Unexpected feedback from one of my readers, Ahmet Senol Ozbek of Istanbul delighted me this past weekend. He sent me kudos, but also some specific, useful advice on scene details. His advice complemented those from two earlier readers.
Every writer needs readers. These are volunteers who have the thankless job of reading raw, unpolished drafts, often with grammatical and spelling errors, and then returning honest feedback to the writer at the risk of injuring their mutual relationship. I have mine. They are a curious assortment of Americans and Turks.
Readers come in three kinds. One group is what can be called cheerleaders. They love anything I write and their enthusiasm encourages me on in what is otherwise a slow, painstaking, long term project. Diane Bertillachi of Stockton, and Ellen Nichols M.D. a neurosurgeon in Joplin Missouri are two such devoted ones.
Another group can be called true critics. These are readers who don’t mince their words or care about my feelings, telling me precisely what they think of the work, often with specific criticism of areas that need improvement. Foremost in this group is my old high school classmate Selim Hacisalihzade who lives in Zurich and Istanbul. He is the first filter through whom everything I write passes and whether he likes them or not, his feedback sets the foundation of my early revisions. My wife Julie and partner Karl Gregorus M.D. are two others. Karl is very straight arrow; I can only show him clean stories devoid of racy words or sex.
Then there are readers who are technical consultants. These are people who know the subject matter or settings of my stories better than I, and can advise me on proper details. Selim also fulfills this role when it comes to old Istanbul memories and current Turkish details. So does Ahmet Senol Ozbek whom I met as a tour guide in 2010 and who is now a steady, long-distance friend, living in Istanbul. Ahmet recently also became a lawyer.
The story in question is provisionally entitled On the Night Bus to Fethiye. It places the reader in such a bus on a twelve hour journey from Istanbul to the resort town of Fethiye, a gateway to the pleasure of the Mediterranean, and the peculiar goings on among quirky characters, Turkish and foreign. There is also the mystery of a dead cat discovered in the cargo hold of the bus, while at a half-way rest stop in Afyon. It is one of my most fictional stories, almost nothing autobiographical. I have never been on such a bus. It took a lot of internet research to create the set-up and scenes and a lot of imagination to move the plot along.
It took me nine months to finish this 9000 word story. It went to Selim first, as usual, and he immediately gave his unabashed comments. The story was too predictable. Based on what he said I went back to the drawing board and re-wrote it, modifying various scenes.
It then went to Diane. She loved it, as usual. No other comments.
Was it predictable? I asked.
Not at all. She was surprised by how the story it unfolded.
Then it went to Ahmet.
Ahmet is a reticent reader, offering scant advice, usually late. This time however he answered soon, a good sign, meaning the story was an easy read. Then he gave advice on the specific routes of these buses and what happens in them, recommending that I modify various details with the expert knowledge of someone who has ridden such buses before. Precious advice.
That, and also that he liked it a lot. A little cheer is always welcome.
After such readers, the stories go to Mim, the ultimate reader and professional critic. She gets paid for what she does. The others have to make do with a mention in the Acknowledgements of the eventual publication and maybe also, with a heartfelt thank you in a blog such as this.