Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More about not using your longsuffering partner as your unpaid editor

Georgetown University's Matt Maples, one of the seven readers of this blog, brought a recent New Yorker article to my attention. Actually I had already read it, and with great jealousy, because it expanded on a theme about late blooming that I mentioned in my book about adults returning to college some years ago and never had the focus/drive/whatever to shape it into an article or book of its own.

"I was reading your booklab blog, and came across your post about advice columns, where you touch on the topic of spouses and authors. It reminded me of a recent New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell about Ben Fountain and other late bloomers. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it already. It's a great story. And talk about your supportive spouses! Here's the link."

What he refers to is the story of Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award-winning author Fountain's wife, who was certainly not his unpaid editor. Instead of being forced to read and critique his manuscripts, she did what spouses can more appropriately do for one another -- she earned a living and supported him while he wrote (he had been a successful lawyer, but he quit to become a writer and it worked). Gladwell notes that she was far more than his tireless supporter, she was, to use an old-fashioned-but-accurate term, his patron. “Sharie never once brought up money, not once—never,” Fountain said. She was sitting next to him, and he looked at her in a way that made it plain that he understood how much of the credit for “Brief Encounters” belonged to his wife. His eyes welled up with tears. “I never felt any pressure from her,” he said. “Not even covert, not even implied.”

Romance author Debbie Macomber has a similar story. Her husband supported her while she wrote, long past the time when many spouses would have hung it up and said "Quit typing and get a real job." Now she (and he) are multimillionaires.

I'm not saying every partner has to spend years as the breadwinner while the other one gets to renovate the attic as an office and type away. In many ways that isn't fair or reasonable. But I am saying that partners should believe in one another. If you love somebody and they love to write, total honesty about your assessment of their talent (if it is low) is not the way to go. Love means support, usually more of the emotional and spiritual than the financial kind, but if the latter is possible, so be it.

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