When someone passes out of our life, we often discover we’ve been bequeathed a legacy, but it’s not money or jewels or anything you can hold in your hand. The legacy may be just a few words that this person said to us, a remark we took for granted that reverberates long afterward.
The death of science fiction author Carol Emshwiller in February inspired my thinking about this. For many years Carol and I were members of the same writers’ group. Invited by a member who had been her student, she visited our group one evening as a guest. I was intimidated by her presence, for here was someone well-known, already widely published, whereas I was putting a tentative foot on the bottom step of a tall ladder. Carol surprised all of us by being so enthusiastic about the critiques she heard, that she asked to be allowed to join our group.
It took a while before I felt at ease, not only because of her reputation, but because the work she submitted for our opinions each week was either an avant garde short story or a quirky passage from a science fiction novel. Both were inexplicable to me. I found them too daunting to comment on. One day I summoned up courage to tell her I wasn’t a fan of science fiction. She calmly replied that she, in turn, didn’t read “average-style “stories. Having leaped over this uncomfortable hurdle ,we found we were able to give each other helpful comments, for what makes a story “work” is surprisingly similar in any genre.
We also discovered a mutual insanity: both of us so addicted to writing that being at our computers for hours on end was more important that any socializing distraction. With that bond in common, we became friends.
I was aware that my biggest fault as a writer was overwriting, Even in college – decades earlier – a teacher had written across the top of my story: “Trust Your Reader!!” Good advice, but years later I was still constantly filling in too much, worried that the reader wouldn’t “get it.” Carol came up with more specific advice. One evening after I read yet another over-loaded story she said, “The most important thing in writing is what’s between the lines.”
I can’t say that comment changed my life or that I even grasped the full meaning. until much later. It was a while before I realized that my writing was changing. I was explaining less and leaving more room for the reader to move in. “Between the lines” echoed within me
We could all replay many words, sometimes too late. Due to a variety of pressures, my friendship with Carol ended. What I most regret is that I never told her what a pirvital gift she gave me.
In a revised script we would recognize when a voice turns us in a new direction – and let that person know, yes, you once played a valuable role in my life.
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play – both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.