Wednesday, December 9, 2009
There She Goes Again
Have you ever worried about your family's reaction to a scene you wrote?
My cousins who hail from the central California branch of the family
Yikes - the better question might be when, in in recent years, have I written anything suitable for my family to read? - and the answer would be, not often.
They're not a particularly uptight bunch. My brother and sister - no problem; Mike's One Of Us and Kristen is a remarkably open-minded person. Ditto my very dear cousin Maureen. My California cousins have been proud of me since long before they knew what I was writing. No matter the subject matter - bondage, sexual predators, middle-aged good-timin', even the sewing shut of orifices with dirty needles (don't worry; that one hasn't seen the light of day) they forgive, even if they occasionally don't entirely understand.They seem to want me to be happy, and to understand that self-expression is absolutely key to any happiness I might find on this mortal coil.
My little sister
And I kind of trust them all to know their own limits. My children have been very good at limiting their exposure to my work (that's a nice way of saying they're just plain not interested in reading it). I figure my far-flung aunts and uncles and so forth will probably know within a few pages if they might want to just donate the thing to the library and be done with it.
The thing about family is, they're stuck with you. They have to keep you no matter what you write.
However, one of the great and unexpected pleasures of having a book out is that it forced me to reveal a side of me I have kept well-hidden. It has made me own it. It is a great relief to come out of the not-so-nice-girl closet. For a long time, I tried to be sweet all the time...polite, well-mannered, appropriate. I can't really pull that off any more, since a great many people have now read all about my alter-ego Stella, who has a great many bad habits and is mostly unapologetic.
I have this friend Debbie who I just adore. She is a mom of four great kids, a pastor's wife, a volunteer, and a role model for a lot of people. I kind of watched my p's and q's around Debbie because, well, of that church thing, and I really wanted her to like me.
Debbie with her two beautiful daughters
She told me she was going to read my book and I was nervous. Really nervous. I reviewed some of the action in my head, and wondered...how was Debbie going to feel about the naughty Polaroid scene? The sheriff's-excellent-ass scene? The bloody chainsaw, the child of uncertain parentage, the fifth of Johnnie Walker?
Well, guess what - Debbie says she loved my book. And maybe she's just being polite, but it doesn't even matter, because Debbie still loves me. I should have trusted her better. I should have known that our friendship was based on things that matter - not just my crazy ungovernable inappropriate imagination, but the coffee we've shared and the lacrosse games we've watched together and the gossip and the kids we love and the hopes we have for our community. I should have remembered that everyone - including and maybe especially nice church ladies - is composed of layers and sparkly bits and flaws and everything else that makes them unique.
So that taught me a little lesson: trust your near'n'dears. Odds are that if they cherished you before, they'll keep on cherishing. If they found you barely tolerable before, even penning FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM probably isn't going to help.
In the third Stella book - tentatively titled A BAD DAY FOR FANCY and scheduled for Spring '11 - I did a few risky-ish things (starting with the tasteless opening line I wrote as a joke for my agent.) Maybe it'll lose me a reader or two. Maybe not. Maybe some folks'll even like it. But I've quit worrying about what my inner circle thinks - worst case there will be an eye roll or two and someone will say "There she goes again" and that will be that.