I'm doing that thing. That thing you're never supposed to do. That thing I have been warned against and keep doing anyway, where I get all vulnerable and emotionally honest and touchy-feely and over-disclose. I will probably eat a pound of shame for this later. But to be frank, I'd do that anyhow. Because everything I write and put out there feels too truthful to not be embarrassing, even my fiction. It's like I was born with truth serum running through my veins. And maybe it sounds #authentic, but trust me, it's not always a good look.
Right now, I am experiencing a postpartum drop. I'd call it a decline, but that sounds gradual and friendly, where this is not. It is abrupt and hateful and buckle-up-baby-cuz-we're-going-dooooown. My book baby has finally been born. It's out there for all the world to see. And on the one hand, I am your typical proud mama. And on the other hand, I am mortified and trying to shove it gracelessly back up my skirt when I think no one is looking.
This is a thing I do as a writer.
Actually, it's a thing I do as an artist. I carry on an obsessive, psychologically-questionable love affair with my WIP, be it a YA novel or an oil painting or any other creative gambit, until it's done. And then I set it down in a public place and back slowly away, hoping no one will witness my hasty retreat. And I fantasize about all the ways I can cut ties and reinvent myself and bury this work so deeply in the artistic drivel of the collective unconscious that it never sees the light of day again, and I can shirk any and all responsibility for having created it in the first place.
I am the Dr. Frankenstein of YA lit.
It's so embarrassing. (You see? I told you it wasn't a good look.)
Call it imposter syndrome. Or commitment phobia. Or child abandonment. I don't know. Whatever it is, it is probably my mom's fault (lobs one at the eternal dartboard of parental blame where everything, everything sticks regardless of aim). Whatever it is, I can't seem to help it. And it gets very uncomfortable when normal people with normal careers and normal reactions to their normal work start to ask me questions like: Aren't you so proud? Are you excited about your author event? IS IT SUPER FUN TO BE YOU RIGHT NOW?
To answer that last one, no. No it is not.
Reasonably, it should be. It should be very cool to be a writer IRL, to do what you love doing most in the world. Without question, that should be amazing. It should be Instagram-worthy. It should be selfies in wool scarves and felt-tip pen collections for autographing and what-completely-unnecessary-swag-will-I-order-and-give-away-today goodness. But it's not all Turkish coffee and poetry readings and deep, unrelenting contentment. It is so, so far from that ... for me.
Maybe if you're, like, Stephen King level it is. Maybe he sits around in his Gothic mansion stirring a cauldron of piping hot personal satisfaction and best-selling premises. I don't know. I'm not Stephen King level yet. I'll get back to you. But to be honest, I'm not sure that will make a difference for me. I'm not sure that runaway commercial success is the tune to calm the savage beast of my crippling self-doubt and placate my tumultuous ego. And if I am actually listening to all those Alan Watts YouTube videos I fall asleep to every night, then it's most certainly not. I have a feeling, a sneaking suspicion, the higher the high, then conversely, the lower the low.
And based on previous and current experience, my suspicion is dead on. Because as much as I want everyone in the world to read RESURRECTION GIRLS, I am also terrified by that thought. (Oh, dear god, don't let them see. Please don't let them see!) Don't get me wrong. I love my baby. I love her flat head and swollen face and constant mews for attention. But I also know that to a lot of other people, infants just look like human grubs—all pale and fleshy and extraterrestrial. I mean, I think she's beautiful just the way she is. But the nature of publishing is that you are laying that precious, squirming little word-progeny out in the cold, harsh landscape of public domain and everybody's judgment. And that, even when it's going well, feels like a bit like making out for the first time, when you know you don't know what the hell you're doing, and you're just praying the other person doesn't catch on. And I think it will always feel that way to some degree.
If I'm doing it right, every book I put out there will have the potential to utterly humiliate me. Not because it isn't good, but because I have poured such tender, hidden, soul-depths into it—a whole cascade of hopes and dreams and sins and feelings and mindfuckery that I get to unload behind a very thin veneer of characters into a loaded weapon called fiction that I am aiming right at your face. Consider yourself warned.
