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Reminiscing Bettyville

August 07, 2019 12:30 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)

 


 By Eleanor Shelton 




June of 2016 I was accepted into a novel editing workshop in the Aspen Summer Words Conference. The faculty member for my workshop was George Hodgman, a former editor at Houghton Mifflin, Simon & Schuster, and Vanity Fair. He had recently published his award-winning memoir Bettyville.




When I walked into the condo where the workshop was being held, there was a pudgy man with a large face, wrapped in a leopard blanket. He didn’t talk to the six of us right away, but looked at us, even through us. A wave of discomfort fell on the room. What had we gotten into.

“Well, here we are, aren’t we?” he said in a Missouri-drawl that held both irony and sarcasm.

That week George was grumpy, sweet, hilarious, and erudite. Once we got used to his unique look and thought process, we began to relax and really listen to him.

Perfectly timed, dry humor was his schtick.



“Well, here we are, aren’t we?” he said in a Missouri-drawl that held both irony and sarcasm.


When I walked into the condo where the workshop was being held, there was a pudgy man with a broad face, wrapped in a leopard blanket. He didn’t talk to the six of us right away, but looked at us, even through us. A wave of discomfort fell on the room. What had we gotten into?

That week George Hodgman was grumpy, sweet, hilarious, and erudite. Once we got used to his unique look and thought process, we began to relax and really listen to him. His humor was dry with perfect timing.

When my assigned critique partner suggested that I should delete a death scene from my novel, George leaned over and whispered in my ear loud enough for the entire table to hear, “Ignore him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, this is one of the best death scenes I’ve ever read. You delete it, and I’ll be very irritated with you.” Then he wagged his finger at me like my mother might.

He met with me for half an hour before breakfast so he and I could talk, just the two of us. He gave me thoughts on my novel, suggested a list of agents to query, and wrote me a letter of introduction to an editor at St. Martin’s Press he thought would connect with my work.

When he got a text from his airline that his flight might be delayed or canceled out of Aspen, he leaped up from the table and paced back and forth, throwing his hands in the air panic-stricken that his dog would be alone. Who would take care of his dog for this extra day? His agitation paused our workshop that last day and as he called friend after friend to find someone to dog sit. His voice grew louder and louder as person after person turned him down. In his leopard blanket, he ran his hand through his hair as he marched back and forth.

We just stopped and watched the drama.

After the workshop, he would call me from time to time to check in and see how my writing was coming and offer advice and talk about challenges that he faced in his work, such as Hollywood’s on-again, off-again flirtation with developing Bettyville into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine. We also became Facebook friends. George posted often raging about politics in the nation and his beloved Missouri. There were copious pictures of dogs who had been abandoned and needed homes.

Lately, his posts were one of two things: beautiful villages from around the world or stately homes or historic buildings now dilapidated and forgotten to time. George Hodgman collected images of vulnerable animals he couldn’t adopt, abandoned, and forgotten structures he begged people to save, and breath-taking scenes of places he would never visit.

Saturday, July 20, George Hodgman took his own life. I found out Sunday morning, and the breath left me. I knew that he lived with depression, and I could tell when he was struggling because the images of sad-eyed dogs, Victorian homes with broken windows and peeling paint, and picturesque Italian seaside villages stopped. But the photos would always resume, and I knew he was back to himself. They won’t appear anymore.

The images he shared with his hundreds of followers were a reflection of him: sad, broken, yet with hope.

As a writing faculty, he took a little getting used to. But that effort was paid back a hundred-fold. His memoir was open, raw, humorous, just as he was. He will never know what his time and attention meant to me as an insecure writer, hoping that I had some work with merit.

Meeting other writers at conferences and retreats is a precious commodity and I am fortunate to have experienced his expertise and mentorship. 



Comments

  • August 07, 2019 2:15 PM | Kristin Owens
    What wonderful insight into a generous teacher/writer. Thanks for sharing with us!
    Link  •  Reply

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