our manuscript appear as if was written by one author?
And what about that? That! Right up there! I wrote “appear as if it WAS written”. Do you have any idea what Saint will do if I write that into any manuscript of which he is a part? I’ll start getting lectures about ‘future conditional’ verbs or phrases or some such garbage…and we all know—the English language is Greek to me. He’ll insist I should have typed “appear as if it WERE written”--and I’ll get testy, and he’ll get cranky and superior… and we’ll both get returned to our corners by the referee as we Google like mad, trying to prove the other wrong.
And yes. Saint is usually right. Just like Jack is usually right. I wonder, sometimes, why I even take a stand.
I suppose it’s the Irish in me. I hate to admit when I’m wrong, and I simply can’t back down without a fight.
Or, how about this? Perhaps I make those mistakes purposely, because I am a nurturing woman, and I realize that the male ego needs a boost on a regular basis. Maybe I’m doing it so that my pals can feel good about themselves, which is the very least that a kind and caring friend should do!
That’s it! I’m sure of it!I must remind them to thank me for that.
So, yes. Saint and I have decided to co-author a manuscript. First, we’re going to take a practice run, and write a short story together. Just to see how things pan out. Just to see how well I can work with an irascible, funny, smart, way-too-confident gent...and to find out if Saint can handle basking in my exceptional glory. (Lord, I’m brave when he’s not around!)
Truthfully? I have every confidence that we will pull it off. It was just about one year ago that I read his novel, affectionately referred to as “Eggless”. Rarely have I read a book which caused me to laugh out loud, but “Eggless” did exactly that. Not since consuming James Herriots’s “All Creatures Great and Small” and delighting in the images of lighting cow’s farts afire have I giggled and tee-heed like I did when reading about the exploits of the young characters in Saint’s vividly written novel.
Any man—any writer—who can bring me tears of laughter is a treasure, and I intend to keep this old timer around for as long as I can.
In the meantime, let’s keep this “irascible, cranky, superior old timer” bit between us, okay? Saint is as prickly as a porcupine and he doesn’t waste his energy in attempting to be diplomatic. He says what he thinks, and when we emerge from our corners, it’s “no holds barred”.
I find that incredibly refreshing. Maddening, but refreshing. I hope you’ll stay tuned. Perhaps we’ll bomb and go up in a puff of smoke. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll make some magic, together.
Saint will know. He (thinks he) knows everything!
Well, I did it. I co-authored a short story with my friend, Saint. If you read my February 23rd "Observations" column, you’ll know that I had some misgivings about writing collaboratively with this man. I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to create a novelette with Saint, but I felt some anxiety, nonetheless. I had concerns about genre and style. About content and grammar.
And…I worried that he would be critical. That the two of us would get ‘testy’ with each other.
Of course, the presumption was that Saint might be the “challenge”, for we all know I am the most easy-going woman in western Maine. Laid back, calm, a joy to work with and a pleasure to be around. Just ask (almost) anyone! (Better check with me first, though, okay?)
Regardless of my easy-going nature, I didn’t know if Saint would find that I was easy to work with. Would he think I was fun? Focused? Professional? That my writing was half-way decent? I surely didn’t want him to regret saying he would co-write with me.
And trust me… if he DID regret it, he WOULD say. Ouch.
So, being the kind of woman I am (you remember….laid-back, calm, a joy and a pleasure… Oh! And candid! Let’s not forget candid!) I asked him. Straight up.
“Hey, Saint? How much pleasure, joy and calmness did I bring to your life when we wrote a story together?”
This is what he said:
“OK, I have to say the pleasure, joy and calmness I found writing with you has been nothing if not immeasurable. Your punctuation alone merits more than the occasional raised eyebrow – and I don’t think there’s any question that when it comes to Big Wind you exude a certain air that leaves no doubt but that the Big Cheese is in the house.”
Yes, that was his response. What the heck did that mean? Was that a compliment, or an insult? Oh, brother. I’ll let you be the judge. He continued…
“To my non-Kaz peeps...
“Hi everyone. I’m Eugene Saint – not to be confused with Saint Eugene who (they tell me) is another guy altogether. So, here’s the deal...
“What some folks like to call “collaborative effort” others might call “milking the old guy for a freebie”. Nevertheless... apparently I agreed to this. In my own defense I don’t remember a thing – they said they had pictures (and historically that’s been my Achilles Heel) so she had me by the proverbial [YOUR WORD HERE]. Of course I capitulated for the sake of harmony and thereafter we wrote a short story called Bee Dazzle (hey, it sounded like a good title at four o’clock in the morning).
“While my admiration for Kaz’s ability to put pen to paper is second to none, I have to admit keeping her in a near-Earth orbit proved a daunting task. She’d write herself into a corner and I’d throw my body on one for the good of the squad. You know the routine. Thus we progressed through 22k words – the results of which weren’t half shabby. Naturally you’ll understand my reticence to mention exactly whose half was the shabby part but suffice it to say... it wasn’t for lack of punctuation.
“Continuously setting the bar lower, we seem to have reached some common ground upon which to begin our new endeavor – a full-length novel. I have no idea what it’ll be about but my guess is it’ll be something happy, sad, terrifying, delightful, hot, cold and otherwise real mid-life crisisy (if you catch my drift).
“Cranky? Me? Ha! I laugh. Bite your tongue, womans.
I had to giggle (and bite my tongue) when I read that—for it is pure, unadulterated “Saint”. He’s the only one who calls me “womans”, too. I imagine you can now understand my trepidation. It takes a lot of fortitude to stand toe-to-toe with such self-possession and orneriness. But I survived, and came out the other side unscathed. Almost. I’m not quite sure how to respond to the “Big Wind” crack, yet, but I’ll figure something out. I always do.
Our short story is available to read online. It is unedited, and in its pure, raw, first-draft form. No editing, no tweaks or changes. We had no outline and didn’t really “collaborate”, per se, either. I would write a few hundred words, and Saint would read it for the first time, pick up the story from there, and run with it. I would do the same. It was a challenge, but a fun one. For me, anyway. Who knows about the crabby old geezer down in Tennessee?
Will we survive co-authoring a full-length novel? Who knows? I’d like to think we will because, after all, in addition to those other stellar attributes, I also possess a world of patience. The patience of a "saint". And obviously… I’m going to need it.
Big Wind and Big Cheese, indeed.
Top illustration by Eugene Saint (who was, apparently, the model, too...)