Skip to main content

My Alpha

It turns out my husband is a fantastic alpha reader. Who knew? We've been married for 13 years and have known each other for 21. And last weekend was the first time I ever had him alpha read for me. Turns out he's the best creative partner I could ever hope for and that he still has the ability to surprise me with hidden talents and acts of love.

My husband is not really a fiction reader. He probably hasn't read a novel since high school AP lit class. It's not that he doesn't love a good story, it's that he doesn't like sitting still long enough to read a book or watch a movie. He's a very active and extroverted man, and he'd rather have a conversation or a real-life adventure than read a book. He's kind of like Gaston if Gaston weren't an asshole.

So until now, I haven't wanted to bother him with requests to read my writing, because reading novels isn't his jam, and also because I've always harbored guilt at how much time I spend on a hobby that doesn't earn any income for our family. My husband works hard at two jobs to support our daughter and me and my imaginary-friends-making habit.

Like any basic tortured artist, I struggle with justifying the time and effort I've put into the absurd project of researching and writing an epic Byzantine thriller. (...after writing and shelving a long fantasy novel and doodling around with various unfinished novels for years before that...) But I've been telling myself that having a creative outlet is healthy for me, even if it doesn't ever earn money, and my writing and critique group offered me a regular, sanity-saving excuse to get out of the house once a month and socialize with other women who share the compulsions to make shit up and workshop it to death.

Then, after seven years, my writing group dissolved.

A few years back, we attended a conference together and learned that successful authors usually wait until they have a whole book written before handing it over to their critique partners. So we decided to do that instead of trading bits and chapters each month as we'd been doing. But I'm a slow writer, and by the time I'd finished a complete draft of Leirah and the Wild Man, other group members had lost interest in participating.

A few friends offered to read my manuscript for me, which was nice. A local author even finished the whole thing and also gave some constructive feedback. But I realized that my book needed a lot of work, and it suddenly felt impossible to go on with the project alone and unsupported. Many kind people have offered moral support, and that is appreciated, but I need more.

It was hard for me to ask my husband to read for me, but I had started to feel (as I tend to do each summer, for whatever psychological reason, no matter what's going on in my life) that I am a failure of a human being who will never succeed at anything notable or meaningful in my work and that I should cut my losses now, give up, and dedicate the rest of my stupid existence to being a better housewife or something realistic like that.

My husband picked up the pieces--like literally, I had thrown my manuscript behind a piece of furniture and broken down crying--and took my draft into his man-cave and settled down to have a look at it.

He read the whole thing in just a few days. During times when he would normally be kicking back after work with a beer and the news, or some video games, or a swing in the hammock... or sleeping... he read my book instead. And he located and marked every single plot hole, character issue, continuity error, and funky word in the manuscript.

He also went to work on Monday and raved about this great book he was reading to other people, without telling them it was my book. He pitched it so well that several people asked him for the title so they could go and get a copy.


It changed everything. I feel like I can do this. I feel like I should continue. And I feel truly loved and supported, as a person and as an artist, whether or not I ever earn out my time in dollars.

And now I'd better get to work, because my alpha man has insisted that I give him my revised draft one more time before I send out queries.

They say writing is a solitary art, but it can mean the difference between quitting and succeeding to have just one other person invested in your dream. I can only imagine how many beloved novels came into the world thanks to the care of a good alpha reader.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

The Sevens: When a New Decade Dawns

Every time I reach an age ending in seven, I feel big changes coming. My Sevens arrive near the end of the last year of the decade, and looking back, I've gone through major life transitions--or initiated them--around each of those auspicious birthdays. This year is no exception.

When I turned seven on the cusp of the 1990s, I had my first experience bonding with a Very Special Teacher. You know those teachers. The ones with Fred Rogers energy, the ones you don't just like but love, the ones that feel like parents or counselors, the ones who know just what to say to truly make you feel valued, safe, and capable. I hadn't had much luck bonding with teachers in preschool or kindergarten (which I repeated), but here's to Mrs. McNeil in first grade. Everything about school changed for me because of you.

When I turned 17 right before Y2K, I experienced my biggest heartbreaks back-to-back. One was an ordinary breakup with a high school boyfriend. It was my first "serio…

Gathering the Family: Where We Live Is Everything

It's an old house, but it's new to them. It's a small house for the street, but it feels big to us. And most importantly, it's close to my house in the beautiful neighborhood where I chose to start my own family, a better neighborhood than any I've ever lived in before. Welcome to my parents' American dream house.


A good human habitat isn't just about the house itself but about location and environment. My parents now have the best neighbor of all: nature. The backyard leads to a forested park. You can see the river from the master bedroom and family room windows. Wild turkeys and herds of deer hang out in the yard. Possums gobble up the ticks, birds sing in the branches, and foxes occasionally appear. Living under trees and near flowing water is so good for humans (like other animals) that walking through natural areas is prescribed as medical treatment in some countries. And in others, spending time in nature is like, well, breathing air.


I'm loving …

Green Therapy Is the New Black Friday

At the risk of sounding like Calvin's dad, it sure feels good to walk off the turkey with a brisk nature hike. Woodlands, parks, and waterfronts are peaceful on Black Friday, when everyone else is playing bumper cars on the icy roads, bludgeoning each other with Nintendo Switches, or crouching indoors behind a screen to troll for great deals on the mountains of junk that sometimes keel over and crush people in Amazon warehouses.

