May 21, 2010

My Husband

My husband Steve comes up with the best ideas for stories and for novels. Yesterday he emailed me an idea that immediately got me going and I wrote the first paragraphs of it. This was the idea. You know how people who die and come back say that they experienced nothing but love, which some people attribute to seeing God? Well, what if someone became addicted to that feeling and sought it out? Isn’t that the greatest story idea?

Here are some of his other ideas. When Einstein died, the only person to hear his last words was his nurse. His last words were in German, and his nurse did not speak the language. What a perfect story! Another, what if a young man who had a troubled relationship with his father was hunting, walking through a forest, and he came across another man scattering the ashes of his dead son?

My husband is also a great verbal story teller. He’s one of those great story tellers that when he starts a story at a dinner party, everyone stops to listen, because it’s invariably fascinating and entertaining and also a true story. His nickname is Lurch, and over the years he’s built a great Lurch rep.

He hates ~ I mean HATES ~ to write. Each sentence, each word, is torture for him because he wants to get it right before he goes on. Because of that, I can understand why it would be torture ~ I couldn’t write that way. He went to an all-boys Catholic boarding school run by Benedictine monks, a great college prep education, and they taught him well. He’s a good writer. In fact, he’s the one who taught me about the five-paragraph essay and about topic sentences.

He does have to write for his work as an engineer, and I help him sometimes talk through structure and look over what he writes as a technical editor. Especially since that was my job for 16 years. And I’ll often ask him about technical engineering-related material.

He’s also very supportive of my writing. He asks about it ~ whether a story was accepted and whether I’ve done any writing today. If I’m feeling down, he suggests that I write because it always makes me feel better. On a Saturday, he’ll say, “Why don’t you write today and I’ll take the kids for a few hours?” When I receive a rejection, we’ve got it worked out that he says, “Congratulations!” ~ because it means I’m putting myself out there, moving forward, even if it is a rejection. He also jokes about me finally, dang it, writing that best seller so that he can be an at-home dad and putter in the garden.

He wasn’t always as supportive. When I first started writing, like any sane person he didn’t understand why in the world I would want to do such a thing, and I’m sure he resented the time and attention it took away from our relationship. Plus he had the standard suspicion that all the sciences hold for the arts, and he would tease me about it. Even now he sometimes feels a little left out of my writing.

I used to resent the fact that he refused to look at my writing. I thought of all those writer couples who had this cozy ~ if possibly competitive ~ relationship, reading each other’s work, spending their days wandering about their house and running into each other in the kitchen as they got more coffee. But Steve does not feel comfortable giving feedback because he isn’t a writer, and he knows that I might not like the feedback he gives, so he opts out of it. Which took a lot courage for him to do. Now, I love the fact that he gives me space for my writing, and he does read my work after it’s published. It’s a great arrangement that really works for us.

One final story. I began AWP this year really doubting my writing. Halfway through the conference, I was sitting in a panel in which a woman was talking about her ex-husband and how horrible he was and how he tore down her writing. Right at that moment, my phone vibrated and I glanced at it. It was a text from Steve, saying, “U r the brightest star in the room! I believe n u! l, s” Isn’t he great?

What I’m Reading Today: I just started Nathan Englander’s short story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. I’ve loved his stories for a long time. They feel like folk tales but they’re so much bigger than mere stories in the way that great folk tales can be. I mean that as the highest compliment.

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