The cost of truth
This past week I turned my FRIENDS OF MINE manuscript over to beta-readers not related to me. It's always a little nerve-wracking to turn your baby over to someone else for the first time; you want your readers to like it, and I can never help but apologize in advance for anything that's not working. We writers are our own worst critics.
Now, multiply that by eleven when the alleged opus they're reading is your life story. Or a huge chunk of your life, anyway. Now you're not only afraid they're not going to like your writing, you're afraid they're not going to like you. And that's just the beta readers, who, more often than not, are writers themselves and get the anxiety that comes with showing your work to others. I've lost sleep worrying about the 1-star reviews I'm going to get for this one. And no doubt I'll get them. You just can't please everyone. I'm worried that they're not only going to judge me, but also my family, who is a big part of this story.
When I was a grad student, I had taken an interest in memoir writing. I taught the genre as well. But then I saw the price to pay for telling the absolute truth. The late Donald Murray confessed that family members had stopped speaking to him as a result of the pieces he published. It's happened to me too. I published a creative nonfiction piece about an afternoon I spent with a guy. Even changed the names. He stopped speaking to me the day after the piece was published. Stopped looking at me, even. As if he never knew me at all. I don't regret publishing that piece. It was the best thing I'd written to that date, and I believed in it. I believed in the conviction of telling the truth. I didn't think it deserved to sit in a drawer, unseen, for the rest of its life. I would give up my existence for its.
That conviction applies to fiction as well. Even though you're making up a story, you must be truthful.
However, when it comes to nonfiction, for me, it's too high a price to pay. Besides, over the years I've had way more fun writing fiction.
So with FRIENDS OF MINE, I agonized over what to include and what to leave out. Just how far out on that limb of truth was I willing to go? As always, I felt enormous responsibility to my readers, but I also felt responsibility toward those about whom I was writing, especially my family and closest friends. In the end, I had to carefully balance these two entities, a give-and-take negotiation. I did the best I could.
I have enormous respect for anyone who has published a memoir and revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly. I respect their courage and conviction. Even for the most public celebrities, it's difficult to talk about scandals and addictions, to re-hash all that, make it public once more.
If it's so hard, then why go through with it? Why am I publishing FRIENDS OF MINE? Because when something needs to be born, I can't ignore it. And I've come to recognize that call when I hear it. And follow it. Laypeople don't always understand that, see it more as an exercise in vanity. Even in fiction, it's cost me readers and positive reviews. But one letter from a reader telling me they connected to something I wrote--fiction or non, makes up for any lost reader and negative review. Makes up for them tenfold. Already I've received that validation for FRIENDS OF MINE.
I hope you'll be one of those readers too.
More news about FRIENDS OF MINE
I am thrilled to make two announcements connected to my upcoming memoir Friends of Mine: Thirty Years in the Life of a Duran Duran Fan. The first is that friend and fellow Amazon Publishing author RJ Keller will write the Foreward. Not only is she a great writer (check out her novel Waiting For Spring), but also a Gen-Xer and former teenage fedora-clad Duranie (I've seen pictures). I knew early on that she'd offer something of value to the project. She was one of the first to see the manuscript in draft form, and understood where I was coming from not only from experience, but also rhetorically.
The second is even more exciting. One of the advantages of self-publishing is having sole control of the editorial and design process (although, in fairness, I must acknowledge that Amazon Publishing gives me a lot of input when it comes to my novels, and I'm so grateful). When it came to the cover design of this book, only one name came to mind: Patty Palazzo. I first heard her name years ago in conjunction with Duran Duran; she designed the calendars and other merchandise. And then I saw this:
Um, yeah. I know.
While promoting his memoir, John Taylor tweeted a link to a story about Patty and her cover design process. As a lover of all things process, naturally I clicked on the link and commented on it, which, to my pleasant surprise, resulted in a brief but fruitful Twitter conversation with Patty, and mutual follows. (I may have also tweeted something like, "I want to wallpaper my writing studio with that cover. Just sayin'.")
Thus, when it came to my memoir cover, the designer had to be Patty. Not only because I knew she'd rock the design (you can see more of her work here), but also because bringing her on board would make the project even more personal. And it's already quite personal to me. In fact, everyone I've worked with throughout this project has been someone close, someone trusted, someone I knew would take special care. Bringing Patty Palazzo into a Duran Duran-related project is like coming full circle, in a way. I knew she too would take special care.
But would she want to work with little ol' me? Would she be available?
Fortunately for me, YES. And judging by our interaction so far, I know she's going to be a pleasure to work with.
I am more psyched than ever to release this book. I hope you'll be just as psyched to read it.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.