I’ve been called “weird” a lot lately. Not always unkindly. I’ve just noticed that word thrown around a lot on my Twitter feed and in reviews.
Weird. Strange. Creepy even.
Oh I know, no one’s saying I’m weird (or creepy, for that matter). They’re talking about my book.
But I wrote that book. That book came from me. I’m on every single page.
I guess I don’t get how authors can remove themselves from the books they write once they’re out in the world, though this is what you must do for your own sanity. Professionals tell you this—for when your book goes out on submission, to when it’s read and reviewed and once it (hopefully) makes it onto library shelves and into stores. Isn’t that the advice you hear? You are not your book. Don’t take it so personally.
Here I am to admit to you that I’ve never been so good with that concept. Especially with Imaginary Girls. I really actually am this book. Maybe only people I know can see that—my little sister, my other half, and oh especially my mom sees it—so maybe you don’t realize.
Besides, I don’t want to separate myself from my book. I want my emotions all tied up in it even if that’s dangerous. I don’t want to numb myself to this book because I’ve done that before. Quite a few times.
You see, I actually have written fiction that is entirely separate from me. So separate I wrote it under a different name. So separate that I wrote it “on assignment” with someone else telling me what to write. I was informed what the characters wanted and looked like and were named and/or what movie script plot to follow, beat by beat, with images of famous actors for reference. When you write on assignment like this, you have to remove your emotions entirely from the process. You have to basically be willing—and eager, because your paycheck is riding on it—to do whatever someone else wants and not be upset when they want something you don’t. Or hate what you wrote. Or you hate what they’re telling you to write.
One time I wrote a licensed book on assignment, a book that was supposed to be funny. The editor said she liked what I was doing and thought it was great. But then the manuscript got sent to the licensor for approval and feedback—that’s the Big Famous Studio that owned the characters and story I was writing about. Well… they hated it. They hated it so much, they didn’t want the book published at all. Not just not by me… by anyone. The whole project got canceled, though I got a kill fee. I remember overhearing the editor telling someone why the book got canceled: “They said it wasn’t funny. They thought their writers could do better.” (Their writers could have.) But I remember overhearing that and thinking: She’s talking about me. She’s telling everyone I got rejected so badly by this Big Famous Studio and I suck and I should never write anything again.
I was upset for one hour. They don’t think I’m funny! I thought. (In actuality, really I’m not so funny.) They want to write it themselves! Then I realized: This book had nothing to do with me. It was absolutely separate from who I am as a writer, who I really am and what my real writing is like. I numbed myself, divorced all emotion from the work I’d produced, and then went to the bank and cashed my kill fee. Maybe I bought a pair of new shoes with part of it, who knows. All I know is that was that.
That’s what writing a book that’s not you feels like.
I’ve also written books that made studios and editors and licensors happy—that was the only time I failed so embarrassingly—but I learned from that experience and kept my feelings in check at all times ever since. Meaning I wrote with only the emotion needed to get the assignment done. No more. I did not let those books get inside me. They did not carry my name, and they weren’t me, and I didn’t really care when they were published because I’d already been paid and I’d already bought my new shoes (or sent in my student loan payment or the rent check or whatever).
Then I chose to stop. I quit writing work-for-hire. I chose to write the books I wanted, the books that were mine and mine alone. Even if I never got paid a cent again.
Something happens when you write fiction from your heart. You expose yourself on a platter, handing yourself over to strangers with all your grotesque bits sticking out and you can’t expect everyone to think you’re pretty.
That book Imaginary Girls? That’s me.
And that book I wrote before it, Dani Noir? Some of me found its way into that, too.
And the book I’m writing now, the one I’ve been working on all these months? Me.
I’ll tell you this: Every book I write from now until infinity is going to be me. (A side of me at least, because I’m not just one thing.) And it may not all be pretty. And you may not all like my book me. And you may think I’m creepy or weird. But you know what? I’m not going to waste my time writing something fake. I quit doing that years ago. So I may take reactions personally and measure my worth up against my book’s… but it feels so much better than being numb to it.
Here’s where I admit that I’ve put my whole self into Imaginary Girls… It’s a risk, but after what I’ve written before, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Besides, I am a little weird. That’s true.