Catnapped and Doggone
Do I ever worry about how my friends or family will take something I’ve written? Not even a little bit. Okay, so let’s face it, I haven’t exactly been hiding my lesser character traits in person either. I figure most people who’ve met me genuinely wonder if I’m kidding when I ask them to ride in my trunk. For research. There’s probably a reason no one has ever actually agreed to do it. Then again, agreement doesn’t actually preclude me from outright trickery. I mean, research is pretty important and happy “victims” maybe not so much. Like Sophie, I know some of these people can’t actually get away from me forever even if they try. And they mostly forgive me when they see “themselves” show up in chapter six. That character being bound and gagged and driven through town only to be killed seems like a minor thing at that point.
One of the first questions I was asked when I was on a panel at a conference was “Did I worry about my political views bleeding into my characters and offending my readers?” The question came from a prolific and highly successful author who wrote under a variety of pen names. To put it in context, this was the George Bush FISA no-warrant, no-lawyer hey day and I’m a left leaner. My answer to him hasn’t changed. Not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell, no.’ First, readers by their very nature are much smarter and open minded than people give them credit for or the general public, for that matter. These are individuals who walk into book stores with an open mind looking for adventure and humor and surprise. It’s important to remember who reads. I’m from a reading family. They are these people.
It’s not necessarily true for everyone. My mom doesn’t want details about my sex life. It’s not enough that you find my work in the fiction part of the library. She buys the books. She brags to her friends. So, she skips over the pages where the word naked appears. I’m okay with that. It doesn’t make her less proud or fascinated by my ability to do this. Having your parents think you’re cool, even when they aren’t immersed in the detail of how you achieved that status is still an amazing high.
My grandfather has only ever read the inscription to my second book, Doggone. To him, I am still the little girl he taught to waltz. The child he let get a second degree sunburn at the Special Olympics where we watched my brother win his first medals. He doesn’t want to think I know what a dead body looks like. He is disquieted by my understanding of an autopsy. But having read that one page, he knows that I remember his mother sitting me on her knee and asking me to tell her a story. He has read maybe fifty words of a 90,000 word book but he knows what it says – what it means – why it matters. Even if he read the rest, it would be white noise that wouldn’t so much as register with him.
For anyone in my circle who is bothered by what I write, my first reaction is to discourage projection. For example, any resemblance between my dog Koko and the cover of my second book is mere coincidence and if she's bothered by it, she hasn't mentioned it. On the other hand, there are people in my life genuinely unnerved by a scene or a character or even a plot line. Just because my villain is planning to off his co-worker with poisonous mushrooms doesn’t mean my colleagues need to be careful with pizza toppings at Friday lunch. Even if there is a horrific pitchfork accident in Horsewhipped, that’s no reason to generate a local shortage of Yale locks for barn doors in my parents farm neighborhood. Then again, the ex-boyfriends who dumped me and are now feeling remorseful – and reaching out through Facebook – because they think the terrific, sexy guy who I can’t keep my hands off on page 10 and 52 and 116 and 209 is really them, well, project away. You’re totally cracking me up. And I’m feeling pretty good about this whole writing thing.
Thanks for reading.