They say that writers are solitary creatures. I'd have to say that for the most part, it's true. And from what I knew of Steven, he fit the bill. He worked alone for years. He was happy at home, happy with his characters. He understood the difference between loneliness and solitude.
But that's not to say that he didn't reach out to others in myriad ways. "Myriad". Now there's a word he liked, but only when it was used correctly. Steven was not only a writer, he was an editor as well.
I "met" Steven almost 2 years ago. A mutual friend--his sister in law, Elena, introduced us online. She's not a fiction writer, but since I was and he was, she wisely pointed us at each other and the introduction was akin to her saying, "Go. Be friends." We did. We were.
I read his book, Bountiful Creek, and reviewed it. Five stars, by the way. He read some of my anecdotal writings on facebook and on my blog. We did a lot of admiring of each others work. He suggested we write a book together. It was, in many ways, a courtship, all leading to an incredible working relationship. And that working relationship crossed bounds we'd never anticipated.
The first thing we discovered was that we were miserably mismatched in writing voice, style, preferred genre. Even our approach to writing was worlds apart. I was reckless, the Nike of writers. "Just write", edit later, a true Beethovian. Steven, my polar opposite-- as it turned out, was "Edit as we go", a Mozartian through and through. After a month of trying to figure out where the other one was coming from, he wisely suggested that he write the book, and I would crit (critique--make suggestions, scan for transitional errors, and monitor things like if the characters were staying true to themselves) and muse (as Steven put it, "Encourage, Scold if needed, and cheer from the sidelines.") My translation of his instructions was to pat his back when he was doing well, and to heckle him to the ends of the Earth when he was slacking off. Yep. I got to be Steven's muse. It was a delightful experience, a learning experience--and he was good-natured about the heckling. In return, he critted anything I sent to him. Another example of how generous Steven was to fellow writers. He had time for everyone.
The second thing we discovered was that I knew absolutely zilch about Track Changes (A Word editing tool). That was a lesson in just how patient Steven was. We slowed down as he generously shared his knowledge. Track Changes is amazingly useful to crit partners. We could spell out our comments to each other in bright red. And that leads me to how kind (albeit tough love) he was about my mistakes
But first, let me tell you something about writers. We try to look bulletproof to the world, to bad reviews and comments and criticisms of our work. But, we're not. We tend to be fragile, especially at the beginning of our writing careers. Back to those red comments.
So, there we were, trying to get a feel for how this writing/critting/musing relationship was going to work. I sent him a chapter of my stuff. He wrote back. He said he loved the chapter. I heard Mozart playing. I hadn't waited long enough, or I'd have realized that it was actually Beethoven playing. He added that he noticed some things--and that he'd left Track Changes comments on them. Then, (I quote)he added, "Tree, don't freak out when you see all of of the red." Then, meant to calm me, "I remember how I felt when I saw my first edit of Bountiful Creek, like it was bleeding all over the page." In spite of the reference to bleeding, it did calm me. His crit of that chapter was very professional, but at the same time, considerate of my feelings. I smile through tears as I write this. Steven was one of a kind, and I was privileged to learn just how wonderful he was.
Soon after I'd critted his first chapter of his second book, he wrote to tell me that he was so happy to have another writer to bounce ideas and chapters off of. It was then I learned that he'd written Bountiful Creek—a multiple award-winning novel, without another person setting eyes on it. That...that's just short of miraculous. Steven was an unsung genius.
In no time at all, our working relationship felt as natural as if we'd been doing it all of our lives. We'd anticipate reactions, and soon got to where we were gently poking fun at each others writing gaffes. He, the Mozartian, and I, the Beethovian, had figured out how to compose symphonies of words while working together. In hindsight, I realize that his tough love approach to critting my work—the way he had of delivering constructive criticism, although straighforward, with kindness and humor, toughened my skin, and reinforced that we only grow from the truth. He wasn’t the sort of friend who’d tell you sweet lies to make you happy.
Our messages back and forth ranged from crits-- that grew tougher as our comprehension that they came from a caring place increased, to family news, work news, and jesting about the joys and hardships of life. He told me about Kristin, his daughter, and about her fiancé, Logan—I felt like I knew them. And I shared news about my husband, my children and my granddaughter.
Then it dawned on both of us. Two late- middle-age people had struck up the kind of friendship that normally happens in childhood—well that’s the only way I can describe it. Perhaps it’s because we weren’t tethered to the bounds of the real world in the digital dynamics of our friendship. Even so, I’m sure of this. The heart knows what’s real. I loved my friend, Steven. And I felt the love in return.
I never met Steven in person. We never even spoke on the phone. He asked me after I’d watched a video from Kristin and Logan’s wedding—him giving the father of the bride speech, if his voice was as I’d expected. It was. Full of kindness and humor.
I never got to give him the promised hug. I’ll regret forever not making the trek to HHI for Kristin’s and Logan’s wedding. We always think we have tomorrow. We always think there’ll be another chance… another time…later...
In the nearly 2,000 messages and emails back and forth in just under two years, I learned a lot about Steven. Here’s Just a few...
He was a dog person, not a cat person. He wanted to get a puppy, but being away at work so many hours, he felt it would be unfair to the dog. So, in retirement, he planned on getting a dog. In his second to last message to me, he said he’d made up his mind. It was going to be a Border Collie. Good choice for Steven. The intellectual of the dog world.
He lived with an attitude of gratitude. He never failed to thank me for my help. And in all of those 2,000 messages, he never once said anything bad about anyone. Not once.
He loved sugar-free rootbeer barrels. He loved the theater. Though he wrote about the Civil War era, the Victorian era was his favorite time in history. He liked alligators and went so far as to insist—in spite of my protests, that they were cute. He suspected that he looked more like a Mike than he looked like a Steven. He loved the scent of the jasmine vine on his carport and looked forward to it blooming…all year long.
He loved gardening. He loved his fresh (hand-ground) morning coffee. He loved writing—and he loved the rain. IF he was fortunate to catch a rainy Sunday when he could be at home AND write, it was golden. But, most of all, he loved his daughter… Kristin was the most important thing in the world to him.
He was a treasure that came into my life quite unexpectedly. Fortunate, I was. More than that, I was blessed…to have such a beautiful human being call me “Friend."
Steven's book, Bountiful Creek. It was his sophomore work.A first book was never published, and a third book was 2/3 completed.