1 February 2013

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in Starbucks, minding my own business, when a kid who had apparently noticed me there a time or two asked what I was doing; his response to my answer was to brighten up and inform me that he had written an entire novel just the week before, with six more planned for this year.

I was so impressed, I shared it on Facebook.

No, I was not impressed. But today while I was sitting there in Starbucks again, working on Max's book, he was back, a rolled up manuscript clutched in his hand, and he approached me again, this time with an obvious mix of excitement and Oh My God I'm Going To Barf painted on his face.

Would I please read his book? The only other people who would read it like him too much to give him an honest opinion. 

It was twenty pages of double-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, maybe 8,000 words. 

Twenty minutes of my time.

So I said sure, with the caveat that I would be honest enough to hurt his feelings, and he gushed that he would walk over to Taco Bell so that he wasn't breathing down my neck, because he hated it when people did that to him.

I was grateful for that, because I hate it, too.

I expected very little from it. I mean, the kid thought he was writing an entire book when what he had was a short story at best. It wasn't even a long short story. And the vibe I got from him...well, I just didn't expect a lot, but it wasn't going to cost me anything to read it.

Thirty seconds after he bounded out the door, I was hooked.

I raced through it, sucked into the story so quickly that I was afraid I had missed something, so I went back and read it again.

His short--a story about a teenaged boy living in a world of black and white, whom everyone thinks is mentally challenged but in reality is gifted and sees the world in color--was exquisite. The narrative was tight but not so tight that it choked the wonder out of the way he wove his words together, and it was so lyrical I could practically hear the music in each syllable.

I had very little to say to him on the critical front when he returned. He wasn't upset to be told that he did not, in fact, have a novel, but a short story. He didn't mind that I pointed out the misspellings and typos. He accepted everything I told him graciously and seemed excited when I told him I thought it was a phenomenal basis for a full length book, or that it would be the shining star in an anthology if shorts are what he really wants to write.

Just keep writing.

When I originally mentioned his initial approach to me on Facebook, it started a little bit of a conversation. I mused that anyone who got through high school English should know the difference between a short story, a novella, and a novel.

I still think so.

But this kid got through high school and had no clue; why, I don't know. It's less an indictment of him than it is schools today, I suppose, but the truth is that he has an enormous talent, and I was given the opportunity today to get a glimpse of it.

Truthfully, I don't usually enjoy it when people ask me to read their work; there's a burden of expectation I loathe, and 90% of what I do read is fairly horrible and I have a hard time finding nice things to say to cushion the inevitable this-sucks-really blow. Of the other 10%, half of what I'm asked to read is largely outside of genres I'm familiar with, so my judgement isn't the best, even though I know a decent story when I see it.

But this one? I'm very glad I said yes.

And I hope he keeps writing and has the nerve to start submitting his work for pay.

I had to leave after that, because honestly, what I was writing felt inferior to what I had just read, and I didn't want to push that out of my head for a while. The rewrites on Max's book can wait until tomorrow.


debzy said...

Very cool how that turned out. He sounds like a great kid - I hope he does well. :)

G.G. Mueller said...

I hope you keep track of this kid. He just might go somewhere big because you took 20 minutes out of your day.
You are my hero!!

Cheysuli and gemini said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheysuli and gemini said...

I wouldn't blame the kid for not understanding the exact word counts (although with the length in pages, he could probably have guessed). English classes (and as an English major I had a lot of them and until the advent of the internet some twenty years post high school I could not tell you the exact word count differences of novel/novella/short story) focus on grammar, outlining a term paper or professional paper or discussion of classic literature. There is rarely any discussion of what it takes to write fiction--and probably no time in high school.

Victoria Henderson said...

I remember that discussion, and that several of us made snarky, dismissive comnents. I feel very ashamed of myself right now, especially since I pride myself on being nonjudgemental.
I'm sorry, young man
*slinking away*

Angel and Kirby said...

At lease you were honest and forth coming to him. He will remember and appreciate you later on.

Derby, Ducky said...

Nice surprise and good that he get some encouragement to continue. Yeah, maybe he is a short story kind of writer or perhaps he can grow into a true novel.

Lemon Stand said...

What an incredible act of kindness, and what a wonderfully honest opinion that might be the only thing this kid needed to have enough faith in his talent to submit, again and again until it is published. Now I wish it was online so I could read it. What an interesting story line. You are the best!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think it was a bit crude to comment that way especially if the person reading something written has no idea of what it takes to think so creatively. But, it is a comment and I agree on brought to you by the letters WTF!!! LOL