I think I may have mentioned on this blog that I write stories. Have I mentioned that?
I have? Okay, good.
What I don’t think I’ve mentioned is that I don’t write short stories. Or even novellas. My manuscripts tend to come in around 90-100,000 words on the light end. My favorite ones, the ones that I slog and really suffer for are in the 160,000 word range.
In my quest for pre-readers. proofers, critiquers, beta readers, whatever you want to call them I’ve had some problems.
Not with the length. Most of them have assured me that the length is just fine. If I trim out any more of the story, it will lose something.
I’ve taken most of these comments with a 50 lb. bag of salt. Remember the post from the other day? About how to be a good critiquer? That bit about chasing people down and pinning them to a wall, threatening them with overly large and fluffy bloodsucking marsupials? Yeah.
That actually happened. Almost every time I asked someone to read my work.
I would’ve preferred they just said “no” rather than making me track them down like that. Or even saying “the story sucks, and here’s why” from an anonymous e-mail account that was closed immediately upon sending said e-mail after moving away to an undisclosed address in a new country just so they didn’t have to look me in the eye when they said it.
“Why does this matter, Katty?”
Well, see, I’ve been laboring of book 2 of the fantasy novel (draftthreealmostdonedraftthreealmostdone) and there’s always been a part that has concerned me about it.
About 2/3 of the way through my book, I take my hero’s leg. At the knee. No more leg. Magic cannot regrow a new one for you, here’s a crutch, have a nice day. What I’ve noticed in a great many novels is that often when a character is wounded in such fashion, he is left behind by the party to heal. Exeunt stage left.
My hero does not leave the party. My hero continues on with the quest. He’s angry, he’s bitter, he isn’t certain of himself anymore, angst and so on, to eventually recover and play a major role in the grand finale.
Despite my best efforts at research, I had a hard time finding anything on this subject. You would think there would be a stack of materials a mile high with all the vets coming home over the last 10-12 years. Blogs. Advice columns. Videos. Self help books with bad titles like “Your Prosthesis And You” or something.
I can find medical journals, but if you’ve ever read one, you know how useful that can be (Hint: unless you’re writing a medical thriller or researching for your own personal reasons, just don’t.). A few videos – they are inspiring (and short) but not really addressing the emotional trauma I feel my character needs to cycle through (I might get a 20 second blurb on how “I felt bad,” and that’s it). There are blogs, mostly written by women about having a foot amputated, but believe me when I tell you, men and women do not talk about emotional feelings and sex in the same way. We talk about it like it’s casual chit-chat. We giggle over it. We angst our way through it over an iced latte. We compare notes. “Have you tried …” “What about …”
On blogs in which women with an amputated limb talk about their emotional details or bedroom experiences, it’s always the same – either the stump in question was bumped and caused pain or “I didn’t feel sexy without my limb.” Or “I felt like everyone was staring at me.” Most of these blogs are written by folks who had time to consider what was going to happen to them. Their amputations were scheduled. They began their grieving process before the procedure.
Men do not talk about sex. Men brag, but they don’t really talk about it. They sure as hell don’t come clean about anything they feel is a short-coming in the sack. And not on the web. Oh, hell no. I could not find a single blog in which a guy talked about losing a limb. At all. If it is mentioned, it’s like a footnote – “I like long walks by the beach, rock-climbing, dancing Argentinian tango (andIdon’thavealeftleg).” And that’s it.
I get it. It’s traumatic. It’s intensely personal. People want to move on. Some are in denial and others don’t want to let it define them. I so can not blame them.
But these kinds of details were the things I needed. Not the physical, because there are dozens of rehab sites that walk you through, step by step, of therapy and what to expect, side-effects and irritations. I needed the psychological part.
I want to get it right. The last thing I want is for somebody to read it, and fling my book across the room in rage because I’d gotten it all wrong. You can fling it across the room because you don’t like it in general – that’s cool. But not because I flubbed important details about losing a limb. Not because I made it sound less important. Not because I made the recovery from a major injury look like a walk in the park.
Because that’s on me.
So I was ecstatic when my husband reconnected with a high school buddy after 20 years, who is a disabled vet and interested in reading my work, willing to go over it with a critical eye and call “bullshit” when he gets to the part about my hero’s recovery.
I am also nervous as hell.
I gave him the first book to read (165,000 words – about 650 pages) so he could get the background of the world and the slang and the issues that are brought in the second book and he tore through it. In 2 days.
He’s got the second book manuscript now and I am freaking out. Did I get the initial reaction to the discovery of the lost limb right in Chapter 27? What about his doubts in 30? Was my npc too harsh on him in 29? Do I paint him as acting too much like an asshole in 28? What about chapter 32? Does that make sense or do I push this character too hard or not enough?
I am obsessively checking my email, even though I know it is way too early to get the results back. Even though I know the guy has a job, and was only able to read the first as fast as he did because it was an utterly dead day at work. Even though I know the guy was probably speed reading the first just to get the background and is now reading the second with an eye for detail.
Did I get it right? Did I lessen his experience with my story? Did I insult him with my guesses? I based my writing on what research I could find, on how I thought I might feel, if I were in a similar position, but what if I got it wrong?