Cavalry in a Box

The thrill never grows old, and lessons never end. Some lessons are more memorable than others. This was one of ’em.

A short story accepted for publication. As I expect, the editor asks for a few reasonable changes, but one…I have no clue what she’s talking about.

“First page is too rainbowized.”

The story is science-fantasy and is not an LGBT tale. I’ve made no mention of Noah’s Ark. No leprechauns gambol around pots o’ gold at the rainbow’s end.

I read the first page. Then again. I look at her comment, re-read what I wrote, and I’m just as mystified as before. I fire off an email. “What do you mean by rainbowized?”

This is a teaching editor with saintly patience. She wants writers to learn for themselves how to write better, to figure out what to do with minimal guidance. She replies with a hint. “Too many colors in your first few paragraphs.”

My cybernetic navigator watches a blue-green planet growing larger on his monitor, and he reads a green line of data. That’s two colors, but no more show up until later in the story. I check to make sure the original attachment on my submission email is the same version I’m trying to fix rather than some early draft. It’s the same.

Where’s my literary cavalry when I need ‘em?

I invent a number of complex and pleasing finger-drumming rhythms while I stare at the computer. I’m no closer to figuring out what needs correction but infinitely closer to feeling thick-headed. If I calculated my density with ρ (kg/m3), it would prove comparable to a 1×10 to the 18th power stellar-mass black hole.

My next email: “I’m so sorry, but I still don’t understand.”

The first page comes back with three highlighted paragraphs. The dogs scatter from my primal scream. The cat stalks off to a less disturbing part of the house. Outside, tornadic wingbeats erupt as a thousand starlings launch off the roof.

Deep breath. I’m trying too hard. Time to step away, do something else.

I dig out art supplies for an illustration–a marionette troubadour–using watercolors with crayon resist. I sort through my crayons for the ones to color his bells and lute gears. My hand hovers over gold and silver crayons.

The cliché lightbulb over the head doesn’t flash. Instead, the top of my skull gapes open to the explosion of a nova.

Among many jobs, I spent several years as a machinist and several more in electronics assembly and inspection. Practical knowledge served well as I created details of my cybernetic characters and the ships they navigate. Gold, silver, copper, bronze, pewter, platinum–these are metals to machine, cast, solder, braze, inspect. Powdered sapphire is a component of certain types of ceramic substrates in electronics. Ruby, sapphire’s gemstone cousin, appears as tiny mechanical bearings, abrasives, laser components. Garnet, too, is used for abrasives as well as for water filtration fillers.

Returning to my story and highlighted paragraphs, I get it. Yes, there’s the sapphire console made of gemstone and ceramic, but anyone reading will simply envision dark blue. The ruby laser refers to the stone used for the light-stimulating rod in its guts, not the color of light it produces or a red hue of the unit’s paint. Gold, silver, and copper are metals of the pads and traces on the characters’ hands, but how many readers possess knowledge of conductive materials? They’ll see descriptive colors. I de-rainbowize my story’s first page.

My laughter’s a little hysterical, but I do laugh at myself. Specialized knowledge displaced more common meanings. Life experience bit me in the literary butt.

A box of crayons to the rescue.  My cavalry arrived.

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