The proofreader looked up from the manuscript. His calm demeanor and expression sent an assortment of signals that raised the writer’s anxiety, just a tad. It worsened during the brief period of silence that might easily have preceded the Big Bang. The end result of this evening’s visit could certainly have a similar outcome.
“Why,” the proofreader began. “Would you write such a cynical story?”
The writer resisted a frown. It was dangerous to seem defensive when someone offered feedback on a story, yet there was a strange sort of balance in trying to decipher that feedback. As diplomatically as possible he repeated, “Cynical?”
“Yes. It’s a very cynical story, especially when you consider the source. Why would you write such a negative aspect in a children’s story?”
Now it was clear. The proofreader had an opinion about the story’s subject matter and since he considered it to be negative, then the writer must have meant for it to be so. This moved out of the realm of diplomacy and into the riskier territory of trying to tame a wild beast––even Siegfried had one bad day.
“I’m not sure what you mean by negative,” the writer said, sincerely. “I don’t think it was cynical at all. I just wanted to explore why the doll was there on the Island of Misfit Toys.”
“But it’s a children’s story. You shouldn’t write about a transgender doll that was a character in a children’s story.”
The writer shifted in his seat. It would have been easy to launch a debate about what children should and should not be exposed to in literature. He kept his focus on the story.
“I just always wondered at the idea. Why were all those toys there? Okay, maybe, the Charlie-in-the-Box was justified. There’s always that one kid who knows what he wants and sometimes his parents can only afford the cheap knockoff of the popular toy. But the water pistol that shoots jelly? Come on, what kid in their right mind would say no to a water pistol that shoots jelly? I’m 35 and I still want one. It’s at the top of my list.
“But here’s a dolly for Sue. The kind that says ‘how do you do?’ and she has a dress, the buckle shoes, the hair. There’s nothing visibly wrong with her and she has an effeminate voice. Why is she there? What made the Flying Lion King swoop down and pluck the doll away from the disapproving world? The only thing that makes sense for that time period would be if the doll was transgender. So this story explores the dolly’s back story and it’s a fairly realistic ending for a story that takes place in the time Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was filmed.”
The proofreader shrugged. He placed the page on top of the stack of other pages that had been pushed aside, straightened it out, and then handed it back to the writer.
“I just think it’s a bit negative.”
The writer thanked the proofreader and left. Sure enough, lots of other readers would share his opinion. Then again there would be more than enough readers who shared the writer’s world view. That was fine, too. Now he only needed a proofreader who could separate fact from opinion.