They are just such a great bunch of people. Their critiques run the gamut from necessary nitpicks to pointing out near-fatal flaws in my fiction. They’re making the novel a stronger work, and me a stronger writer. Recently, two of them bore this out in a way I never would have expected.
It started with one reader’s concern that two characters, a police officer and his teacher wife, were overreacting to behavior by one of the wife’s special ed students. They (I) called it stalking, but my reader rightly pointed out that I hadn’t provided enough information about the girl to warrant this.
My husband taught special ed for four years, and I worked as a substitute aide for three weeks in place of an aide who had left early for college. I knew enough about the various disorders that I could fill in the blanks about the girl with enough research, and it wasn’t long before I came up with a name for her problem: attachment disorder.
My reader liked the way I reconstructed the conversation around this disorder, and better yet, it led to a new scene between the two characters, one that highlighted their fundamental conflict. A new problem, however, surfaced, but it wasn’t with the novel. Owing to my research, I started reading way too much into my toddler’s fickle behavior with me: for instance, the way he doesn’t react when I leave the house or spend a lot of time enjoying my return home.
It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize his behavior is perfectly normal for a toddler. It was thinking about the difficulty I’ve had learning how to parent him: how angry and distanced from him I felt when he had reflux and cried all the time between the ages of 6 weeks and 4 months, and how interacting with him still doesn’t come easily. Before he could crawl I put him in his playdome while I worked. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to play with him for extended periods of time. He’s a bit too young for Pretend, and I don’t know of any construction zones nearby. I was also remembering my most recent conflicts with work and child care, which I still think hurt him.
In short, it was unadulterated guilt. And that’s where the second reader comes in. She prefers to do her critiques on hardcopy and send me a couple of chapters at a time. Yesterday’s package included (along with some much-needed dark chocolate) a new book: How She Really Does It, by Wendy Sachs.
Sure, I thought, glancing at the jacket, this is about Stay-at-Work moms. How does this relate to me? But I don’t do enough reading, so I decided to read it anyway. Before long, I found that 1) the guilt I feel is just the same as other moms who feel compelled to work, even if they enjoy the office environment. That 2) the compulsion is normal. And 3) Sachs herself had been through the anger and resentment problem when her son experienced colic. Suddenly, I felt the return of my confidence in my career choices and in my son’s resilience (something I feel should never be depended upon, but which does deserve plenty of credence).
I love my readers. Friends aren’t a phenomenon I’ve known well in my lifetime, but my experience with this novel is quickly changing that. I am so blessed.