Sunday, August 10, 2008

Her Name Was Dorothy

Today's guest blogger is Robert, better known as Bob, Middlemiss, a large, gentle Englishman educated in Canada and a U.S. citizen since 1970. He is the epitome of what editors should be, as you will see from his comments about Dorothy. Besides editing for a small press, he is the author of several spy novels and the mainstream novel A Common Glory. He has taught fiction and non-fiction for more than twenty-five years at Emory, Oglethorpe, Columbus State, George Mason and for the Virginia Department of Parks and Recreation, and has served as an advisory board member for the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference. As editor for three members of our Murderous Musings team, he used a keen eye for detail, a logical approach to plotting, and a teacher's skill at prodding to help mold us into the writers we are today. Thanks, Bob.

By Bob Middlemiss

Her name was Dorothy. I met her when I was fiction leader at a writing conference. After a grand week of workshops with talented writers, she approached me. She wanted to know if she could send me some sample chapters of her novel after the conference was over. I said sure. I liked Dorothy very much. She was about seventy-five years old, carried herself with a bearing we don't see much of these days, and when she looked at you with cataract prone eyes, you felt her heart and wanted to help. Even more, you wanted to share in her life.

A few weeks after the conference Dorothy sent me her first chapters and we were off and running. I helped out where I could, made a few suggestions, drafted a couple of ways to handle a scene differently, and we were really moving along. After a couple of months she wrote me a letter, the appearance of which I hadn't seen since I was a boy in England. Black ink from a Waterman's pen; a spidery hand touched with age. She told me that she had talked with her doctor and found out she had terminal cancer. She wrote, "But I will finish my novel, Bob - I will!" And so we worked together. Over the weeks on her good days, I pushed her, challenged her; on bad days we laid back, gentle with each other, talking about life. Then the day came when the chapters ceased . . .

I always mention Dorothy in my lectures and workshops. I bring her in proudly, hoping somehow she hears me. I say that Dorothy was a true professional writer: imaginative, disciplined, productive, open to learning her craft, modest in accomplishment, and generous in her praise for others. I tell the writers sitting in front of me that Dorothy was the most professional writer I've known. Never published, never a manuscript completed, I can honestly say that no one that I've worked with, since losing her twenty-five years ago, has matched her grace and guts.


Ben Small said...

Ah, Bob, I remember that story well. Just as I remember the "Essence of Chair" story, which I've oft-repeated. And the story of your father that came from your DVD on Memoir Writing. You are a great teacher, Bob, and a very valued friend. Thanks for sharing that story with those who haven't heard it, and thanks for reminding me of Dorothy.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Bob, we are truly honored to have you as a guest. So many have benefited from your mentoring, your patience, and your eloquence. Dorothy may have left an impression on you, but you have left an indelible impression on me. Thanks for all you've done.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you for the lovely story, Bob. I wish I had an editor like you. :-)