Writing is a pretty private enterprise, so while I’m active within my community, many in my city never knew I was writing a book–or what it was about–or that it had sold. They learned all about it, though, after my local press decided to write an article about me and Unbounded. It appeared recently as a feel-good story on the front page of the entertainment section on a Sunday, and was even picked up by two other upstate NY AP presses–a decent circulation in all…and a lot of local eyes on me, all at once.
The outpouring of support stunned me. Strangers emailed through the blog with kind words, neighbors called. I heard from my fourth-grade teacher and the head of the local arts council. Even my doctor routed a copy of the feature to me with words of encouragement attached via sticky note.
I felt uplifted by all of this until the day I went to my 13-year-old daughter’s swim-meet party and was surrounded by her friends. These kids, many of whom grew up hearing my stories starting in the 3′s class in preschool, were ecstatic over my success.
They were also adamant that they’d buy my book.
Well, hell. There are words worse than ‘hell’ in my book. And plot points less kid-friendly than bleepable words. This story isn’t like the ones they may remember, full of monsters who don’t like cheese and fields of dapper green. My unease ratcheted up a notch when I heard similar vows of readerly support from my son’s 10-year-old friends.
“There are dark parts to the story,” I explained to one mother. “It’s not really appropriate for kids.”
“Kids sometimes don’t notice dark parts,” she said.
“Oh, they’ll notice.”
“If it was a movie, it would be rated R.”
It’s not just about the kids, either. I’m not sure what to say when an ultra-conservative acquaintance, a woman who never shows more than an inch of flesh and who sends her children to bible camp for six weeks every summer, says she’s excited to read my book. Nod? Say thank you? Issue an immediate warning that the book contains some sex, violence and profanity? I mean, nothing’s in there that doesn’t need to be in there, and it’s not Debbie Does Dallas (for which at least one of my friends will be disappointed), but I’m not sure she’d like it. Then again, maybe she would. Unbounded is also a story about acceptance and unlimited love and conquering demons and finding home. And my mother–who might have liked to send me to bible camp every summer–loved it.
Book two isn’t going to be any better. One character, already firmly in my head, is a serious cusser. Should I put a muzzle on her just in case one of my kiddos’ friends picks up the book? No, of course I shouldn’t. This work isn’t for children or ‘tweens.
I’m sure every new author goes through this sort of thing–the jitters that come with realizing people are not only going to have access to your book but may judge you for what you’ve written. And some of those people will know you very, very well. You’ll have to pass them on the street. Meet with them at parent-teacher conferences. You’ll see them at the grocery store. On the soccer field. You’ll hope they approve, but maybe they won’t. And you’ll have to be okay with that, too.
I’m also sure the answer is to keep on keepin’ on and try not to think about any of that. Serve the work, not the neighbors or their children. Let them decide for themselves–or with their parents–if the book is right for them, just like they would over any other product.
Do you think about these sorts of issues when you write? Have you ever written something and had someone respond to it in a surprising way? How do you think the issue of personal character plays into all of this, if it does? Care to share any words of wisdom for the uninitiated, need-to-grow-thicker-skin folk, among us?
Write on, all!