55: The Proofreader

55: The Proofreader

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

The Proofreader

Marriage is a book of which the first chapter is written in poetry
and the remaining chapters in prose.

~Beverley Nichols

After years of odd jobs and raising children, I went back to my first love, writing. Finally! The perfect job for me! Words fly from my neurons to fingers to the keyboard at a dizzying pace, and when I’m all written out, I sink back in my chair, absolutely amazed at what my genius hath wrought. Except that once the glow fades, I notice a few teensy problems. Like a sentence that’s three hundred words long. Or a character whose name, sex, and species change, all in the space of one page. So, okay, fine — I needed a proofreader, and I thought my husband would be perfect for the job.

See, I hadn’t exactly turned a profit at writing, so free labor was a must. And I wasn’t quite ready to show my work to the world, or even the next-door neighbor. The obvious choice was staring me in the face, if I leaned over the couch and pried apart the snoozing eyelids. Because there lay my helpmate, the man who promised to stand by me for richer or poorer, better or worse, dangling participles or split infinitives.

Not that my husband would actually know a participle from the past tense. He’s a wonderful guy in a ton of ways, but technically, I wouldn’t call him the “reading” type. He believes movies were invented so that humankind would not have to slog through something like Toy Story. He’ll check the sports pages, and he’ll zip through a paperback thriller in a year or so. But what he lacks in literary depth, he more than makes up for in convenience.

So, when I finished my first story, I headed to the couch to ask my hubby to give it a read. He seemed happy enough to oblige. His brow furrowed in concentration. He chuckled in all the right places. Afterwards, he even offered a gracious compliment. I asked probing questions about motivation and characters and such. He squirmed a little there, but managed one or two polite responses. In short, he was as perfect a proofreader as he could be, all things considered. I was thrilled!

So, a week later, I headed to the couch again with the second manuscript. My loving partner took one look, rolled his eyes, and sighed. Loudly. As if I’d asked him to read Gone With the Wind instead of a 3,000-word humorous, contemporary, swashbuckling, mystery/ romance.

I pressed the story into his hands. His shoulders slumped, and he leaned over, groaning, with his tongue hanging from his mouth. But that’s his usual routine when I ask him to unload the dishwasher. I wasn’t going anywhere till he finished the proofreading job. He flipped the pages, scanning the words, with one eye focused on the game that was blaring from the TV. I didn’t hear any chuckles, but I thought I spied a curled, sort of snarling/smiling lip. I moved on to the question part of the critique.

“Were you surprised? Did you get it? Did you like it?”

“It’s fine,” he said, in a Zombie dead tone. “I loved everything about it.”

Not as thrilling an evaluation as I’d have liked, but I love a good challenge. So I worked on the story, editing this and polishing that, until I had a humorous, contemporary, swashbuckling, romantic mystery. Totally different.

It was around this time that my proofreader developed evasive maneuvers worthy of a CIA operative. Whenever I checked the couch to deliver my new and improved literary masterpiece, he was gone. One evening, I heard a strange, rumbling noise outside. My husband was in the YARD. He’d fired up the leaf blower and was actually blowing leaves off the driveway!

Two can play that game I thought, as I plopped my story onto his dinner plate. Hunger eventually drove my prey, er, man inside. He entered the kitchen and a moan escaped through his parched lips. He’d spied the typewritten paper blocking his path to gastrointestinal fulfillment! So he sunk into his chair, resigned to his fate. But his glance kept darting back and forth from story to stove. And he constantly sniffed the tuna burger-scented air. I just did not feel as if I had his complete attention. So I asked a few penetrating questions.

“Did you like it? Did the second paragraph make sense? Did you understand that the pirate woman is really his wife in a wig?” I hammered at him relentlessly. Nobody was eating till I had answers!

“What was the funniest line? Were you surprised by the first plot twist? What about the second plot twist? Did you know belladonna is a poison? Did you guess that the wife was the KILLER?”

He refused to answer a single question. Or eat the tuna burgers.

Anyway, we have since called a truce. He has determined that in order to continue working in his paying job (which supports me in the manner to which I’ve accustomed myself), he must have uninterrupted couch time. I have determined that my writing group, meeting twice a month in the local bookstore, is far more helpful in developing my writing genius.

But every once in a while, I write something scathingly brilliant, and need a proofreader right that minute. And then, I circle the couch — and the chase is on!


~Cathy C. Hall

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