I’ve often joked that the worst part of being a writer is letting people read your work. For a long time I didn’t let anyone have it, and then when it became apparent that the only way to get paid for your writing was to let other people actually gaze upon it, and worse, that those gazers would, possibly, tell you what they actually thought of it, I gave my manuscript out like Christmas Eve Scrooge doled out coal. One chapter at a time, and only as absolutely necessary. (Note to prospective authors: This slows down the publication process mightily.)
One of the early readers I gave it to was a friend I hadn’t known for very long who is a voracious reader with a very gentle way about her. I had a hunch that even if I begged her to be honest with me, she would be physically incapable of telling me if she hated it. That was exactly what I needed at that moment. A promise of complete transparency without the risk of actually learning anything scary.
It’s a couple years later, and if she hated it I still don’t know. What I do know is that she said, very off the cuff, that the two main characters—two wildly different women who just happen to share the same first and last names—reminded her of me.
My response was to stare at her dumbfounded. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Janey Brown is so incredibly shy that when she meets someone new in a social setting she breaks out with hives, vomiting, the whole ridiculous nine yards. Meanwhile her counterpart, Nean, though not particularly likable, was the woman I always secretly wanted to be: with a gloriously freeing lack of interest in what other people think of her and a flexibility of morals that made her just this side of dangerous.
Alas, this is not me. Not even remotely me. I corrected this poor reader at the time. “Oh no,” I said. “These people are from whole cloth. I didn’t model them after anyone—they’re just figments of my imagination.”
Except, I now realize that is nonsense. While I love teaching classes and throwing parties, I did have to spend the day I sent my book out on submission with my face in a bucket. Janey could relate.
And, like Nean, I wanted, while I was writing this, a home of my own. She and I both wanted it more than anything. And in some ways, like Nean, I turned my life upside down to get one.
Now my book is going on sale for anyone with a library card or a twenty dollar bill to have (I’m going to need a really big bucket), and I do have a home, an absolutely lovely one that gives me that incredible ‘ahhh’ feeling when I walk through the door. It’s not a mansion on the Atlantic Coast, not decorated by TV personalities or landscaped by a dreamy blonde with a deep summer tan. And yet somehow I think Nean would approve. After all, as I’ve been told, she and I are a lot alike.