It’s time to give props where props are due. This, to my supportive and enthusiastic wife, Ryen.
She’s all that. And more.
The more is something I never would have guessed when I met her twenty years ago at that Hillel dance in college. She was such a cutie then, cute as a little button. And exactly my type, with her long, long blond hair, her great smile and bright blue eyes and thin, petite body. Features that she’s kept to this day. I have to admit, what grabbed me first were her looks.
I knew she read a lot, but I also knew she read the kind of novels I didn’t read, like…historical romance. And she watched a lot of television, which wasn’t really my thing, since I had just come out of film school and was buried in the Gigantic Technicolor Epics of World Cinema.
Her background, however, would sneak up and save me.
Years into our relationship I began working as a development executive in Hollywood. Soon I was reading two screenplays every night after work and fifteen to twenty on the weekends. We got married, and I realized that if we were going to make this relationship thing work we were going to need to find a way to reduce the workload. The way I had it figured, if we split that “weekend” read between us, with the two of us reading Friday night and all Saturday day and night, we’d have Sundays off. I gave her screenplays to read and asked her for a verbal synopsis, or pitch, of each screenplay. If the screenplay was good, or if the subject matter seemed appropriate for the film company that employed me, I would read it myself. Before long she became my “ghost reader.”
And we had Sundays off.
What surprised me, however, was that she was really, really good. From the start. No learning curve. Her sense of dramatic escalation, plot, character and dialogue stood out as something exceptional, something I rarely saw, even though I was surrounded by people whose job it was to analyze and develop story for films.
When I wrote BOULEVARD, Ryen read every word, sentence and chapter behind me, every night. She found the subject matter disturbing; this wasn’t the kind of stuff she liked to read. But she got it. She knew where I was going and what I needed to do to get there. And when I pulled punches she caught them. When I skirted the darkness she turned me around to face it.
I’ve never encountered anyone with such a natural sense of plot. And I think a lot of it came from her total immersion in television as a child, combined with her addiction (and that’s what it was – I bet you didn’t think I could get the word addiction into yet another blog!) for historical romances. Both forms of storytelling adhere to specific formulae regarding primary plot development, subplot development (usually a romantic plot-line), plot points, and standard three (sometimes four) act structure. Ryen didn’t know any of this. But she knew all of it. She knew it so well she didn’t have to think about it.
And so I’ve discovered that my wife is not just a supportive mother to our two young boys, whom she home-schools. She is not just a sensitive and understanding partner who endures the dramatic mood swings of an over-anxious writer. She is not just the perfect cheerleader to my occasional touchdown pass, or the chummy grade-school coach who’s there to pick me up when I fall. The girl is all that. And more.
Was it fate, then, that the young girl I met at the Jewish dance would turn out to be the brilliant, natural story editor I would need in order to find success as a novelist twenty years later?
I need her now more than ever. As I drown in the research of my second novel, as I write and rewrite scenes and chapters that will never see the light of day. I depend on her to review, organize, and focus my thoughts into coherent lines of plot and real-life characters whose dilemmas demand real-life empathy.
But don’t think it’s easy. She’s got her opinions and, by God, she’s always right. If you think it’s tough receiving criticism from your friends, try getting it from your wife. All…the…time. I put my foot down recently when she suggested that I correct the spelling of “labridoodle” in my bio. “It’s spelled with an ‘a’,” she said. “Labradoodle.”
“It should’ve been spelled with an ‘i’ to begin with,” I insisted. “It’s a made up word anyway, for a made up dog, a Disney dog, a dog that consists of parts of dogs that should never have been combined. Labridoodle is cuter and it’s the way I choose to write this silly new word to describe our silly new dog.”
But she won’t let it go. For my labridoodle “win” I have to give her a two-page rewrite on the sex scene I’m writing for my next book, because the scene reads, “too cute, too silly, too…Disney.”
We spent most of last weekend tearing apart my next book’s plot, again, and rebuilding it into a story worth telling. It was a painful and humbling experience. She took the inspired mish-mash I had and gave it direction. I would lend her out to every writer I know, but I’m afraid she’d kill them. She delivers brash bullets of truth. She tears my heart out and feeds it to the demons she keeps in her tote bag, with her sharpened pencils and antibacterial hand gel.
The girl’s an ego-killer. But she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t care, if she didn’t want my work to be the best it could be. And, shit, it works. She’s got something, man. Something that eludes me. I’d be a fool not to listen.
So, Ratis, who do you turn to when you want an honest, intelligent perspective on your work? Who watches your “blind side?” Is it your editor? Spouse? College professor? Another writer? A workshop?