Thursday, June 12, 2008


Larry now refers to my co-author as "your other husband." 

He has a point. 

Most people write by themselves, alone in a room. The upside is that you're alone, and for those of us who enjoy our own company, being alone in a room works out great. No one interrupts to ask about the latest episode of a TV show you've never watched. No one borrows paper clips. No one goes on and on about a never-ending breakup or  a mother-in-law who doesn't get it. One of the things that shocked me when I took the G-man to his first playgroup was the stunning amount of small talk I was expected to generate for two straight hours. I was not equal to the task. We mommies gathered in the basement of a church with tons of toys and stood around talking. Women went into great detail about what their kids would and wouldn't eat, about real estate values, about finding a good contractor, about where they'd bought their shoes. They complained about their husbands. One woman talked endlessly and with great intensity about these people in a contest. She discussed their likes and dislikes and the feuds between the judges to a small clique of people who seemed very interested in the saga. I couldn't keep it all straight, mostly because I wasn't very interested. It was three months before I realized she was talking about the TV show "American Idol" and that Reuben and Clay were not people she actually knew.

My first few attempts to work with a co-author were similarly odd, and oddly suited to my communication style. The great thing about working with doctors is that, aside from the urge to heal, they very often don't like people very much. They don't chat. The first doctor I worked with would email me references of studies about statins or ACE inhibitors. Off I went to the library to look them up, read them, and fashion them into a chapter. After I had a handful of chapters, he would read them for me and make his comments via email. I spoke to him twice over the entire course of the project. The second doctor I worked with just dictated stuff to me over the phone. I would get these staccato bursts of information about sports injuries. Once, he did this while out to lunch with his family. That's right. I listened to the treatment for a dislocated shoulder and in the middle, he excused himself to order a tuna melt on wheat and to tell his daughter to sit up straight. The third doctor I worked with wanted to schedule regular phone calls late at night. I fought to stay awake and to listen to his heavily accented English while he went on and on about receptors inside of fat cells. Finally, I put the kibosh on these and just sent him chapter drafts to comment on. To my mind, these were successful working arrangements.

Now, I'm doing a different book, and the doctor I'm working with wants to be the co-author for real. So we have face-to-face meetings once a week, soon to be twice a week. We discuss every paragraph, and brainstorm paragraph ideas. During our meeting on Tuesday, we got stuck on one subhead and the information to follow it.  I started writing, and read aloud to him while I wrote. He picked up the thread and kept talking and I typed while he talked. Then he looked at a different part of the chapter while I cleaned it up and then read it to him. And it worked, and I marvel that it works, every time.

When we worked on the proposal together this past winter, he would call the house multiple times per week. Larry would hand me the phone and I'd rush off with my laptop behind a closed door to work on the chapter summaries or the overview or whatever. Also, we chat and laugh a lot. The other day I told him about my second cousin's little boy, who wore the same cheerleading outfit for four months straight. And about this pornographic mommie's blog I ran across last month. We were howling over that one. I know about his car troubles, his sister's baby, his vacation plans. This is some of what I've missed all these years by not working in an office.

Larry doesn't mind all this, and he's a bigger person than I am. When his co-workers call the house, I have often bristled. I feel invaded when they call, and a bit jealous when I hear him talking on the phone and sharing inside jokes with people I hardly know. I hope that will change now that I have my own working relationship. Okay, it's only one person, but it's a start.

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