I am naked in a bookstore near you.Big box, chain or indie.You can find me there.
The unflattering florescent lighting exposes all and opens me up for discussion, comment and speculation.I am less than a pound and 384 pages long.All those jiggly, messy bits of me that I am usually so good at masking are out there for all to see. I wanted this and now I am terrified. The enormity of the conundrum leaves me dry-mouthed with sweaty palms.
Cracking the spine of the book is more intimate than parting my thighs for sex. You are in my head.I invited you in and you curled right up at the base of my cortex.Snug and tight as a copper coil.Allow me to whisper a confession.I had no idea.None.The physical body may be more accessible and I can deal with that—but my head – what was inside—has always been my own.Years and years of writing fiction for no one but myself, of publishing here and there and yet, enough to keep me going, of having an audience I could count on one hand – had not prepared me for the nakedness of this moment.
When I teach a fiction workshop to High School students I always tell them to write without self-editing.Ignore that voice in your head that tells you that your mother might read this, your grandmother, your father, your teachers.Turn it off because if you are thinking about all those people while you are writing—the writing isn’t true.Besides technical stuff, besides structure and voice, it is the single most important piece of information I think any writer needs to know.And I thought I did know.I thought I was ready.I tell them now while that piece of advice still stands – I had no idea how much of myself I had revealed.That now I had to relinquish everything because I simply had no control over how my words on the page affected people and how in turn they now viewed me.Not the characters I created, but me.The person.Let it go.Add that as the second piece of most valuable advice writers need to know.
The first question most people ask me after they read the book: “Is it real?”
And I answer: “No, It’s fiction.”
To which they respond with a smirk, a cocked brow or a stare of disbelief.
“But,” they will continue.“How do you know these things?”
That question stops me dead.How do I know these things?How do you answer that?I am a voyeur.I am curious.I know how to use Wikipedia and Google.Really—what response would satisfy that question?
And then there are the people who have told me: “That (meaning something in my book) could never have happened in real life.”
My first defense used to be a justification about fiction.After answering that way for a few months I slowly began to realize that their knee jerk reaction to the reality of it all is masking something else.Usually the reader has been affected in some way – be it disturbed or delighted – and they want me to reassure them that my book is indeed a fictional world where the lines with reality will never blur.You stay on that side and I’ll stay over here.Never the two shall meet.
I have lost a fraction of anonymity. Some people hate me, some love me, and some are indifferent. I have been ranked, reviewed, discussed, maligned, mocked, rebuked, targeted, revered, and stroked.Stars ranging from one to five follow my name.Even the Internet knows me. You are forever in cyberspace, someone recently said.When I get letters from people who say they are glad they found me and the book, I feel lost – even though I’ve always been here.At book groups, at readings, at Q & A’s, some have confessed their innermost anxieties, fears, longings and desires.When the atmosphere becomes too confessional I have to beg off, step back, and make sure the line between fiction and reality still exists because I am afraid that if I don’t I will never write again.I don’t want to accidentally tell someone else’s story.I don’t want to give something away that doesn’t belong to me but will forever be attributed to me as if I have lived it and felt it all because it is on the page.
I’m learning to live with the panic of being found out.I want to be here. I am grateful to be here – I am slowly regaining my equilibrium.I had thought I could separate the parts of me that had nothing to do with the book until I realized I was lying to myself.I am the book.I am right there in every word, every sentence, every paragraph, and every page.Naked.
And yet, I am not.