By Dan Higgins
I met Pamela Skjolsvik (it’s pronounced SHOLES-vick) in graduate school eight years ago. She was writing about death. I was writing about a missing boy who was presumed dead. So we had gloomy subject matter in common. I remember her from those days as a quiet woman who may have possibly been in a perpetual bad mood.
That’s not to say she was unpleasant. She was slyly funny. We were part of the same group who joked and decompressed over cocktails and cigarettes (hers — I had finally managed to quit by this time and resisted temptation). But I always got the feeling that something was troubling her. I read it as a constant level of annoyance. Over the years we remained Facebook friends, “liked” pictures of each others’ kids and wished each other Happy Birthday.
When I finally read her book, the slyly funny and moving Death Becomes Us, I learned the truth. She wasn’t annoyed, she was anxious. She was uncomfortable around people, even people she liked. She had social anxiety, to the extent that it affected her interactions with people on a regular basis.
I shared a photo on Instagram the other day of my son. He’s three, and has appeared in hundreds of photos online. He’s quite photogenic, and, in fact, is also the most heart-achingly-adorable three-year-old boy who ever lived, I say this because maybe you’ve heard of him.
Anyway, it was an unseasonably warm April day in suburban Buffalo. My son, whom I will call Bub in this essay about his privacy, had behaved well and eaten his vegetables.
“Please,” Bub said. “Please, please, please. Is it time to play in the sprinkler?” Usually it’s not until late June when the temperature is warm enough for that. But it was in the low seventies at dusk, and a mild but stubborn winter had just ended, and my wife and I thought, “yeah, sure.”
You know how thrilled three-year-olds get when they realize you have just acceded to their whim. Minutes later, after calling the garden hose names and snapping at my wife only once, I turned the handle and the dog-shaped plastic sprinkler with the crazy hose-hair began flooding the lawn, which still awaited its first cut of spring.
Rebecca Heyman has been a freelance book editor for the last ten years. One of the things she’s especially good at is evaluating a novel, from the big picture down to the level of sentences. It’s a tough job. A novel is complex machine with so many moving parts, it’s impossible to keep entirely in your head at once, even for the person who is writing it.
To do this, she says, method is important. “People say, ‘I’m just too creative for that,'” she says, referring to some clients’ resistance to mapping out a story and planning ahead. To that, Heyman says, bull.
“Creativity needs a container,” she says. “You can’t just let an author’s mind spiral into the abyss.” That’s what a story is anyway, isn’t it? It’s imposing order on events where there isn’t any in real life. Strangely, though, this artifice helps us to understand real life better.
Heyman is also the founder and director of The Work Conference, a boutique writing conference that held its innaugural event in New York City in March of this year. She brought together two dozen writers, along with literary agents, guest authors, and editors, for discussions of craft and strategies for writers to improve their own writing.
Heyman is the owner of Rebecca Faith Editorial, and she’s based in the Boston area.
Rebecca Heyman on Twitter.
I don’t remember a time when my state has mattered so much in a primary, and may even matter in a general election.
Hillary Clinton speaks at the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo on Friday, Apr. 8 2016. Photo: Reuters
So we’ve had visitors.
Friday, Hillary Clinton came to Buffalo’s Pierce Arrow Museum on Michigan Street. Maybe 1,000 people were there. At least 100 were turned away because it was so crowded inside. The cops said we couldn’t come in, but I had press credentials for Continue reading