Michael, writing, Dr. Seuss & Me
Posted February 23, 2010on:
When my son, Michael, was in first grade, I worked with a small group of the more advanced readers in his class. We went into the computer lab where they wrote short stories.
Having the attention span of a first grader, I took one of the computers and started writing along, “borrowing” characters from popular culture – Star Wars, The Power Rangers, Superman – and so on. I worked every single kid in the class into each story. Mrs. Ramsey even became the Plaid Power Ranger in one story. I had no shame.
Sometimes I worked on this writing at home, where Michael became my editor. And he was really good, too, pointing out spelling errors or making suggestions about the so-called plot. (So-called for me, not for him.)
When he entered second grade, I volunteered to do the same work again. I also reintroduced a favorite first grade character – The First Grader from Mars – as the Second Grader from Mars. Each year his mother brought him to class after the school year began. Elementary school schedules on Mars must be a bit different.
After reading my first draft, Michael was clearly puzzled, asking, “What are testicles?”
I told him and this horrified young editor said, “I don’t think you want to say that.”
I grabbed the printout and discovered I had fallen victim to spell check, my own fault of course.
What I meant to write was “And his mother had glowing tentacles,” but I misspelled tentacles. When it popped up on spell check, I absentmindedly clicked testicles as the word I was seeking. Thus, “his mother had glowing testicles.” Moms had different body parts on Mars.
We laughed hard when I explained how my error happened that he took both versions to school the next day. The teacher loved the story, but she told me later the other kids didn’t get it.
Today, when I need something edited, I send it on to the Hessel-Mial Writers’ Group, which includes Michael, Maggie (now last name Kolb), their dad and me. We began calling ourselves that when Matt as a 7 and 8 year old was writing stories. We published a collection of his short stories, The Great Planet Swap and Other Stories, while he was receiving his bone marrow transplant. His novel, X-Man, was published posthumously.
Each family member offers a great critique, suggesting different ways to improve my writing. Michael gets the emphasis in this blog post, however, because the best story about editing is connected to his 7-year-old self.
Clearly, editors are people, no matter how small. My apologies to Dr. Seuss.
Mom’s glowing testicles still makes a great story. There was a time when Michael preferred I not tell it when I spoke about writing at the annual Eighth Grade Career Day, but he’s about to graduate from college and go on to grad school in comparative literature. He can handle it.
At least it wasn’t his mother with the glowing body parts.