You’re supposed to get compliments from your parents, therefore when you get them they often mean little. I promise that my father is different. He makes his children work for compliments, at least for compliments that mean something. For this reason I turn to him when I need input for my novel. One day I received, no I earned the highest, compliment one ever could from him.
You can’t know what you’re face looks like without a mirror, and you can’t know how good your writing is without a reader’s input. I have many to thank for such input. Countless writing groups, mentors, friends, and my most of all father.
My boorish, old, dad, grew up in a woodwork shop, studied chemical engineering at Stevens engineering school, owned his own custom woodworking business, and would later found his machine tool business. His whole life, he had never read any science fiction or fantasy until I started writing it. Indeed, save for a few Ayan Rand novels, and a dump truck load of math and chemistry text books, he has barely read at all. He has seen many movies, but disliked most of them. Science fiction movies have tended to illicit accusations of immaturity from him, and his disbelief would always remain intact. Nevertheless, I would come to rely on him to critique much of my writing.
I don’t remember exactly how I first approached him about my work. What I do remember is that he gave me a broacher to an adult education center that had a creative writing class. I secretly rolled my eyes when he suggested I take the class. I didn’t think it was possible to be taught writing. When I suddenly learned I had a talent for poems from this class I decided I wanted him to critique my writing.
I had no doubt he would be honest. He was my harshest critic when I lost something or forgotten something. Even so, my father protested the idea at first. “What are you asking me for? I’m not an English professor, or professional art critic.”
With a sigh, I explained, “You think most readers are going to be pro art critics? You’re a person with an opinion. That’s all that counts.”
The very first work I read to him was a poem about the Earth, called our speck. He said he enjoyed it, but could say little else as he never listened to much poetry. This ironically made him an important kind of critic, for his mind wouldn’t be corrupted by society or academia.
The true test would come when I shared my fantasy work. Since father had difficulty accepting fantasy stories it would prove to be very difficult crafting one that he would like. Still, it was the practice I needed if I hoped to have a fantasy novel that could reach out to the people who didn’t normally read fantasy. In retrospect, it was an overly harsh test for a begging writer.
Things started well when I wrote a short story about frog people. Dad liked the main character, Cava, who he mistakenly thought was a boy, but found story overly wordy. Together we cut out the parts that could be removed, and the story became acceptable. The nasty criticism came with my inconsistent progress. Though my overall writing ability was improving, sometimes I would still author a story that was confusing, or boring. My father would claim that I wasn’t going to be a good writer after all, and that I should just quit to spare myself suffering. I would then spend all night futility arguing that I could still be a good author, and go back to “suffering”. At the same time, he didn’t automatically think I was going to be a good author after all, when I wrote a better story.
Things got only worse when I read my novel to him. The novel is a story that rivaled A Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martian. I cannot count how many times he told me to write something smaller, something simpler, and give up on this novel. I always argued otherwise, for the novel was the story of my heart, and I couldn’t part with it. The arguments would last half the night, and the other half of the nights I would simply lie awake.
I began to conclude that my father’s burden of proof would be impossible to obtain. I was sure that he would never like my writing. Nevertheless I kept reading to him. Then I read chapter five.
Chapter five of my novel was a short one. It was about a Naga girl, (snake from the waist down, human from the waist up) attempting to escape from the flooding cave she was hiding in. Not an easy task since the cave was like a maze and full of dangerous creatures. When I finished reading the chapter to him, he sighed, and was silent for a moment.
Here it comes, I thought. After another minute he spoke, slowly pausing after some words.
“What I was going to say is that,… ‘does it really make sense trying to compete to be the guy who paints the sixteenth chapel…When there is so many good artist who would want to do that?’ That’s what I was going to ask you…But not now. That girl in your story was a snake woman…yet somehow you made her…so human. I really worried about her…that she might not make it out. “
I didn’t know how to react to the compliment, it was so unexpected. I had somehow met my father’s standard. I didn’t think I would ever see the day. I don’t remember but I think I said, “thank you.” Today I still write, and while I live I share my writing with my father.