Unfinished Manuscripts: A Tribute
edited: Wednesday, May 24, 2006
By Mary Deal
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003
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Working through the mourning process.
R. D. Robbins and I met in an Internet writerís workshop. Unbeknownst to me, he read one of my novellas.
As with most workshops, the reader then provides a written review or critique. Richard did more than that. His written on-line critique was direct and informative. He proceeded to point out a theme in the piece, which I had no idea Iíd written. After he called attention to it, I clearly understood.
When I gratefully thanked him, he said he had more comments not necessarily apropos to publicizing in the workshop, and if interested, he would like to send them in email.
I wasnít sure to what he alluded, but having been the recipient of one truly enlightening critique by him, I told him to fire away.
Most of what Richard had to say included how he was able to perceive my personality in my writing style and how I could tie personal characteristics into the themes to deepen my plots. The reason he didnít want to post this information as additional to his critique on the Internet is because he was able to intuit very personal aspects of my makeup that he felt others didnít need to know. After reading his further comments, I was thankful he had the sensibility to approach me privately, because everything he wrote was right.
He went on to read all the stories I had posted. While our emails flew back and forth, it was proper, though not expected, for me to reciprocate. I read the first story he posted and found it heart-wrenching. Here was a writer with so much potential, right from the first completed story heíd ever written. No wonder he saw through my writing. I felt he was so far ahead of me in short-story writing, I wasnít sure how to critique him. One point I wanted to make was that he needed to dig deeper into his own emotions, or do a little bit of research to substantiate his plot; to make it seem he lived it. A few choice details in any story and the reader will know that the author knows what he or she is talking about.
I wrote my review, one that was direct and offered no frills, although it wasnít without heart or humor. Having found my review posted, he wrote back and asked me outright to help him establish his writing. He asked me, a writer far from having perfected my craft. Already retired from one successful career, he wanted me to help him get established in another. He didnít mean it as reciprocal flattery. He brought me face to face with the potential he saw in my writing that I had not yet identified. He thought enough of my critique and writing style, and of me as a person, because he read me like a book in my stories. He trusted me.
Both of us posted other stories in the workshop and continued to critique other writers for a time, but we largely withdrew from the workshop. We critiqued one another privately and learned how to get our messages into our stories. Not that our stories were meant as messages; but all stories have a deeper meaning, and thatís what we strove to establish in the writing. Our reviews of each other exposed flaws or faults. Through each other, we came to accept the harshness and truths of being critiqued. What helped soften the bite, at times, was Richardís enduring wry wit. Too, we critiqued each other with awareness toward being careful not to be teaching one another in a vacuum.
Soon, I noticed Richardís writing becoming so polished that I could no longer help him. He was getting stories published. He wanted to know more, to study writing, and went on to take courses. He diligently studied and learned and perfected his craft. When he felt comfortable with his personal style, he went back and re-wrote all the stories he had previously written. Over time, virtually everything he wrote was published at least once. The list of magazines where his stories, poetry and byline appears total more than fifty and many of those wanted more and reprinted stories first published in other publications.
I had stopped critiquing Richard long before that time, though he still read nearly everything I wrote. He had found his niche. I found mine, turning my stories into novels, all of which Richard read. A thrill for me was when we inadvertently began to write a fantasy novel together. Too, he and I also planned to put his mind-bending short stories into book form, although I suspected he wanted to complete this project with his wife. She is a gifted artist and could create a magnificent book jacket and pepper the pages with her sketches and watercolors inspired by his stories.
During these last five years, Richard and I came to know each other and about our significant others and exchanged photos, but only through the mails. We live in extreme opposite ends of the country 5,500 miles apart and hadnít had a chance to meet in person.
One day about six months ago, Richard sent an email saying he wasnít feeling well. He was going to take some time off from writing till he learned what was wrong and got better. I knew he wouldnít take time off from writing. What he was really saying was that he had less energy and needed to use it sparingly. About a week later, he wrote that he had liver cancer and the prognosis was bleak. From that time on, our emails were personal, only to keep me posted on his progress health-wise and occasionally to talk about writing or forward bits of writing information or links on the Internet. Through it all, his sense of humor wouldnít allow him to admit how ill he was.
He continued to write and get published, until, finally, his energy was drained from medical treatments. He stopped mentioning having produced any new stories, but still shopped the others that hadnít yet found acceptance. Eventually, they all found a home on a printed page somewhere.
Some of Richardís stories were nominated for various awards, including the very prestigious Pushcart Prize. All this while he was gravely ill and growing weaker.
One day, he wrote to say he was feeling much better. He wished me luck for my upcoming book signing. Three hours later, he was gone.
Richardís life, and ability to create amazing stories that made people think, whose potential seemed limitless, was cut short. The degree of success he sought and so richly deserved would not be obtained. Part of me regrets not having rushed to finish our co-written novel and regrets not having been more diligent in putting together his book of short stories. The other part of me says everything has its own time and cycle and we mortals control none of it. I seek consolation in that thought.
I am consoled, also, in having shared interests and heart with Richard. As for his potential being cut short, now I think not. If that was all the time he had been allotted, then he succeeded in every sense of the word by being the best at something he chose to do. Every one of his stories carried messages of the deeper aspects of life for readers to perceive. What was important to him, he was able to convey through his writings, be they serious or humorous or anything in between. He was a total success, and I am a better person and a better writer, for having been invited into the writing nook in his expansive mind.
R.D.'s website is:Days of the Giants
R.D.'s awards are as follows:
"The Return" was nominated for the First Annual James B. Baker Award for Genre Fiction 2002 in the Best Short Story Category.
"Ten Minute Scrub," published in 96 Inc., 2002 - Pushcart nomination.
"Curves," published in Happy, 2003 -†The story he wrote about his illness. Posthumous Pushcart nomination.
"My Father's Skull," published in Slipstream, 2003†- Posthumous Pushcart nomination.
"Dragon Grisfeu's Fire" is a posthumous nomination for the James B. Baker Award for Poetry 2003.
"Hell's Kitchen," published in 96 Inc. 2003. Posthumous Pushcart nomination.
Carrie Robbins' websites are:
carrie robbins DESIGNAGE inc, and,