Monday, May 16, 2011
BETA READERS ARE PRICELESS
On my way back from the mailbox, I noticed my neighbor, Eddy sitting on his front porch drinking beer. That’s what he does when he’s not working at the local Co-Op store loading seed, fertilizer, fence wire, lawn tractors, and such.
“Another rejection letter,” yelled Eddy.
I guess he could tell by the imaginary flow of tears soaking my T-shirt. With the temperature approaching a 100, real tears had a half life of one second. I nodded at him.
He opened his cooler and pulled out a beer. Pieces of ice slid off the bottle when he held it up. “Hey, this one’s got your name on it.”
I closed the letter and stepped up on Eddy’s porch. After pushing his lawn mower out the way, I was able to clear a path to a metal chair next to a stack of varmint traps.
Eddy handed me the beer. “Better not sit in that." I noticed the seat is about rusted through. "Next time, I’m going to buy the plastic chairs.”
I looked at the ice chest next to him. Moving it, would have freed up plenty of room in the swing.
He put his arm on top of the cooler. “I’d offer to let you sit here next to me, but you know how the people in this neighborhood talk. Better use my wooden tool box. It makes a good seat with that vinyl covering I put on it last week.”
I stared at the box resting on top of the tool box. “What about the litter box? What do you want me to do with it?”
“Just dump in it in the yard. I’ll tell Darla to put some fresh litter in it when she gets home.”
I was willing to do a lot of things to keep from offending one of my neighbors, but touching that litter box wasn't one of them. Stepping away, I said, “I’ve been sitting all day writing a new romance and prefer to stand.” I turned the beer up and drank about half of it.
Eddy leaned back in the swing. “I hope it’s better than your last one.”
“You finally got around to reading it?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve read most of it.”
After two months of waiting, I was finally going to get some feedback from one of my beta readers. Eddy's wife, Darla is the other one. “What is it you don’t like about the story?”
“Well for one thing, your opening.” He made a face like babies do after they've taken their first bite of green beans.
The opening paragraph in a romance novel is critical, and I had worked on it for weeks getting it just right.
Candy Cleavage waved at her new neighbor, a tall young man with blond hair and a quick step. He waved back and smiled, before thumbing through his mail. When he went back inside his lush cabin, she re-entered her house and changed into her favorite bikini. Spring had brought more than a new batch of flowers into her life.”
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked
Both of Eddy’s eyelids crawled up his forehead until they reached their limits. “Dull as a broken brick.”
“You didn’t think the part about the woman having an affair with the pool man was exciting.”
“What pool man?”
“I thought you said you read most of it.”
“Most of the first page,” he replied.
The Romance Writers Conference was in two weeks. I needed feedback before my pitch session with the Editor-in-Chief of Rosebud Romance, where love blossoms like wild flowers in spring. If Darla didn't come through soon, I would be going into that pitch session blind.
A car pulled into the driveway. It was Darla.
Eddy threw his empty bottle out in the yard. “I’m ready for another one. How about you?”
Darla exited the car and opened the rear door. She grabbed one of the sacks from the back seat. I turned back to Eddy. “She might need help with the groceries?”
He glanced toward the car. “She appears to be doing okay.”
“I better go help her anyway.” I put the empty bottle down and walked over to Darla. “Let me help you.”
She handed me the sack she was holding and grabbed a second one for me as well. “You’re so sweet. I can get the last one.”
I looked back at Eddy and yelled, “I’ll be back in a minute . . . as soon as I help Darla put this stuff put away.”
Eddy waved before he turned his fresh beer up.
Darla led me down the side of their cabin toward the back entrance. We had barely put the sacks on the kitchen counter when she grabbed me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek.
Startled, I said, “Glad I could help. Just like you can help me by reading my manuscript and telling me what you think.”
“Oh, I’ve been reading it all right.” She smiled. “I know who Randy is.”
At least she had read farther than Eddy. “Who?”
“Except for the hair color, height, and muscular build, he’s the spitting image of you.”
That didn’t make a bit of sense. “What?”
She stepped closer and ran her hand up my arm. “But that wasn’t what really convinced me.”
I pushed her hand away, but my curiosity got the best of me.
Her finger pointed through the back window at their above ground 10 foot diameter pool. “The part about Randy watching her sun bathe by the pool.”
“You think your pool is the pool in my story?”