If your weather outside is frightful, however, you may wish to stay inside until the latest storm passes. I recommend building a fire in case the power goes out--and if it doesn't, switch on your best reading light and curl up nearby with a stack of library books. I'm all stocked up with some marvelous finds of my own.


I also have a few other entertainment recommendations for the start of cuffing season. It has now been a nice, round 20 years since the prophetic music video for "Sleep Now in the Fire" by Rage Against the Machine. Pogo l…

Blackout Wednesday in the 'Burbs

It's almost time for the Midwest suburbs' drunkest day of the year! Not New Year's Eve. Not St. Patrick's Day. Not the 4th of July. No, not even MSU vs. U of M game day. It's Drunksgiving! Also known as Blackout Wednesday. Each year, I look forward to it with all the enthusiasm that Wednesday Addams had for Thanksgiving.



That's not genuine moral outrage, by the way. I mean, it's a glorious, satisfying, iconic performance of moral outrage. But think about it. We love the character of Wednesday Addams for being a coldblooded mercenary, a sharp and glamorous mascot for all the nihilism of Gen X, who--Hey, speaking of Gen X, are they going to be at Thanksgiving? Did anyone remember to invite them? In the traditional Boomer vs. Millennial showdown over our feast of greed and gluttony, will Gen X sit back and spectate, forgotten as usual, or will they carry a torch for the sickest burn and use it as a diversion to escape social obligation, like our goth princess …

Happy Spring Awakening of the Rusalki!

The water spirits demand hard-boiled eggs.


According to MagPie's Corner on Facebook, the ancient Slavic holiday week known as "first Rusalii," when the rusalki first awaken in the rivers and streams, is happening now. Apparently, they wake up hangry for bread and hard-boiled eggs.


My family will be baking bread and boiling and decorating eggs, you know, just in case. We do live very close to a river. And traditions are important.

So happy First Rusalii to you! Happy Good Friday! Happy Easter weekend! Happy spring, no matter what or how you celebrate. Where I live, Easter is going to be the first warm, beautiful day we've had in a long time, with many warm days to follow--the perfect weather for a spring awakening.

P.S. Matka Danu Miklagarth, epic historical thriller featuring rusalki-impersonating pirates, is nearly 170,000 words long. If this book ever gets printed, it could be used as a weight to walk across the bottom of a river for real.

We're All Gonna Die, So.

Happy All Saints, All Souls, Samhain, Day of the Dead, Diwali, or other festival of mortality! We're all gonna die, so let's love it up while we're together.

This year, my family kicked off the season of sweet sorrow by dressing as the three best members of the Addams Family to trick-or-treat at a local park. It's a good thing we took that opportunity for a Halloween "dress rehearsal," because it turned out to be the only chance we had to put on our mysterious and spooky drag this year. Our poor little Wednesday caught the public school pukes two Tuesdays in a row, held out through the next one, and succumbed to a third bout on the morning of Halloween. Sometimes, you spend all month grooming your Gomez mustache (pictured above left) or your Morticia nails (one of which I bent backwards but was able to save--oh, the beautiful agony) and then trick-or-treating is canceled anyway. C'est la vie. We shall carve a pumpkin and roast its seeds for our departed …

Sparkles in the Dark

It's December in Michigan, when despite our distance from the Arctic Circle, we get about 10 minutes of direct sunlight spread out over 31 days. 'Tis a cloudy state, thanks to the embrace of the Great Lakes, and there isn't yet a thick blanket of glittery snow to reflect what light filters through. This season is great for building fires, snuggling on the couch with a mug of spiked cocoa and a disturbing foreign film (God help me, I'm not a Hallmark movie kind of lady), lighting one's home with chaotic tangles of string lights, and wearing glittery stuff in the daytime. This season brings out my latent maximalist.


Okay, maybe not latent so much as closeted. This is what the top of my dresser looks like at this very moment.

I'm feeling a 2020s home makeover coming for me that will involve a lot of dark, rich, and bold colors and luscious textures that glow or shine or glimmer in low lighting. I think that this will be a comfort and an inspiration to me. I want t…

Yeet Me Into the Sun

I don't know exactly what "yeet me into the sun" means, but my daughter and her friends think it sounds hilarious, so they say it just to hear each other giggle. They also laugh at buzzwords that are familiar to me from my work in social justice and my own personal healing--like "anxiety" and "triggered"--not in a mean way but in a cleverly playful way, which I think is healthy and gives me hope for the kids these days. So yeet me into the sun that my triggers and anxiety may be pwned.


I am looking forward to taking a break from both my day job and my creative work-in-progress to spend some quality time with my daughter and other family. We are going someplace sunny during this brutally cold time in the Midwest. And it's not just the weather I'm talking about.

Social justice is the Lord's work if there is any, but damn if it isn't hard. Hateful, ignorant people are the easy part. They can be ignored, dismissed, deleted, blocked, or ask…

My Parents Bought a House in My Neighborhood

Welcome to the West Side, Oma and Opa! My family is among many who have chosen to live closer together as the Boomer generation retires. Whether or not we have children, we want to make sure our parents are within reach so that we can help them stay healthy and free to live in their own homes--and, of course, so they can help us hapless Millennials and Gen Xers with their home renovation skills.
We need each other more than ever now that health care is a nightmare, social supports have been weakened, economic inequality is rising along with sea levels and pollution, and loneliness has become a deadlier epidemic than smoking. I believe that we are also rediscovering, after a few decades of cultural emphasis on independence, the value of family bonds across generations.

Modern science reminds us that humans evolved to live well past our fertile years to give our families the power of grandparents and that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are healthy for childr…