I once heard John Grisham say in an interview that he runs away from writing sex-explicit scenes because the first one he wrote made his wife laugh.
Which made me laugh.
Because I can relate.
I haven’t written much about my husband DDF, because his struggle is so heart-rending that even for a writer who naturally loves words, I’ve run away from the sad, powerful ones needed to adequately convey DDF’s journey from brilliant, athletic, curious and at the top of his game to, now, a fetal position most of the day, and unable to read or write, or speak coherently—a once beautiful man largely “trapped” by a progressive neurological disease.
But there’s a reason I’m writing about DDF now (instead of more about indie publishing and mystery men as promised, but we’ll get back to those later).
The reason is last night.
I do all my reading in bed, so last night’s pick was an indie novel someone told me I should take a look at. It has generated mixed buzz, but I started it with high hopes, because I love that every writer now has the opportunity to get his or her best stuff out there via the indie revolution; to share a dream with the world—and that we, the world, now get to experience all visions—nothing is closed off to writers or readers any longer.
But I was so disappointed—and I wanted to take this author, who is such a capable writer by the way, by the shoulders, and tell her, “Please, please, please, no cutting corners. Use an editor or proofer next time out, because you lost me with this one—and you didn’t have to.”
The first lead she used incorrectly (instead of led), I chalked up to a typo—and I can live with typos. But the next dozen leads she used incorrectly all led to what the author must’ve considered a requisite sex scene, which for the life of me, I couldn’t see the point of, so mired was I in the misuse of a dozen freakin’ leads.
And that’s when I missed my old DDF—again. I wanted him back—I wanted to be able to elbow him and say, “Wait—listen to this passage,” or “Oh dear, what do you think of this?”
It’s a funny thing about marriage.
Or any long-term relationship. The things you think about when it’s ending; things you already miss. Little things: a certain look, a half-smile, a cocked eyebrow. Intimate, intrinsic, positive “us” things—magic things that no one else in the world sees or hears.
DDF and I’d have giggled in the old days, but not in a mean way, not at this author’s misuse of lead (which, unfortunately, undermine her credibility, and just ten pages into her baby)—but at me.
No cutting corners. . . .
To backtrack, DDF and I have known each other for forever; perfect at times and other times not, but even when we have been imperfect, we have loved each other. No cutting corners. We met unexpectedly through a friend, and discovered we shared a love for books. DDF introduced me to Gunter Grass and Vonnegut, and I introduced him to Michener and Wouk. We read Irving Wallace’s The Seven Minutes at the same time—different copies of course—and hardly came up for air during, and then talked non-stop over wine and dinner after. We had a “glue”: it was books. Not only novels. We read everything: art, history, biography, philosophy. When we weren’t working or biking or skiing, we were reading or browsing in book stores.
We’d read passages from books to each other, and I’d share ideas for my own writing, and he would chide me for not using an editor, because I thought I knew it all (ouch). Or I’d throw a sex scene in (which he’d laugh at), because, hey, doesn’t everybody do it? Isn’t it expected, even required? Doesn’t sex sell books, movies, music?
Sometimes, but it doesn’t feel manipulative when . . .
. . . it moves a story forward, or offers a better understanding of a character or characters, or if the plot itself hinges on it.
And that’s what DDF intuitively knew—and probably why John Grisham’s wife laughed too. If a writer’s uncomfortable with a subject, it’ll show—and if s/he’s throwing sex in “just because,” it will show. Gratuitous always shows.
And, second point: everybody needs to hire an editor before putting their stuff “out there”—even if you’re an English teacher, because:
People, we cannot see our own screw-ups.
If you love your story, make it shine. If you don’t love it, holler for the cavalry. And I’m not talking just books here. Our bigger stories are our relationships–and we need to give those everything, because we can’t unring the bell. So, no cutting corners, and no assuming we know it all (even if we actually do).
One other thing about DDF:
I haven’t read the big love-sex scene from my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, aloud to him, because today’s DDF would have to struggle to comprehend a scene and I don’t want to add to his frustration.
Yet, I think my old DDF would say it’s a pretty good scene. In fact, I see the old DDF with my mind’s eye (I see him a lot this way): the cocked eyebrow, the bemused half-smile, the pride in me. And I still hear this man who now has such difficulty speaking, because after so many years with someone, you can hear the unspoken, that contextual backwash of a long shared history. And this is what I hear him saying:
“Well, kid, you finally nailed the damn scene. Took you long enough, but it’s honest and it was needed–and you’re not rubbing my nose in it. Good—no cutting corners.”
The man knew how to say stuff: brief, to the point.
“No cutting corners.”
I post on Thursdays and Mondays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less.