A Conversation with my mother the day I told her I finished my novel.
ME: “Well Mom, it’s done. I finally finished it.”
MOM: “Finished what?”
ME: “Uh…my novel. The one I’ve been working on for the past year. Yeah, it’s done.”
MOM: “I had no idea you were writing a book! What is it about?”
ME: (sighs) “It’s a young adult novel about a teenager named Sawyer Hayden who–“
MOM: “Sawyer? Oh I don’t like that name.”
ME: ”Well it’s too late to change it now. ANYWAY…he wants a basketball scholarship so he–“
MOM: “Basketball? But you don’t play basketball! And why are you writing about boys anyway? You’re a woman who lives in New Hampshire! I know what you should do. Join a writing group and try to make friends with that woman writer there…
ME: Please don’t say Jodi Picoult.
MOM: …the one who writes all those nice cancer books. You know who I mean.”
ME: (sigh 2x) “Her name’s Jodi Picoult, mom.”
MOM: “No, that’s not it. Well, whoever she is I hear her books are very popular.”
ME: “FINE! WHATEVER! JUST LISTEN!” (deep breath) “In my book Sawyer asks his brother River to help–“
MOM: “RIVER? Oh I don’t like that name either. Why did you pick such ugly American names? With so many nice names in our family to choose from you–“
ME: “HOW ABOUT RAPHAEL? THAT’S WHAT I NAMED THE DAD SO HOW ABOUT THAT?”
MOM: “Finally a name I like! It’s about time you remembered you’re Italian.”
ME: “Ok…but just so you know, I made the dad Spanish.”
MOM: (appalled) “NOW WHY DID YOU DO THAT?! WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST MAKE HIM ITALIAN? HOW AM I GOING TO TELL THE FAMILY IN ITALY THAT MY DAUGHTER WROTE A BOOK ABOUT SPANIARDS AND NOT ITALIANS?!”
ME: “I’M IRISH TOO, MOM! WHY DON’T I JUST MAKE HIM IRISH LIKE MY DAD, HUH? HOW’S THAT SOUND?”
MOM: “Spanish is fine.”
ME: “CAN WE FOCUS NOW? PLEASE?!”
MOM: “Yes, yes. Continue.”
ME: (sighs, molto frustrato) “So SAWYER leaves his father and moves to Nebraska–“
MOM: Bites lip.
ME: “NOW what’s wrong?”
MOM: “Well…why does he have to live in Nebraska? It’s a land locked state.”
ME: (rubbing temples) “What does Nebraska being a land locked state have to do with anything?”
MOM: “I don’t trust the seafood in land locked states. It’s too expensive. What you’re really paying for is the truck to have it delivered. They don’t fool me.”
ME: “Fine. You know what? I’ll change it to a coastal state–“
MOM: “OOH! You should make it Hawaii! I’ve always wanted to go there. You know they filmed that show LOST in Hawaii. But then you couldn’t use the name Sawyer. Hey! Now you can change that too! I always liked that doctor Jack–“
ME: “MOM! It can’t be Hawaii because Raphael is a long haul truck driver and that’s how Sawyer gets to Nebraska to live with his grandfather so he can get a basketball scholarship.”
MOM: “Well why does he even need a scholarship? With the price of seafood nowadays the father should have no problem paying for–“
ME: “You know what? Forget it. I didn’t write a book. I made a quilt.”
MOM: “Oh don’t be so sensitive. Tell me what the grandfather’s name is. Something good I hope.”
MOM: (flinches, thinks and then says) “So SAYWER leaves a man named RAPHAEL to live with a man named GUS?”
ME: “Yes but mom, Gus is awesome. He’s a biker and a southern rock roadie with…bad…ass…tattoos…”
MOM: (near tears) “What happened to my dainty daughter who used to love to read books and write stories and listen to music?!”
ME: “She changed her name to Sawyer.”
FOR MORE MIND-NUMBING MATERNAL MASOCHISM VISIT:
Every so often there comes a moment when we see ourselves through another person’s eyes. Determining whether that’s good or bad depends entirely on what we see. Most of my epiphanies are delivered in the form of my sister telling me my ass looks fat in my jeans, whether I ask for her opinion or not.
Commentary on my fat ass or bad breath I can handle, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the reality of personal feedback in the form of reviews for my novella, Reapers With Issues.
Before I begin I’d like to state that every reader who reviewed my work negatively did not condemn me personally for what I’d written, despite not particularly enjoying the book. I’ve read reviews of other books where the reviewer took the author to task, and I am happy to say I’ve been blessed with a classy group of readers who didn’t feel the need to blast me.
I guess what confounds me most is that I expected there to be more blow back for subject matter. Portraying Jesus as a closet homosexual and writing a scene where Genghis Khan violates a shi-tzu wasn’t going to win me an audience with the Pope, and I knew that going in. I also prepared myself for a critique of the quality of the writing itself, which as it turns out I didn’t receive much of. What I did get was essentially the same question, asked in so many words, of what kind of person could conceive of the Reapers idea at all. Again, good or bad depends entirely on what we see.
[enter the dreaded introspection process]
The first thing I did was try to answer the question of what kind of person I am. Despite an obscene amount of navel-gazing I am no closer to that answer now than I was when I began. My motivation to write Reapers With Issues was just as strong and the subject matter just as easy to conceptualize as Gods of Asphalt’s was, so identifying a specific default in thinking didn’t pan out. The truth is that I’ve got a hundred different stories buzzing around in my head; everything from harmless children’s stories to British comedies to even more Reapers sequels (oddly there’s nothing milling around in there that remotely smacks of Erotica, but that’s a post for another day after an hour on a couch).
So after an even more shameless bought of self-contemplation I began to ask myself a different question, “Why do any of us write what we write?”
Do we choose our genre or subject matter because of who we are, or because of what we make of the world around us? I imagine it’s no coincidence that Reapers With Issues was written during the darkest hours of a friend’s battle with cancer, or that Gods of Asphalt was written while stuck in bed, listening to my two teenaged sons bicker amongst themselves and argue with their father.
It is also not lost on me that I wrote Reapers With Issues from a third-person point-of-view, allowing me to observe at a distance the story of a Reaper whose best efforts to gather souls are thwarted by a Savior, or that the overall theme of Gods of Asphalt is how brothers cope when their mother isn’t around.
I suppose in the end what we choose to write comes from the harmony of both who we are and what we see. I’ve learned that whether my writing is received as harmony or dischord depends entirely on who’s doing the reading, and no amount of alteration of my “music” will accommodate everyone.
For the record, I’m fine with that. I am a Jazz fan, after all.