She nodded. “The sun reflected off the water like sparkling diamonds until Candy stepped into his view of the pool. She reached behind her back and pulled a string releasing the top of her bikini, allowing it to fall to her bare feet.”
“You’ve memorized parts of my story?”
She blinked twice. “Every word of the good parts.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I tried the truth. “I’m not Randy the pool man?” Maybe the handsome neighbor, but I was certainly too old to be Randy the pool man.
“I know writers can’t use real names.” Darla often sounded as if she were being logical.
Since the truth didn’t work, I tried lying to her. “I’d never watch you swim without your top on.”
“I know better. Why do you think I do it?”
She did? That was news to me. I wasn’t going to answer that one, but I assumed she didn’t want any tan lines. “What about that six foot wood fence around your back yard? I'd have to have x-ray vision to see through it.”
“You’re going to deny standing on your ladder to clean the same gutter four separate times this past week?”
She had me there. Writers have to do research. I had to be clever and come up a valid reason for scoping out their pool. “I was trying to find my contact lens.”
“You lost it in the gutter?”
“The leaf blower. Should have had my safely glasses on.”
“Oh, I didn't think about that.”
She bought it. “I better get back outside and see how Eddy’s doing.” I turned to leave.
She grabbed my arm. “Wait. Did you find the lens?”
“No, not yet.”
“Maybe you’ll find it tomorrow.” She grinned.
As soon as Eddy saw me come around the corner of the house, he yelled, “What am I having for dinner tonight?"
“I saw some ribs in one of the sacks.”
“She’s grilling ribs again? That’s great. At first she had a few missteps with the charcoal lighter, but she’s getting better at the grilling part.”
First, another rejection letter, and now my beta readers were letting me down. My day had started off bad and tapered off.
Glancing at the cooler, I said, “I’ll take another beer now.”
Eddy opened the lid, grabbed one, and passed it to me. “Darla’s something else all right.” He crossed his feet. “Don’t know what I’d do without her.”
I thought of several things he’d have to do, changing the litter box, lighting the grill, cooking, washing, ironing, and buying groceries for starters. I twisted the top off the bottle and took a drink. Then it hit me. Uh oh, how much does he know about her fantasies?”
“Eddy, has Darla said anything to you about my romance story?”
“Not yet. She’s been reading it for weeks. I’m beginning to think she’s a slow reader. Don’t tell her I said that. It might hurt her feelings.”
“I won’t. Writers are like lawyers. Anything to say to me about Darla is in strict confidence.”
I sat on the edge of the porch and leaned my back up against one of the post holding up a two-color porch roof. Eddy patched a leak last spring, but he couldn’t match the original shingles. Once settled in, I turned the beer up again, for a long while.
He leaned down toward me. “I’m glad you can keep a secret, because I got something important to talk to you about.”
I gazed up at him.
He whispered. “I think Darla’s got the hots for somebody besides me.”
“You’re kidding?” I tried to act shocked and appalled she would even think of such a thing. “Eddy, I find that extremely hard to believe.”
“When a woman talks in her sleep she’s not lying.”
I signaled for another beer. “She talks in her sleep?”
He handed a fresh beer to me and looked at the front door to make sure it was closed.
“Three times this past week, she started breathing hard in her sleep. So hard it woke me up. Then last night was the worst. She called out the name, Randy.” He raised his eyebrows. “What do you think about that?”
Holy cat poop. I think I’ll be getting me some new beta readers. “It sounds to me like a clear case of overactive hormones.”
“What do you think I should do about it?”
“Better take over the grilling. Those charcoal fumes have been known to mess with a woman’s hormones in ways a man doesn’t want to know about.”
"I had no idea." Eddy patted me on the shoulder. “Thanks, man. I knew I could count on you.”
Eddy grabbed one end of the cooler. “Grab the other handle and let’s move this party to the back yard. I need to get the grill going. No telling how much damage Darla has already suffered.”
We headed around back and put the cooler down next to the grill. Eddy raised the top of it and examined the grates like he might consider cleaning off the quarter inch thick layer of burned-on fat. “Looks good to me. That's what adds the flavor. Be right back, I've got to get the charcoal and starter fluid.”
He stopped halfway to the back door.
I walked up to him and whispered. “I wouldn’t say anything to Darla. You know how women are when a man starts talking about their hormones.”
“Darn right. They don’t think we understand stuff like that.”
I gave him a thumbs up. They were right, we didn’t.”