I let my friends read it from draft one. A couple of my friends were my best cheerleaders, and encouraged me to keep working on it by sending me emails like “I love it! Keep going!” and “I’m dying to know what comes next!” and “I’m not going to hang out with you until you finish chapter five, so you should probably get back to work.” Other friends read the whole draft and helped me think through questions of character and plot. After my agent requested a big revision, my good friend Ali opted to celebrate her New Year’s Eve by sitting at my dining room table with a notebook (and a couple bottles of champagne) and digging into the big questions with me.
Obviously I let my agent read it, and my editor, and the marketing people, and the layout people, and the copy editors, and the cover designers.
I even let my sister read it. But not my mother.
Well, why not?
A few notes on my mom: for one thing, she is extremely cool. She forced me to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail when I was still in elementary school, which gave me an in with the nerds intellectual elite in junior high, high school, and then again when I taught middle school. She made me watch Harold and Maude in eighth grade, to the same basic effect. She’s had a subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine since Jann Werner first started scribbling it on the back of a record sleeve in the late sixties. And when she discovered that I didn’t know about Alice’s Restaurant, she almost made me eat Thanksgiving dinner in the garage.
For another thing, my mother is an extreme reader. My house was always full of books, and there’s always a stack of library books sitting on a table in the living room, waiting to be read. Books she made me read in my youth: The Mists of Avalon, The Bell Jar, Dune, The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Other people handed me Louisa May Alcott; my mother gave me Sylvia Plath. But even though she reads all the time, she doesn’t often fall in love with a book — I rarely recommend books to her anymore, because I’ll be all, “OMG wasn’t it SO GOOD? Didn’t you just LOVE it??” and she’ll say, “It was okay.”
The other thing about my mom is that her opinion matters to me, more than probably anyone else’s, and she’s not the kind of parent who, like, exists just to praise me. She’s been reading my writing for decades, and sometimes she loves it enough to send it to Bobby McFerrin’s assistant & get backstage passes to meet him after the show (long story, though actually that’s most of it) and other times she’s like “Eh, I thought it was okay.”
The devastating “okay” is one thing if we’re talking about blog post or even a short story, but if my mother gave me an “It’s okay” on my novel I would probably quit writing entirely and spend the rest of my life in therapy.
So I decided long ago that she wouldn’t read it until it was a finished book, in case she hated it and I had to quit writing — at least I wouldn’t have to deal with breaking my contract and giving back my advance. But then the day came when my book was actually a book — in ARC form, but finished enough that it could go on without me, in case I needed to spend the next five years hiding under a couch in a therapist’s office. I steeled my nerves and sent it off to my mother, who called me a few days later to report that she’d received it. “I LOVE IT!” she gushed.
“You read it already?”
“No, but I love the dedication!” (Guess who it’s dedicated to. One guess.) “That’s enough for me! I don’t even have to read the rest of it!”
You’re killing me, ma.
Eventually, though, she did read it, and it’s not like I was on pins and needles or anything, not like I had my bags packed in preparation to move to Mexico and start life over from scratch or anything, but she finally read it and she sent me this long text message:
Molly, I read it in one sitting and it’s REALLY REALLY good and true and I have to pee so bad from sitting so long but I’m sobbing with pride & so much love for you that I can’t even get out of the recliner. You are an awesome writer and an awesome woman and I would think that even if I didn’t know you.
Thank god! I don’t have to quit writing, I don’t have to find money to pay for therapy, and I even got a great blurb out of it. I emailed my editor the next day and suggested we adapt my mother’s blurb for the book jacket: “I almost peed the recliner!” — Molly’s mom
What about you? I’m sure I’m not the only one whose mother
nearly put her in therapy has a strong opinion about her writing…
M. Molly Backes
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