Shawn is the author of the true-life romance Feels Like the First Time, the story of his lost-and-found high school romance. I was his proofreader there, and he asked me to edit the sequel Both Sides Now, available for sale today. This book examines the same events from his sweetheart’s perspective.
When Shawn first contacted me about the project, I thought it had potential, but I also saw him facing some powerful challenges. This was to be Dawn’s story, not his. It should be told in her voice, not his. Shawn is extroverted and given to a lot of superlatives, whereas Dawn is more laconic and introverted, with no tendency to exaggerate. What would jump out at Shawn, Dawn might not notice, and vice versa. Shawn’s basic character runs counter to the gender stereotype of masculine emotional stolidity, so he was well equipped to consider some differences in how she might see the world, but it was still going to be a hard go.
Another challenge for him: pry the details out of Dawn. Shawn can and will talk one’s ear off (and it’s usually insightful, puckish and entertaining). Dawn isn’t a Vulcan or anything, but she learned in life to keep things inside–if you read the book, as I hope you will, I promise you’ll learn why–so she is not prone to waste words, and unsolicited elaboration does not come naturally to her.
I felt very handicapped by not having met Dawn, and both of them saw the potential value in a meetup, so they graciously invited me to their home. I also felt somewhat of a duty. I’d seen sensitive parts of both their lives close up, yet neither had yet had any chance to size me up in person. Dawn in particular had not; to her, one presumes, I was this eastern Washington guy Shawn worked with on the first book and his novella. Shawn turned out to be just as advertised: as Falstaffian and fun-loving as one might expect of a fifty-year-old man who still participates in a KISS tribute band and would have to look up the word ’embarrassment.’ Dawn was a lady of relatively few words and a steady gaze. Her natural shyness was easy enough for me to accept, because I’m similar. So, my task: in limited time, sit down on the couch and begin asking my hostess about the events of FLTFT as she remembered them, posing very personal questions of a woman I had just met about some of the most painful and difficult times of her life. No pressure.
That isn’t easy for me, because it’s not my nature to pry even with longtime friends. If all my posts about privacy issues tell you nothing else about me, that would be your one sure takeaway. I had to force myself. This was work, my job; without knowing Dawn’s voice, how could I edit it? So, with Shawn whipping up spaghetti in the kitchen, listening in with an invigorated smile, I began to ask Dawn to tell me about her life. One suspects that watching me gave Shawn some interviewing tips, but I had a natural advantage. I hadn’t been emotionally involved in anything that had occurred, nor had I seen it firsthand, thus I didn’t have my own memories intruding. I had no first-person perspective to break out of. I’d obviously read FLTFT exhaustively, to the last comma and loose space, but that’s not the same as living the story.
When one considers that she was speaking to a stranger about life events of the sort that most people would like to forget, I found Dawn a very calm, candid subject, even brave. What she was feeling inside, I didn’t know and didn’t ask; maybe I should have, maybe I did rightly not to. I also got an answer to one question I didn’t pose, but that lurked in my mind: would she be shy about having her story printed to stand before the public? Dawnconically: no. I also saw strong hints of how she had gotten through a lot of life’s trials. As I said to Shawn over spaghetti, “there’s steel in there.” What Dawn made of me was difficult to say, though before the visit was done, I saw signs that she’d warmed to me. For the record, Mr. and Mrs. Inmon are wonderfully kind hosts, accommodating without hesitation my need to perform physical therapy exercises which somewhat disrupted their home arrangements. Anyone who gets the chance to hang out with them should take it.
I’d also like to drive a stake through one ill-begotten comment I saw in a couple of reviews. Anyone who imagines that this story is embellished or invented can take it from me: while I didn’t suspect that at all, I was doing my mental due diligence by force of habit. There is no way Dawn could have answered me so readily and frankly about the story without having lived it. Often–and especially when I got a brief reply–I’d ask a quick follow-up question for more details; a deceptive subject trips on those, which is why all police use the technique. Dawn did not trip. The historian in me is satisfied that events in both books are accurate to the best of their recollections and note comparisons.
The resulting ms impressed hell out of me, because my biggest question had been whether Shawn could Dawnninate his writing voice. He could and did. The voice read like the lady I’d interviewed. I had to fix some wordiness (which I think was far more Shawn than Dawn, as ‘wordy’ isn’t how I’d describe her), and I took a few firm stands on what content best fit where. If you read the prologue and find yourself yelling “That’s all I get? Damn you! Now I have to read it!” then I guess you can thank me. Or cuss me a little.
It’s a better book than FLTFT (which was quite good), and I wasn’t even close to the main reason for that. The ms came to me more polished than had the former’s edited version. Shawn Inmon is one of the quickest studies I’ve had the pleasure to work with. If I don’t keep upping my game, I’ll become less useful to him throughout his career, so that pushes me to improve. If you liked Feels Like the First Time, it’s a lock that you’ll like Both Sides Now, and you may well like it better still.
I did. I do.