Sunday, April 23, 2006

Naked in Public

Do you ever have one of those dreams where you’re naked in public? It’s a common enough theme, and you don’t have to be Freud to figure out it’s all about the fear of exposure – of having people see the real you that lurks beneath the social masks we wear.

In some ways, novelists live that nightmare every day. Our books contain the blueprints of our real passions, recurring themes acted out by characters we’ve spent months or years animating with our efforts. Often, these characters say things or do things we never would (at least in public) – things that would horrify our families, coworkers, and old Sunday school teachers. To effectively write the book, we must push this out of mind and “channel” the characters without fear of the reaction of others.

In my case, this “amnesia” usually lasts all the way up until the book’s release. My debut effort was the hardest. About two days before the novel (a historical romance with one of the old-fashioned “bodice-ripper” covers) came out, I became convinced that I was going to end up in stocks in the public square, fired from my teaching job (even though I wrote under a pseudonym at the time, a newspaper article came out two days before the release and “outted” me), or worst of all, laughed at for something I cared about so much, it made my heart ache.

As it turned out, most people were genuinely thrilled for me. Publishing a first novel is a remarkable achievement, one widely celebrated and supported. This support – and the wonderful advent of fan mail - counterbalanced the few remarks that made it to my ears, including surprise that I could have written the book’s love scenes (a lot of people have the curious idea that teachers are asexual), a few armchair critics, etc. But nobody led me to the stocks, and my job remained secure until I chose to leave the classroom to devote more time to writing.

Next week, I celebrate the release of my tenth book, The Deadliest Denial, and there’s no use playing it cool and pretending. I’ll admit it here. While writing it, I held not one thing back. I poured heart and soul into this story of love and loyalty stretched to its limits – and toward it, I feel the fierce, protective passion a new mother feels for what poet Anne Bradstreet once called “thou ill-formed child of my feeble brain.”

Next week, we’re stepping forward, this child and I, together. Naked in public, and exposed.

But I like to think that in honor of this tenth outing, we’ll both be holding our heads high.


Ann Roth said...

Colleen, I feel your pain. One of the hardest things for a writer is to share her work, work that stays true to the characters and the story and therefore may be unpleasant or shocking, with others. But share you must.

I remember just before my first romance novel was available. There were a few love scenes in that book (looking back, rather tame). My mother was going to read the novel, and my daughters, and all manner of family and friends, and I was nervous.

"Mom," I warned, "there's sex in that book," My mother, a woman I admire and adore, quipped back, "Honey, I knew about sex before you were born."

What I learned is that those fears are groundless. They can hold us back if we let them. However, it sounds to me as if you have done what I have done--moved beyond.

Best of luck with that "tenth outing".

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks, Ann!

It would probably be a little easier to forget such concerns if I didn't have one elderly, persnickety relation who -- despite warnings that my romantic suspenses are of the PG-13/R-rated variety and not the G stuff she prefers -- insists upon reading every one of my books, then lambasting me about the non-Disneyfied elements.

Everybody's a critic... LOL. It's so much easier than creating works to suit one's own vision. :)

Jo Anne Banker said...

Colleen, I've read the book, and it 'outs' you only as an excellent writer. You know the drill - I was looking at comments from critique partners yesterday - one would say "great characterization in this paragraph," and another would say "this paragraph drags, lose some of this description and speed up the pace." :-)

You know that some are going to say - "Ouch, that was soooo 'gritty'" (I know you love that label) - and another will say "Wow, what a vivid image" or they'll say nothing and simply race through the page-turner at warp speed, because they won't be able to put it down.

But the bottom line is that (I know you) you're brave and ethical and true-to-thine-ownself. You cannot write any less than your best. And that's what you'll continue to do. Know that there are those of us who'll be there to support you through those few 'ouches'.

JoAnn Ross said...

Colleen -- There was nothing even the teensiest ill-formed about this child. You know I found it a gripping, emotional, and sexy page turner.

Both you and your newest have every reason to hold your heads up high and we'll all be tossing confetti as the dynamite reviews and terrific sales numbers come in!

Colleen Thompson said...

Jo Anne & JoAnn,
Thank you ever so much for the encouraging words on The Deadliest Denial! And I'm completely honored to have your endorsement on the front cover, JoAnn.

I suppose that pre-release jitters are part of the grand scheme, but it's always comforting to have friends to share in the adventure.

Gail Dayton said...

You know your fellow 2BRead-ers will hold your hand--and I'm sure all writers everywhere, because we all know the feeling. Here's wishing you huge sales and lovely fan mail.

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks, Gail! It's great to have supportive family and cyberfriends - especially writers, who really understand.

gailbarrett said...

When my first book came out, I was really worried about the reaction. A lot of my coworkers were shocked (yes, I'm a teacher, too). Apparently, despite having two kids, I'm not supposed to know about sex. Ironically, the people I was most worried about offending -- my husband's conservative, rural family -- loved the book and couldn't wait to buy the next one! So you just never know. In the end, I guess, we all have to write what we must and not worry about who is going to read it.