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 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.


Joshua Corin said...

Sophie, I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion. No matter how "out there" our novels get, our friends and family - those who know us - will almost always just nod and say, "Yeah, that's to be expected."

Which of course makes one wonder what they thought about us all along.

Jen Forbus said...

Well I think you're pretty darned dandy Miss Sophie! And I didn't know you until AFTER you wrote your book! Love you to pieces!!

Michael Wiley said...

I'm with you, Sophie. We write what we write and hope for the best. And usually we get it -- at least from those nearest to us. Or else they pretend really well.

Dorte H said...

Usually I don´t think much about my family when I write, but my mother enjoys reading my manuscripts, and sometimes when I hand her one, I do think about her reaction to the sex scenes (not that they are very graphic or anything, but still, my kind, church-going mom ...) She says she loves my stories, though, so perhaps mothers are able to distinguish between the daughter and the author.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Thanks everyone! Naturally I was all brave in the post, but in execution I generally stumble.

Last night I was at my kid's band concert and all the other (*nice*) moms were chatting about holiday decorations while I tried to pretend I wasn't reading a book full of incredibly hot sex scenes. And of course when I set it in the seat next to me when the concert started it fell on the floor and a perfectly nice person handed it back to me after taking a nice long look at the cover. (I just *know* they were memorizing the title so they could google it)

At moments like that I always think of Laura Benedict, who not only hobnobs with the moms at her kids' school but looks more polished than any of them (and then goes home and writes about soul-sucking demons). If Laura can do it, well, maybe so can I!!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

You ARE doing it , Sophie! No maybe about it. Big congratulations on your nomination for Best First Novel from Romantic Times Magazine. That is a damn strong indication that not only are you doing it: you are doing it well! (Kelli, pull your mind out of the gutter!).

Kelli Stanley said...

Oh, Beck, Beck, Beck ... Moi? Gutter? Jamais! My mind is never in the gutter. My imagination, maybe. ;)

Methinks this is an example of "Hello, Pot! This is kettle!" ;)

And wonderful post, Soph! Keep embracing all those fabulous aspects of yourself that we--your friends and family--adore. :)


Jeannie Holmes said...

First, congrats on the Best First Novel nomination from Romantic Times. Way to go, Sophie! :)

I don't have kids so I can't fully identify with the concert scenario you describe. However, I do have to attend my husband's office Christmas party this weekend. While everyone else is making nice and talking about holidays, kids, and the latest news from the office, I'll pretend to be interested and engaged in the conversations, instead of actively envisioning rampaging hordes of zombie Santas storming the party or partygoers fighting back by cutting off the zombie heads with twinkling Christmas lights and tinsel.

*sigh* I really this sick and twisted?

Sophie Littlefield said...

see now what i'm thinkin jeannie - how about a sex scene featuring zombie santas? I mean just for the, y'know, *challenge* of it

we writers must push ourselves each and every day

(And thanks everyone for all the sweet words :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

PS congrats to Becky (that would be our very own Rebecca Cantrell) for *her* RT nomination for best Historical Mystery, which I can say with authority, being smack in the middle of the book, is richly deserved

Kelli Stanley said...

And before I was distracted by gutters, I wanted to chime in with richly deserved huzzahs for top criminal minds Rebecca and Sophie!! :)

You guys do us proud. :)

Jeannie: short answer--Yes. ;)

How about a remake of Die Hard (it IS a Xmas movie), except with zombies? Yippie-Ky-Yay! ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

It's in the genes. My son just asked for Gremlins 2 as his Christmas movie. It's on the steps.

Zombie sex? I just have to think some parts fall off earlier than others.

I can see someone grabbing that glass star off the top of the tree, breaking it on the punchbowl, and slashing some zombies though.

Pop Culture Nerd said...

I'm so glad your bad self not only came out of the closet, she wore steel-toed boots made for kicking ass!

Congrats on your Best First Novel nom! Hope you celebrated accordingly with plenty of alcohol and giant Cheetos balls.

You're lucky to have such accepting friends and family. My mother is hardcore conservative, devoutly Catholic, and old-school, traditionally Vietnamese (meaning she thinks women aren't meant to do certain things). One time while she was visiting, she saw hubby doing our laundry and later said to me, "You let your husband touch your underwear?!"

If I write a book full of sex and cuss words, I'm pretty sure I'd have to do it under a pseudonym.

Shane Gericke said...

Cool post, Sophie. I particularly liked, "Naturally I was all brave in the post, but in execution I generally stumble." Don't we all!

Congratulations on the Best First nom to both you and Becky. RT awards are great, because it's a huge organization with tons of readers. Fingers crossed you both win the brass ring. Plus, you get the chance to go to Columbus, OH. How can you lose?

As for family liking your not-so-nice Sophieparts, my sense is even your not-so-nice is terrific, so of course they love ya, as we all do! Besides, they don't have to like the books, they just have to buy 'em ...

Again, congratulations on the well-deserved nom, both to you and Beck.

Gabi said...

I sensed the bad girl in you before I read your books (or they were even published). It's part of what makes you wonderful. Write on.