27: Fly on the Wall

27: Fly on the Wall

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Fly on the Wall

Angels are not merely forms of extraterrestrial intelligence. They are forms of extra-cosmic intelligence.

~Mortimer J. Adler

My friend and co-author Harriet May Savitz passed away in 2008. We had been involved in many projects together and although we specialized in different children’s genres, we worked well together. Harriet wrote more for the young adult market while I preferred writing picture books. She had lots of ideas for early stories, however, but said that she couldn’t write for that young age. I would often get an excited call detailing a story idea, which I would then put into picture book format. We’d revise until we both were satisfied and then send the manuscript out. We had two picture books published together and were working on several more.

One day Harriet told me that she had sent away a manuscript that had four points of view in it but no protagonist. The editor suggested that she put it into a more traditional story form. She asked if I could help her create a storyline. I had read the manuscript and knew it would be great for a middle grade book. I agreed to work on it with her.

I introduced some main characters and a more connective plotline. She tweaked the story as it went along. But when we got to the middle of the book it seemed to stop. Harriet and I each had some ideas about how to fix it but somehow the enthusiasm for the project waned. We were not agreeing on its direction. We let the project drop. She decided to keep her original format.

A year after she died I joined her daughter for lunch at a restaurant near Harriet’s house. We reminisced, laughing at the delightful quirks of our friend/mother. But this was not just a compassionate social call. I needed to know what to do with our joint work on many projects which still occupied space in my files as well as in my head and heart.

As we talked I shooed away a fly that seemed to discover our table. We came to an understanding about most of the work. Some of the projects Harriet had told me, well before she became ill, to take on my own. Some were so integral to us both that I would have to include her as co-author, regardless.

Then we came to the middle grade book. I brushed at the fly again. I made some suggestions about how to fix the story, and explained that I always liked it and would love to continue working it out. The fly was batting itself against my head as I spoke! I felt like an octopus with eight arms flapping away at that annoying fly.

I finally said that much as I would really like to bring the book to publication, I probably should leave it alone because I thought Harriet wanted it that way. Her daughter agreed. The fly suddenly left and her daughter laughed. Nothing I said had seemed funny. What had I missed?

“When Mom was in the hospital,” she said, “she told me she knew that one day we would get together and talk about the work and she wished she could be a fly on the wall for the conversation.”

For the first time I had no words. The fly was gone. The subject was closed. I imagined her grin. It matched mine. We always had been connected and it seemed that we still were.

~Ferida Wolff

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