Friday, April 27, 2012

Parents as Readers

Following my announcement on Facebook that Tagestraum was completed and ready to make the rounds, I had several people approach me about taking a peek at it.  One of them was my dad. 

Now, here's the thing about my dad.  I'm a pretty big daddy's girl, especially now that I'm an adult and have a mature person-to-person type relationship with my parents as opposed to that weird power dichotomy that you have as a teenager.  My parents are, naturally, extremely supportive of everything I do.  My mom cannot let a day go by that she's not bragging to someone about how I'm making a living as a writer (even if it makes me squirm a bit, because, let's face it, freelancing web content is not necessarily an envious career).  And my dad is, naturally, curious about what I'm working on.  So of course I sent him the book.

But oh man was I nervous about it. 

Once upon a time, my dad was sort of my "ideal reader."  When I first started writing stories, he was the very first person I showed them to and I always waited with bated breath for his feedback.  To date, he has the one and only surviving copy of my first-ever novel, "The Tigercat," which was a 72-page single-spaced manual-typewritten epic about my imaginary friend and her crazy adventures.  I gave it to him for Father's Day when I was 11.

But I also very clearly remember the exact moment when I realized that my dad could no longer be my ideal reader.  I don't remember what I called the story, or if it even had a name.  But I remember sitting down, very seriously, at my Smith Corona manual typewriter (my parents bought it for me at a flea market for $8.  it was the best thing in the world because where we lived didn't always have electricity*, and with a manual typewriter I could write all. the. time)

The story that I penned followed the tale of a youngster -- probably about 13 -- who got caught up with a "gang" and as part of his "gang initiation" he had to break into a store and steal a gun.  He did this in large part so that he could fit in with The Very Popular Gangleader, who was like 17 and the epitome of cool.  Except the whole thing goes south and for some reason I don't really remember, at some point the gangleader is threatening the narrator with a gun.  He then gives a very eloquent speech about all of the terrible things that had happened to him in his life that made him who he was.  Finally, he ended the stand-off by turning the gun on himself, the gang scatters, and the intrepid narrator realizes that even powerful people have problems. 

In hindsight, of course, this entire thing was fairly laughable -- not least because I, having been home-schooled and completely socially isolated, knew next to nothing about gangs, inner-city life, crime, or being a teenage boy.  But at the time, I finished the story knowing two things very honestly and sincerely in my heart: 
1.) This was The Best Thing I Had Ever Written.
2.) I could never, ever show it to anyone. 

This latter point, of course, was because I was afraid that my Very Adult Themes would get me into trouble.  I didn't trust my parents to understand that I could write about such deeply flawed, not-very-nice people doing not-very-nice things without desiring doing those things myself. 

Well, I scrapped the story.  Literally.  I threw it in the fire.  And then I felt really terrible that I'd done it, so I tried to rewrite it.  But the new version sucked.  I made a decision then, though:  I decided that literary integrity was a thing Bigger Than Myself and that it was my artistic duty to never, ever try to dumb down or sanitize a story just to make somebody else happy.  So, I stopped being quite as enthusiastic about sharing my writing, I started to become way more private, and I kept on plugging along at writing whatever I wanted to write. 

Fast forward about, oh, 12 years, and here's my dad on my Facebook wall, asking for my manuscript.  This time, it's not so much a fear of moral approbation that gave me pause.  It was remembering just how very much this is a book about families, and dysfunction, and I was very nervous about putting that in the hands of someone who is, you know, family. 

Tagestraum is a book about faeries and dreams and memories.  It's also a book about the consequences of seemingly-inconsequential actions...and the unintentional cruelty of children...and the way that families can fall apart.  And while it's actually not autobiographical at all (I promise) there are certain elements and memories of my own life -- and the life of people I know -- that I cobbled together to create the textural reality of the story. 

So I was very afraid that I might send it to him and have to ask the question, "So...who is this about, really?"

Also, I was a little concerned about the lesbian faerie sex.  Just sayin. 

Well, anyway.  I haven't had the opportunity to talk to him in detail about it, but I so far have gotten two of the best pieces of praise imaginable: 

-- "This isn't the sort of thing I ever read, but it was really good and I enjoyed it a lot."
-- "I sat down to read the first chapter, and then I couldn't stop reading. I was halfway through the 2nd chapter when I realized your mom was outside waiting for me in the car."

All things considered, that's got to be the best praise ever :D

So, how bout you guys?  Do you let your family read your stories?  Do you ever have any trepidation about it? 

* For the record, in case you're confused.  The house I grew up in had no electricity because my family lived "off the grid" on 20 acres of land in rural northern New Mexico. The house is powered on two solar panels and four golfcart batteries, and most appliances are gas.  The house was heated with wood.  And we did HAVE electricity, just not enough to be up all hours of the night writing.  especially if it had been cloudy the last few days. 


  1. The book sounds great. Where can I read it?

    To answer your question, if I ever pour my heart into a work that gets published, I am going to have do it anonymously. It's the writer's conundrum. You have to make yourself vulnerable to write a truly soulful story, but then how do you deal with people in your life after you've made yourself so vulnerable?

    1. Thank you :) The book in question is being queried as we speak. Once it lands a home with the right agent, I'll be telling this blog alllll about it lol.

      And, you're completely right about the vulnerability. It's a difficult balance to strike -- being vulnerable yet impervious. I think I would have a hard time being anonymous...I crave the attention too much. The trade-off, of course, is occasionally having to deal with people who decide to take things personally. I've been fortunate in never having that, yet, but I'm sure it'll happen eventually and be quite ugly when it does.