Monday, March 25, 2013

What it means to be a 'Beta'

    Hello folks, Mark here! Today I would like to introduce a dear friend and colleague, Jessica Carter.  Jessica teaches Spanish at our school and was one of my first readers. Jessica heads a book club in town, and I thought it might be nice to get a fan's point of view about what they look for in their reading choices, what it is like to be a first line audience and the joy (or curse) of developing a unique relationship with literary artists. Jessica has read practically every word I have written in my Pevana stories. She has been a great sounding board, critic, fan and friend for many years now. She has seen every draft from earliest ramblings to finished product. And despite the egregious errors in those early drafts, she never lost patience with me.  She and a few others constitute my first audience, and for that they have my eternal thanks. Some of the things she says below caught me off guard, made me blush, and reminded me yet again about the sacred responsibility the story-teller has towards his audience.

     Ladies and gentleman, Jessica Carter.
 What it means to be a beta...
I grew up as the middle child of homesteaders who were doing the whole hippie “back to the land” thing in the 1970’s. We lived 20 miles from the nearest town (population 890) and our closest neighbors were more than a mile away.  Living in the middle of nowhere without electricity lead to adventures that would make any Pippi Longstocking wanna-be jealous. I have incredible memories of those days, and my brothers and I had more fantastic experiences than any other kids we went to school with. Being an advanced reader brought me right back to those halcyon days of exploration and adventure because the two experiences share so much in the sense of new wonders,  life changing moments, and scenes that alter how you see the world around you.

I remember one time my brothers and I came across a crater in the forest with a fallen redwood tree embedded in its walls. We spent weeks pretending that it was a ruby mine, and every time we dug up a new chunk of the scarlet wood we imagined it was a huge, priceless gem we added to our treasure chest. As a reader I was transported back to that ruby mine of my childhood. Each time I read a new version of Mark’s draft I would come across a new ruby or two that I added to my treasure chest of images he had created in my mind. I would open the text thinking I knew what it held, thinking it would be familiar and then I would find a new metaphor shining in the words, or I would reread a scene that he had polished into something new and wondrous. Each rewrite of the poetry would reveal a new facet of emotion that caused me to examine my own thoughts as if under a jeweler’s loupe.

Since our land was located in Western Oregon, rain was abundant and rivers, streams, and lakes were everywhere. Again, as I read and reread drafts of Mark’s works, these aspects echoed back from my past. Every single hot day of the summer we kids would swim in the river near our house.  One of my first big moments as a kid was the time when I finally swam all the way across the river. It required endurance, and when I hit the current in the middle I had to fight extra hard to get through it without being swept downstream. The very first draft of an author’s work is similar. It can be a challenge to sort through the characters, and you might get swept up in parts of the plot, but you keep reading until you work through the first draft and the sense of accomplishment for yourself and for the author is elating. Once you conquer the first draft, you can spend your time exploring subsequent versions. Once I crossed the river, I would swim it daily. On days I didn’t attempt a crossing I would put on a snorkel and mask and examine the life under the surface, or I’d jump into the white water section and ride the rapids down to the calm pools of the swimming hole. After I completed a first reading of any of Mark’s works, I could spend time exploring the depths of his images or get swept away by new action sequences. Examining and watching a specific character was like exploring a unique rock found on the bottom of the river. Instead of examining beautiful mineral striations or crazy shapes carved by the river’s current, I would explore a character’s motivations and thoughts; all those things that set him or her apart and made that individual interesting.

Hollywood seems to be the antithesis of homesteading, but I have to admit that today I am a total sucker for the trashy tabloids that tout the daily minutiae of celebrity life. I have no desire to live in the big city or live the flashy lifestyle that I read about in Star and People, but sometimes I enjoy vicariously the experiences that million dollar salaries can buy. Being an advance reader holds some of that same exclusivity and VIP status those movie stars, sports icons and other celebs are granted. When I am handed a copy of a text that no one else has seen, it feels like I am going up to the velvet ropes of a club opening ,and the bouncer lets me enter when all others have to stand in line envious of my good fortune. I get to enjoy the newest thoughts, poetry, and word magic woven by the author and very few other lucky souls are granted such an opportunity.

Another element of Hollywood that aligns with the life of an advance reader is the focus on change. To keep in the press if you are a celebrity, you must constantly push the envelope, do something wacky or weird, or in some other way completely alter who you are or what you do. As an advance reader I get swept up in that same fluidity. When you read from draft to draft things are constantly in flux. Characters change their opinions, their motivations, sometimes their appearance.  From day to day in the world of the stars, I don’t know if Britney Spears is going to be blonde or brunette, if Taylor Swift is going to be writing a song about her most recent breakup, or whose marriage is imploding. From draft to draft in the world of Pevana, I don’t know if Talyior’s reasons for actions have changed, if Donari’s physical appearance is altered, or if Roderran has planned some sort of dramatic dictatorial action that will wipe out entire towns.

As far removed as the hippie lifestyle and the hip-hop lifestyle are from each other, they still both have aspects that embody the privileges enjoyed by an advance reader. I am so glad that I grew up with the alternative lifestyle my parents provided me, and I guiltily devour trashy magazines today that have nothing in common with my all natural upbringing, yet both ends of that spectrum are touched upon when I read for Mark. My sense of adventure and exploration is reawakened when I get a new draft, but at the same time, my current events inspired ADHD is satisfied as I see new plotlines develop and unexpected events unfold. Not everyone can be fortunate enough to know a real, live author and that is too bad because there is nothing like the experience of watching a new work grow. I look forward to immersing myself in Mark’s next work and exploring the world under the surface while keeping current on changes he makes as he goes through the process.


Terri-Lynne said...

Jessica, this actually had me near to tears. First, because I'm Mark's editor and I get what you've already seen, only I have to go from that sense of wonder to Pen-Mistress Terri, Wordslayer. I might have had Mark near to tears a few times! Last summer, whew--I'm just grateful he's still speaking to me. :)

Secondly, because AS an editor, I've lost a little of those things you write about in your post. It's like knowing the secret of a magic trick; it's still cool! But it's no longer as wondrous when all you can think of is the mechanics of it. I am going to keep these things close to my heart when next I read a new manuscript.

Lastly--thanks for encouraging Mark. If not for that, I'd not know him. I'd not have the privilege of working with him and his characters. Honest--can't think about NOT having him (and them) there without getting a little pingey in the heart area.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

Jessica, thanks so much for being our guest on HoF this week. This was a great post & really gave me a new window into Mark's work.

He's very lucky to have you as a Beta reader -- and we are lucky he has you, as well! :)