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.