By Dale Buchanan
About nine months ago I was commissioned by the Communications Committee to write this “From the Pews” weekly column in the GrapeLeaf. This assignment was my first step from the pews at Big Red. It has been an exciting time. Many of you did not know me nine months ago. Many of you still do not recognize me except as that old guy who shows up with Gayle Thornton most every Sunday morning. And that is alright too.
During this time I have had the privilege of sitting down with forty of you pew members and recording your stories. Without a doubt the most rewarding church experience of my life. Nine months is not a traditional anniversary celebration, but being a non-traditional person and a writer of memoirs, this marker seems to be a good time for me to reminisce and say thank you for the response to my efforts to record your stories.
When Randy Oftedal approached me with this idea, I was excited and immediately agreed to give it a try. I had no idea what this project was going to involve. I had only been a member at Big Red for about two years, and my first excuse was “I don’t know very many people. Where would I start?” Randy looked at Gayle who introduced me to the Big Red Church and said, “Start with her.” I did and after that I was on my own. This paragraph is my thank-you for allowing me the privilege of getting to know so many of you in such personal settings. I have met with you in the Fellowship hall and other nicks and crannies of Big Red, in your homes, and in coffee shops and restaurants where interviews never fail to turn into conversation and a telling of personal stories.
I write my own stories and memoirs, so in the beginning I supposed that this would be a snap. I thought I could handle it all by myself. Wrong! It became obvious to me right from the start that I had bitten off more than I could chew. The remainder of this personal memoir will be an attempt to give an account of the “nuts and bolts” of this “From the Pews” weekly column.
My first realization was that I needed help with the interview. Not only is the eyeball-to-eyeball conversation important, it is the vital element of the whole thing. It was essential that I have a transcriber. I did not have to look far. My friend Gayle from the outset was proof-reading my essays. She has been a member of Big Red for years and is well acquainted with most everyone and was the perfect one for me to use in setting up meetings where I suggest that Gayle and I would like to get together with them. At this juncture I was conferring with Gayle and others about prospective interviewees. Then I spoke to the person at church service, by phone, or Facebook. The “nuts and bolts” were beginning to take shape.
Once the appointment is set, we meet with our “From the Pews” person. I have a set of prompts meant to encourage the interviewee to talk and Gayle begins the process of making copious notes. Some ask “How long will it take?” and I respond, “It depends on you. Short answers, short interview, long answers, long interview.” Because these interviews are actually more like conversations between friends, these get-togethers tend to be longer than shorter.
My stories and memoirs have always been a private affair and jealously guarded. It became obvious that I not only needed a proof-reader, but I was in desperate need of an editor! There is an extensive body of literature dealing with the relationship of writers with editors. Since I had no previous experience with editors, I turned again to Gayle. After all, what could go wrong!
Let me tell you there is a difference between a proof-reader and an editor. An editor is a horse of an entirely different color. A proof-reader corrects your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. An editor, on the other hand, presumes to change your words, delete complete sentences, and add things that make your words flow better.
Gayle and I have been friends for exactly three years, and there has been no stress at all between us. The writer-editor connection proved to be a challenge. This part of the process also required “nuts and bolts” to fit together. As soon as I finish an interview, I take Gayle home and we review her notes. I then take her notes and go home. Usually I let them stew for a day or two and then compose. This takes anywhere from one to three days. Once this is finished, I go back to Gayle, and we begin the job of editing my precious words. I am defensive and she is determined. She says you don’t need this sentence. I say you can’t cut this—it is the heart of the piece. She acts hurt and I pout. We converse and search for the right words and eventually find consensus. Then Gayle becomes the proof-reader, takes our revised draft, and types a corrected version which is sent to Kim in the church office just in time for the Wednesday at noon deadline.
And I begin searching for the next “From the Pews” person. Maybe that will be you!