Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Hardest Readers To Deal With

Figure 1. Ugh. Fine. Buy a copy. Just let us never speak of it.

I don't know if this will sound counterintuitive, but the people that read my books that are the most difficult to deal with aren't critics or people who write negative reviews.

They're my friends and family. My neighbors. People I know in real life.

I don't know if this is just me or something that other authors have noticed, but when it comes to my neighbor raking his yard two doors down and coming over to talk to me about where to buy my book, I just fervently wish I wrote under a pen name or that I had a normal job, like I worked in an office doing some kind of bland paper-pushing, because nothing is more revealing than your imaginative life, especially when it comes to people you have established boundaries with.

Like my neighbors? I just want them to know me as the lady who never mows and walks her dog all the time and wears headphones because she's listening to the radio or podcasts while she does housework in order to distract herself from the tedium of the job. Oh, and the cut down the possibility of human interaction. There's that, too. I already feel like a weirdo - "I make up stories for my job! Treat me like a fairy or a chin-stroking intellectual!"

Invariably, they'll ask what the book is about and then they'll tell me about someone else they know who writes books ("Do you know him?") and then tell me about what they like to read and don't like to read, thus making it clear that they'll probably not be a great audience for my book, which I wish I could tell them. But they're being so nice about it - "I've pre-ordered it!" - so what am I going to say? Act all hoity-toity and say, "You won't like it, trust me."

And my family? Good god. My father refused to read my first book, and even told people at my launch party that it was "trash." So - you know - please don't read it, Dad. But then my mom got super mad at him about his behavior and his refusal to read his daughter's book and he read it and I still didn't feel any better. It was easier to just live as a lady with a parent who didn't read her book than to have him read it and look at me weird (and look at me with the clear confirmation that my sex-focused book was indeed trash, as well.)

My uncle, who is in his 80's and who used to work for Baghdad Oil, in ACTUAL BAGHDAD, read Sex & Violence and liked it. Could anything be weirder than that? Weird. Good. But do I want to sit and talk to him about it? I feel like a perverted creep!

My mother assumed that everything I wrote was based on "research" I did from my teenaged nephews' lives. I didn't have the heart to tell her that so much of my books comes from my own experience growing up. Yes, there was sex. Yes, there were drugs. Yes, there was bad, bad behavior. Lying and drinking and making so many terrible choices. So much sadness.

My friends read the book and say nice things about it. They say it sounds like me talking, though, and then I get all worried that I didn't do a good job about keeping myself out of the story, and developing original characters and cue shame spiral.

And then there's the worry of people in your life seeing themselves in your fiction. Having them see bits of their story told alongside your fake story and then them maybe retracting from you when it comes to sharing their personal information, or even getting mad. That hasn't happened yet, but it still worries me. Because the assumption that everything in your book originates from something that happened in reality isn't always correct. But sometimes it is. And there's no telling what assumptions might get made to that end.

I'm telling you; I'll take a shit review any day to talking about my book with people I know. On paper, it sounds ridiculous, because you'd think the people you know and love would be the ones you'd share most easily with. Anyone else have this experience or am I just a lunatic?


  1. You are not a lunatic. Or if you are, that makes two of us. I hate it when friends or family or, worst of all, friends of family (that woman from my mom's book club who met me once when I was twelve) read my writing. It's hard enough opening yourself up to strangers, but opening yourself up to people who knew you when you were in grade school and are very likely measuring their own success (or their children's success) against your accomplishments . . . so much worse. Oh, and the ubiquitous I've-got-an-idea-for-a-book-and-someday-I'll-write-it sentiment doesn't help.

  2. Ugh yes. I struggle with this with all of my creative projects. Even as a kid, I would get super protective of my journals and scribbles because I didn't want anyone I knew reading what I wrote. It feels like an invasion of privacy in a way, like you're innermost self is totally exposed to the reader. I hate the feeling of having to defend or explain my work afterward, too. It makes me feel like a failure.

  3. YES. I am just discovering the doubtful joys and extreme awkwardness of this.

  4. I get a lot of support from my family. Most of them are readers and I think they're just so frickin excited about my book deal. But, I am . . . well not worried, but I'm no exactly looking forward to, like, talking to my extended family about my book, especially once they read it. And they will. Or, like, my dentist, who knows about the book now because my dad told him.

  5. Oh, my . . . What a wonderfully insightful piece. Have you been reading my secret journal or just snooping back there in the southwest corner of my brain where I hide the bodies? I don't have the thing published yet but I keep getting asked about when it's coming out. Friends, family, the super sweet little old lady at my church. I love all of them to pieces but I know I get a wide-eyed look of fear in my eyes when they ask me. And the cold lump in my stomach starts to enlarge. They won't like it. It's not their cup of tea and I know it. But I smile and say: "I'm editing it right now but soon."

  6. Absolutely. It's been much easier to find critique partners among total strangers than among people I know. I hate showing them anything in a raw form—even in a finished form, I worry about the same thing that you do: that they'll read our mutual experiences into what I've written, and take something I don't mean away from it. Great post.

  7. What a great piece. YES - when people I know say they want to read my book, it's all I can do not to burst out with "Oh, please don't!"

  8. This is great! My parents have been really supportive but my dad read my first book, Inconvenient, which has heavy make-out scenes. And he said to my mom, "How does Margie know about this?" And my mom was like, "Well, she is married, you know." Yes. I never knew that stuff until I was worried. Yep. Oh good G-d!

  9. Thank you all for confirming that I'm not a lunatic on this issue.

  10. Yes, this! I was horrified and terrified when I realised that people I knew, people I used to work with and old school friends had bought a copy of my book. These were people that I know in person, what will they think about me? My family aren't at all interested but still, I'm dreading any feedback I might have from those arenas.