The Duet of Sandeep and Ruby Jo: Author's Notes

by Joe Levy


Rowan taught a writing class. She had us create two characters that were as different from each other as possible. (She gave us a list of questions to answer about each.) She asked us to write a scene in which they meet. When I described my characters, she asked me to write about them becoming friends. (I admit, this was flattering.) I didn't have time to do that in class: I barely eked out their meeting, which was the first scene here. That was long ago. But then the scene in the harvester came to me. I knew I had to write what I conceived at first to be a series of vignettes about them becoming friends, but which quickly pulled together into a short story once I realized how it had to end.

In a different session, Rowan had suggested that we try writing dialogue without the word "said". We could just describe what someone did, to indicate who was speaking. I loved that idea, both because it eliminated repetition of "said" and because it forced us to show the scene during the dialogue. I may have gone a little overboard in adopting this idea: You won't find a single instance of "Ruby Jo said" or "whispered Sandeep" in this story. Every quote stands alone, rather than as part of a sentence.

Once I conceived the characters, I decided to actively resist my internalized classism by having Ruby Jo, the dirt-poor southern farming housewife, be perceptive, competent, and sharp, despite still having many of the expected struggles.

As I wrote the dialogue, my rendition of Ruby Jo's southern accent was atrocious. I've never lived in the south, so my idea of southern grammar comes from bad portrayals by northern actors (plus, probably, an unexamined, classist notion that rural grammar = uneducated grammar = "wrong" grammar = grammar other than mine). I looked up southern idioms and grammar (learning about the "might could" construction in the process), and used those where I could. I erased all spelling indications of her accent (aside from a couple of contractions), since that's sometimes problematic (People with accents know how to spell their words!) and it felt like a lazy cop-out. Studying my options and adjusting Ruby Jo's dialogue was a big challenge for each scene, but I'm pleased with the effort. I don't know whether the result is "good," but it is certainly better.

When I decided to write it, I figured the story couldn't just be that these two learn about each other and become friends, even if that was my focus. Then I remembered how much I love stories of simple human travails and connections set amid fantastic situations. That's kind of what science fiction is, but I had in mind things like Jonathan Coulton's songs, or the Astro City comic. The important thing in "Blue Sunny Day" isn't that the character is a vampire; it's that he's sad. He just happens to be a vampire. So, I used zombies to create a story and a challenge as a backdrop to the budding friendship.

I did not initially intend for Sandeep's comfort with getting dirty to parallel his increasing comfort with Ruby Jo, but once I realized it was happening, I ran with it. He made a conscious choice to open himself up to both at the same time.

Sandeep's decision to call his parents seemed to imply that things will get better with them. I softened that with "No, it'll be a disaster," because those things often don't get better. Lots of real people have estranged parents, either for their own well being or not by their choice. These decisions or situations can feel invalidated by fictional scenarios that close with reconciliation and redemption. I didn't want to exacerbate this.

Similarly, Randy backs down and agrees to seek help for his problem. Many real people won't. Many other real people promise, get what they want, and don't go through with their side of the bargain. I used the last scene to acknowledge both of those possibilities: It seemed negligent not to. Helping someone fix an intolerable situation is a lofty goal; helping someone escape it is a realistic one, and difficult enough.

Sandeep reflects only on good men. He's open to criticism of his internalized sexism, and will eventually get more conscious of his language and the limitations of his experience, assuming he survives any further adventures with Ruby Jo.

Obviously, quilting club is a road to continued friendship. If you've been paying close attention, it also means- Wait, do you want to figure it out yourself? Spoiler coming up:

It also means quitting Sandeep's usual Friday activity, gambling in the card room after work. (Plus, it means doing what Ruby Jo had suggested to Randy: Get a hobby, and do that instead of feeding your addiction. I only noticed that after I had finished the story.)

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