And so it falls to me to get a handle on this thing, this hormonal and biochemical withdrawal that seems to occur after each and every discharge (I realize my word choice is bordering on lewd here), and which I think I am pretty accurately predicting will only be greater the greater the shot fired. In other words, the kickback is relative to the size of the barrel and the barrel is relative to the size of the bullet and I'm getting a little turned around here 'cause I don't actually know that much about guns even if I am a native Texan. So, whether my work is well received or not, whether the numbers are buzz-worthy or not, whether the reviews are five star or two, it is up to me to level myself, to find some balance, some grounding or anchor, and to keep myself from riding, full-tilt, the crest of the wave and crashing it into a shore of innocent bystanders.
I'm working on it.
And I have to say, the best antidote I have found so far to the toxic overload of pre-release adrenaline and post-release withdrawal is simply this: the work itself. It is not responding to every review politely (though you should), or smiling so hard through your events that you chip a tooth (though you should probably do that too—definitely don't cry through them, which is literally what I did, but I have a good excuse), or tweeting some excruciatingly pithy author remark every five seconds (note: my tweets do not register as excruciatingly pithy, or even pithy at all). And it is definitely not obsessively checking your Amazon ranking (never do this), or cyberstalking anyone who leaves you less than three stars (definitely never do this), or drowning your disappointments at the bottom of a bottle of scotch (not recommended).
And it's not the opposite of those either. It's not adopting a toxically positive attitude about the whole thing ("It's only up from here!" *cries into handbag when everyone's back is turned*), or just letting that invincible feeling run away with you when it's all swinging your way ("Muahahaha! I have reached orbital altitude; I'll never have to eat Ramen again!" *tells off day-job boss, hires a travel agent, orders gold-dusted brandy sniffer off eBay*), or making a desktop wallpaper out of your starred review (but really, doesn't everyone have one of those?).
I'm not saying don't celebrate the victories. Definitely, definitely celebrate the victories, however small, because if you're waiting for the world to give you permission to kick off your shoes and down a dozen mojitos and sing the Ghostbusters theme song into the waking dawn whenever your ship comes in—or your dingy or your canoe or your bamboo raft lashed together with willpower, catgut, and spite—then you could be waiting a very, very long time.
I'm just saying, find a center of gravity to hold onto when that happens. Or when it doesn't. And for me, that center of gravity is writing itself. It's the work that brings me joy, and total frustration, and a whole lot of stuff in between. But I can handle what the work throws at me. Whatever comes of the work, that's icing on the cake. That's the cherry on top. Or maybe it's the piss in your vinegar, the fly in your morning coffee. For me, it's a little of both. Either way, only the work can save me.
RESURRECTION GIRLS - Out Now!
Olivia stopped living the day her brother died. Three years ago, Robby toddled into the backyard pool and drowned. Olivia can no longer remember what it feels like to really be alive, until the Hallas women move in across the street. Kara, who is Olivia's age, has morbid fascinations—but Olivia's family has secrets of their own. The deeper Kara draws Olivia into the impulsive and seductive web of her world, the more Olivia finds herself confronting the unraveling of her family's connection to the land of the living.
" ... a raw, captivating exploration of grief, friendship, and the reclamation of life." -Booklist
And, for a tiny, little crack-in-the-window length of time still:
Now EXTENDED through October to celebrate our starred review from Foreword Reviews, click here to be taken to the Resurrection Girls Pre-Order Campaign form where you can provide your contact information (name, shipping + email address) and upload a picture of your receipt or request from your local library to receive your thank-you gifts: one signed Resurrection Girls bookplate, one genuine crystal skull, and one art print of this Resurrection Girls themed Death tarot card!
First come, first serve while supplies last.
US residents only.
And last but certainly not least, if you're in the Houston area and you read this in time, please join me for an Author Chat Night with The Creative Birth & Death Study Group this Saturday, October 26th, at WITS (writers in the schools). Purchase (very cheap) ticket here: VERY CHEAP TICKET LINK.