On Valentine’s Day, the past tapped me on the shoulder. Caught off guard, I stumbled. The wrong name. The wrong character. The wrong story line. Who was I again?
What happened was that one of my writing partners surfaced after nineteen years. Not a peep, not a post card; then, there their name was, grinning at me from e-mail.
Writing partners aren’t the same as critique partners. Not by a long shot. Critique partners are sensible writers, who gently point out where a scene makes no sense or where commas have taken on a life of their own. Good critique partners get me published.
Writing partners destroy my sleep, lead me into junk food morasses, and produce the most stunning prose I ever thought myself capable of writing, if only I could remember it in the morning. Four times in my life I’ve connected, on a deeply playful level, with another story-teller. Together—usually between midnight and five a.m. on weekend sleep-overs—we wrote bad James Bond, bad westerns, bad science fiction, and bad sword-and-sorcery.
Note the emphasis on bad. This writing, at that point, was never intended for publication. It needed work. In fact, if, God forbid, anything happens to me, there’s a box at the back of a closet which I hope disappears in a puff of smoke. The brittle pages, some so old they were typed on a manual typewriter, with carbon paper between the copies, would be best left undisturbed.
I went to that box last Wednesday and found two ragged files. Now I remember. This character wasn’t Becky; she was Joan. Thirty-five years old. Full of adventure. Full of sass. Full of myself.
We are in a bedroom, with the door closed. Books line the walls. This house belongs to someone else. In fact, the whole world outside that door belongs to someone else. Out there we are small, not so successful, not so bright, not so clever. In this room we can be anyone, as long as it’s fun and adventurous, and we don’t run out of candles or Fritos. We wear sheriff’s stars and command star-ships. We say lingering good-byes on the eve of going to battle. We know the dust and the smell of the black powder smoke and to stand in the street at the turn of a joke. We plow through harsh terrain and even harsher weather. We give impassioned speeches to elvish councils. We steal moments of joy and play, knowing those are all allotted to us because we must save civilization. We throw dialog at each other and delight in the repartee. As our voices grow hoarse in the early morning, we somehow segue into talking about what makes courage courageous, what makes honor bright, and why slogging through Antarctica wouldn’t be any fun at all.
This room is where we learned the “gotcha” of story, where we got hooked on playing to an audience, where commas didn’t matter, but characters’ emotions did. There are a lot worse places for writers to get their start.