Keeping it Close to the Chest

…Continued from “Striking Matches“…

This past weekend, I had to explain the concept of my book to a friend’s father. We were driving on the Major Deegan on our way to see his daughter, one of my best friends, dance in an outdoor dance festival. He was genuinely interested, seeing as he has an avid love of fiction, and even though I’ve known this man for many years and consider him a part of my family, it was still an uncomfortable feeling to describe my book…not just to him, but to anyone who asks. You know the old adage: It’s not you, it’s me. Well, in this case, that couldn’t be more truthful.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m superstitious — step on a crack, say ten hail mary’s — or maybe it’s just this constant fear I have that nobody will understand my writing. Either way, whenever somebody asks me to describe my book, I shut down, I become paranoid, paralyzed, paranormal (?). It’s hard to adequately describe something I’ve kept so close to the chest for so long, and it’s even harder to do it succinctly, especially when you know all of the various layers; you don’t want to give too much away, but you also don’t want to seem so vague that they don’t “get” it. And then we’re back to the whole “getting it” fear.

It’s a cyclical fear.

But, I did my best to describe my book. And he seemed genuinely intrigued by its premise. He even said that he really wants to read it. Which made me both incredibly happy — because, as stated, he’s a lover of fiction and the whole creative process — and incredibly paranoid — because he’s also a world-renowned doctor and professor and what if he doesn’t like it and maybe he’s just being nice because I’m basically his daughter’s brother-from-another-mother and then, if he doesn’t like it, maybe he’ll pity me for the rest of his life and I’ll go down in flames as the guy who “tried.”

Do you see my problem?

I think most of this fear stems from my inability to actually write this story for so long. As I wrote when I started this particular continuing series with Part I: An Open Can of White Paint, the idea for this character has been germinating since 2006, and really, for many years before (I just didn’t realize that the voice in my head was a character and not me going completely batshit crazy). It was a long process getting this character’s story down, and getting it right (Part II: Back to the Drawing Board, Part III: Pretending to Sleep, Part IV: Imperfect Symmetry, Part V: How Steven Got His Groove Back, and Part VI: Striking Matches) that has since spanned seven years and countless scraps, rewrites, and edits.

The biggest problem: I wasn’t realizing the biggest problem.

By the end of my thesis semester at The New School (May 2011), I had 175 pages of the manuscript complete. By the end of that summer, I had finished. I sent it to two of my best friends, Dinah and Jenna, and they gave me GREAT constructive feedback. Once I was certain that I was “finished,” around September of 2011, I began sending out the novel to agents. I got a few agents requesting my materials, but every single one ultimately rejected me.

I didn’t even notice the problem because, to me, I thought the book was in tip-top shape, and if they didn’t realize that, then, well, it was their loss.

It didn’t hit me until sometime in the middle of 2012. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, maybe it was a gradual realization, but I finally knew what was wrong. When I developed the story arc, I thought that the main focus revolved around Chase, the protagonist, realizing that he’s gay as the novel progresses. But that wasn’t authentic. It also wasn’t realistic. You don’t just wake up one morning and go, “Ok, I think I’ll have cereal for breakfast, and maybe I’ll be gay.” It doesn’t work like that. It’s a gradual realization, one that starts at a young age when you come to terms with being “different.” It’s something that you don’t understand and deny and hate and love and are confused by yet are drawn to, but don’t want to realize and say out loud because it’s too scary and what if nobody understands and I’m alone forever…

There’s a lot that happens, and in the time frame that my books takes place — over the course of less than two months (three if you count the slightly fast-forwarded epilogue) — I could never go through that range of emotion, and nor would I want to, either. That’s not what the book was about.

It’s about friendship.

It’s about first love.

It’s about family and religion.

It’s about finding yourself.

It’s about Chase coming out to his family and friends.

He knew it, just like I knew it.

Even though it took me a long time to realize it, I knew that it had to be re-edited so that Chase knew, from the get-go, that he was gay. In fact, not only did he know, but he declares in the first few pages that he’s planning on coming out that night. After his high school graduation.

When I finally found the perfect way in and knew that this was the right move for me to make for this novel, I felt free, alive.

I felt like I was coming out again.

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep everything so close to the chest. It doesn’t allow anybody room to experience anything with you, nor does it allow yourself to fully experience life.

It took me a long time to realize that. What I wrote in The Power of Fear was difficult for me to write because of all of my fears, the same fears that prevent me from being able to adequately describe my book to my best friend’s father. And the result of these fears seems to effect not only me, but the people around me — which is something that reverberates quietly throughout my novel.

Last week, I was chatting with another one of my best friends, Jenna, and the topic of the blog, “The Power of Fear,” came up. It was difficult to discuss with her because I knew that she seemed genuinely hurt by how much I hurt. I tried to make a joke out of it; it’s hard because I was hurting for so long, I was keeping everything too close to the chest, and I never truly let anybody in, not for a long time.

Jenna:  I have to be honest (though this may sound a little self-focused, but hopefully not), I love reading your blogs and hate reading your blogs for the same reason: I feel like I’m re-meeting my best friend and learning all these things that I never had any inkling of.
Me: Well, nobody can know every little thing about a person. especially when said person is a writer. The best stuff is kept close to the chest
Jenna:  And while I’m happy that I know it now, I also feel so terrible that I was right there when you were going through all this stuff and that I couldn’t help you more and be there for you when you were going through such a difficult time. It breaks my heart a little bit
Me:  I can understand that…but nobody knew because I didn’t want anybody to know
Jenna:  I know, but me and empath abilities still hurt when I know how much you were hurting
Me:  Awwwwww
Jenna:  But I’m glad you feel you can talk about it now. That’s a lot of negativity to be holding on to
Me:  I know. I handled it surprisingly well. I was like Emma Stone in Easy A when the whole school thought she was a big ole SLUT, and on the outside she was all Emma Stone-y, but inside she was like “THIS ISN’T  ME”
I don’t know how that relates at all.
But I feel like it does.
Jenna: I get it.
I got it, too. It took me awhile, but I couldn’t do the same disservice to my protagonist that I did to myself.
Keeping everything under lock-and-key can take its toll.
And I’m living, breathing proof of that.

To Be Continued…

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Jenna and I.
The Grace to my Will.
The Saving Grace to my Unwavering Force of Will.

4 Comments

  1. I love this post, it’s so real and raw and beautiful. You are my brother-from-another-mother, and are a real part of my family. I’m so happy we can be part of your creative process and your life, and it’s great to see every step of you becoming the fabulous, famous novelist I know you’re going to be. We believe in you and your writing and all your Emma Stone-y-ness. Great post!

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