Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No is really a redirection, not a slap on the wrist

My older son is into mazes right now. I loved them when I was a kid too. I remember sitting in the back of the room with the other gifted kid who was never doing his work either (we were really terrible students,) making mazes for each other. It was so fast for me to visualize the path through the maze, especially if I started at the end.

I don't want to get all self-helpy on you or anything, but I've been thinking about the word "no." And not just because my younger son recently turned two. I've been thinking about it since my novel came out.

Since I released the book I've had to do a lot of asking and promoting and tossing ideas out. Nearly all of the time when I've asked things, they've been well-received. But no one's going to hear "yes," all the time. Not every road is a simple direct path, there's bends and turns and sometimes even dead ends.

I have this shame though when I butt up against the word "no." As though my asking were unjustified.

People are generally flippant about asking for things. "You can always ask, right? What have you got to lose?"

But the truth is I do feel like I lose something when I ask. It's generally worth the risk, but the let-down of "no," can be hard to bear. It makes me feel the shame of asking for something I didn't deserve, of stepping beyond my station, beyond where I've earned being.

The feedback on the book has been phenomenal. People are up late reading. They're telling friends. They're reading!

But I knew the negative would happen eventually and so it did. A woman told me in a terse tone that she had put down the book. She'd been offended by a scene in it and refused to read the rest.

And I was devastated and ashamed.

She was a librarian. I realized that I had wanted her to like my book because I'd wanted my passions to come together. It's kind of like when you really like two people and so you want those two people to like each other but they don't.

But after some time to process the whole thing, I decided it was worth it. She's not my audience. The library's job is to create a space where everyone can be and get engaged in reading and the community. My audience has appreciated the story. And not everyone will. At least my first (not-so-constructive) criticism was in person. At least it was direct. At least it wasn't a person who truly needed the story.

The library is not the venue for my book. The library should carry copies for sure. But that's not the place to promote it. The book is about serious problems. It's uncomfortable at times. And that's not what a library is for.

I'd asked and received the answer, "no."

I self-published. No one knows where the publishing industry is headed and I took a risk and put my neck out to do this. I don't have a reputation yet. So book stores see me as a risk. I'm asking them to take that risk and it makes me terribly nervous.

But if I think of the path this book is taking like one of the mazes my son does, I can see the end. In the end, I do well as an author. In the end, I'm moved by women who read my book and tell me their stories of being sexually abused, of living in residential treatment, of finding their paths. Someone notices the line that I loved writing most when Seffra is under her kitchen table carving in the under belly of the wood and how the fibers snapped like teeth breaking. As a reader, I live for lines that I can taste in my mouth or that move my mind across skies, lines that grind grit between my teeth.

When I tell my kids no, I realize how they don't want to hear it. Sometimes I get down on their level in order to try to help them see that "no" is not really a bad thing. They simply need to change tacks.

So I continue to ask. I realize that no is a dead end in the maze. It's the part that tells me I'm going the wrong way; I need to turn around so I can get to the end. No, is simply a redirection. It says, nope, not the library. It says I need to change tacks, try something else, connect with artists, connect with the disenfranchised. That is my path.

Here are the tacks that have gotten me partway through the maze:
  • I did my first live reading at a coffee shop in Breckenridge. It was terrifying and wonderful and people listened and I got one under my belt. Plus, I got to have an evening out.
  • I met the owner of a small book shop who invited me to do a reading at his shop and offered to carry my book
  • Colorado Mountain College where I work will be selling copies of my book and will be featuring me in their Speaker Series where I'll give a reading and a talk and sell books. This will be huge in providing credibility to me as a writer and will also be a tremendous boost to me professionally. Or so I think. I'm not at the end of the maze yet.
  • I have an author event scheduled at Bookbar in Denver and am very excited for the excuse to go to that venue and check out their digs.
  • I'll be having a release party soon and dang if releasing this book isn't something to celebrate the hell out of!
If you hadn't seen it before, here's the link to pick up a copy of my book, Between Families, which I am terribly proud of and hope you enjoy:

And if you don't, change tacks.