This was a very full, very busy week for me. On Monday, April 14, I met with my book club, Women Reading Women, and my book club will be reading my first novel for our meeting next month.
Here are the lovely women of my book club (minus Wendy, who is on vacation in Kauai, but will be back soon):
Pat, on the far left, is the leader and founder of this book club, and she turns 80 this year. She had a crone ceremony for her 70th birthday, and wrote an article about it that was published in a press in Minnesota. She read the article to us during the meeting on Monday. Suffice to say, Pat is one of my heroes, because I want to be giving myself a crone ceremony when I turn 70, and be reading books like crazy, as well as gardening and playing tennis and everything else when I am 80. (Except I don’t garden or play tennis, so for me, I’ll be hiking and hopefully taking trips to Fiji to lay on the beach).
I so admire aging well. Embracing age. Loving age. It’s not something our culture aspires to, but it’s something I want to do well.
Maybe some of you read about the fallout involving Kim Novak’s appearance at the Oscars this year. She chose to respond to the criticism over her plastic surgery, and called it “Oscar-bullying.” You can read a brief article about it here.
Kim Novak went from looking like this:
And Donald Trump said, “Kim should sue her plastic surgeon!” as Twitter lit up with comments.
My sister and I were both shocked by her appearance (I thought those deep lines in her cheeks make her look like the Joker, which I later discovered are a result of the fat injections she’s received). The image of Kim Novak’s face at the Oscars was another prime example of why I will NEVER receive plastic surgery (unless I’m in an accident and need the surgery for major deformity, in which case, I will be more than happy it’s available). But using plastic surgery as a fountain of youth? Um, no. I don’t think anyone looks better going under the knife, or the needle. I think our faces are best left alone.
On Tuesday this week, my sister came over to visit, and spent two and a half days devouring my work in progress, Mark of the Pterren. I’ve never seen my sister read, consume, and adore one of my stories this much. She read 715 pages. It was pretty amazing. Listening to her respond to the chapters, and seeing how intensely she felt the words on the page, I had one of those writer-moments where a voice in my head said, “This is as good as it gets.” That I wrote a book that someone I love could want to fall into, the way I want to fly to Fiji and fall into the warm ocean water there… the author-part of me said, “Good job.”
The author-part of me also said, “Why aren’t you done writing this book yet?”
Because my sister is also in love with my next two books– which I have outlines for, and a first chapter for one– but other than that, they only exist in my head, and the brief plot points I’ve shared. But my sister wants them, and so does a friend who loves vampires, and another friend who loves mermaids and anything with magic, and so did the two women I talked to at Laini Taylor’s book signing. By switching to fantasy (rather than contemporary, real-life stories), I’ve discovered that people are a lot more excited to talk about my stories. Maybe because it’s easier for me to talk about those stories.
Sometimes I hate to admit this, but I think all the criticism I originally received about my first novel– that the story was “ridiculous and fantastical, not grounded in the real world at all” or that it was “a cheap knock-off of Skull and Bones” or that I had no right to pen a novel “based on Yale, if you didn’t go to Yale”– I don’t know, there is just a LOT of that criticism that still swims through my head, and every time I yank the root of one comment out of my brain, another one appears to take its place.
Plus, I get sad that friends of mine read early drafts of chapters, decided my writing sucked (because it did, I’ll be honest, I am not a born genius with words, not a writerly incarnation of Beethoven here), and determined they would not read any more of my work. I don’t regret all their criticism, as only the negative feedback forces the story to truly grow, or forces me to grow as a writer. Positive comments fuel the enthusiasm to fix it (they give me the strength and ability to edit), but the negative comments tell me what to fix. They’re both essential.
I wanted to get all these reviews for my first novel on Amazon, and I thought, surely my friends, who I’ve helped in so many ways, and done so many things for– surely those people could do something nice for me now, and leave me a review.
But the truth is, that’s not the way life works. Life isn’t here to provide easy fixes. If I want reviews, I’ve got to go find people to read the book (because 87% of my friends don’t want anything to do with it)– and that means going up to strangers, or people I barely know, and selling myself and my work.
So I’ve been taking my book around, and passing out free copies… and it’s brutal and humiliating, but sometimes fun and exciting, but always, always nerve-racking and painful, so painful that this is the reason why authors want agents and publishers so badly: to relieve them of the intensity of this pain– the pain of selling your own work like you’re some impoverished hobo peddling hemp bracelets that smell like ass– because that’s what it feels like to self-market a novel.
But for as bad as it gets sometimes, as horrid and painful as self-marketing is– I never think of stopping, because I also receive pictures like this:
from friends who DO love my work, and DIDN’T give up on my writing (after reading lots of shitty chapters) and tell people, “Hey, read this book!” And they don’t say it’s a knock-off of Skull and Bones, or based on Yale, or anything else that the book most clearly is not. They are my 13% who are rooting for me, and would be disappointed if I said, “Well, fuck this, I’m getting a real job now.” They are my fans, and the amazing thing is, you can write without any fans, and you can write for five fans, or you can write for five hundred fans, or five million– the important thing is to Just Write, and after you publish, to Continue to Write for those fans, however many you happen to have. It’s not the number that matters, it’s just them.
When I describe The Etiquette of Wolves to strangers now, I say, “It’s about these badass women who track down a killer.” Which still doesn’t come very quickly. This is still something I struggle with– a lot– being able to say, in one sentence– in that sentence– what my first novel is about.
I have to get better at this. It’s a learning curve. It’s a hard learning curve. As hard as teaching myself to write.
There’s a certain joy to it though. A certain freedom. It’s about overcoming my own shit to do something brave. That’s always a good thing.
And when I do it well, someone snatches the book up. Says, “Oh my God, I’m reading this!” Then I get another Amazon review. And an email that says, “I loved your book! I bought your second one immediately! I can’t wait to read it!”
Life is always going to push us into places of pain. How we get through that pain determines everything. Including how many Amazon reviews we receive.