by Janis Patterson
No, this isn't a post about alternative lifestyles or somewhat esoteric sexual games. This is about something much more difficult - molding a scientific-minded, very military husband into a writer's assistant.
Retired from the Navy several years ago (after 32 years service - I am so proud of him!) and facing not-too-distant retirement from his civilian job, The Husband mused one day about what he would do after complete retirement. He is not the type to just sit around and vegetate! Never expecting any real response, I laughingly suggested he become my assistant and do my publicity - which I hate - and give me more time to write. When he agreed, I almost fainted from pure surprise.
A bit of backstory. The Husband and I married late, and it was indeed a mixed marriage. His family is definitely science-oriented; mine (mostly gone now) was firmly in the words camp. I don't think he had ever met a writer before, and for years his family regarded having a writer in the family as sort of akin to having some sort of exotic alien species around. (I must say they are wonderful and loving, and I am blessed to have them, but my kind was indeed an unknown quantity to them.) Over time, however, The Husband began to enjoy the role of 'the writer's husband.' My work got us into a lot of interesting places that 'normal' people never get to know, and he began to get involved.
Now he was offering to become my assistant! A man who doesn't read novels, other than an occasional offering from Bob Mayer or Dale Brown or WEB Griffin - all military-themed writers. Until we started this recent exercise I don't think he had read more than one of my books. I'm still not sure he has!
Having been in this business for close to four decades (aaaugh!) I find that so much of it is nearly instinctual. I didn't realized how much information there was to learn from a standing start until I started to teach him.
So far he's doing pretty well, though he spends a lot of time being appalled at the illogicities of this business. (For that matter, so do I.) As if giving a blessing to this odd career change, my beloved Novelists Inc. had recently opened its conference (the best in the writing world, in my opinion) to include authors' assistants. Some are professionals, some are family members, but all want to know how to help 'their' authors as best they can.
As The Husband is still working a full-time job, he's not quite up to full speed on the assistant thing yet. I am trying to get publicity packages and excerpts on all my books (no small job!) done and set up a publicity release schedule that is almost foolproof because right now those chores are beyond him. That's no small job, either, but once they're done the process will be easy and almost self-perpetuating. At least, that's the hope!
So what's it like giving 'orders' (always couched as suggestions or requests, of course) to a very much accustomed-to-command ex-Navy captain? Interesting. Sometimes very interesting. Luckily The Husband is as invested in my career as I am and most of the time seems to actually enjoy the learning process. My fingers are crossed that this will continue. Right now with the teaching and preparing my writing is suffering, but I hope that will be only temporary - once the machine really gets into gear it should free me up considerably.
So - I know that not all husbands/daughters/sons/second cousins/whoever are assistant material, but some could be. And, of course, there are always the professionals - but be very sure you vet them thoroughly. Some are very good, some are adequate, and some are nightmares.
During a late-night informal chat session at the last NINC conference the conversation turned to what everyone paid their assistants. Some hired by the hour or had monthly contracts or some such. Of course, I had to be different and without intending to I almost ended the session. My answer? "I sleep with mine."
(And totally unrelated to the above post, I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and an exceedingly Happy New Year!)