Monday, September 1, 2008

What in the World Have I Done?

Happy Labor Day, all! It's been way too long since I've posted, and this Labor Day, I'm making a resolution to post more frequently. I have loads of topics that I want to talk about, but not enough time! (oh, to be able to stop time so that I can write more). So, while I get my act together, edit my Work-In-Progress (what a mess that is), think about fun topics such as Facebook, generational gaps, the use (or overuse) of exclamation marks (which goes back to the generational thing) and so on, I thought I'd post a blog that I had written as a guest for other blogs. Enjoy!

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Writing is wonderful. Magical, even. With words, one can create imaginary worlds. Can delve deep into a character’s head. Can render a fictional scene from a true event that had gone horribly awry in real life. Writing can result in delicious, popcorn entertainment. And it can move a reader so that she recognizes that what she’s experiencing is art in its purest form. I love writing. I obsess over it. And in hindsight, I love even the difficult bits of the process, the word glut-filled nights when I think that my novel-in-process will never go anywhere. I love how writing makes me feel, how it opens up my perspective and makes me more empathetic. As isolating as the exercise of writing can be, it’s also a strangely humanizing activity, one that makes me feel more connected to the rest of the world.

Publishing, on the other hand, is another bag altogether. It’s a business that’s hideously generous with rejections. Hideous, as in having something like a 99% rejection rate for fiction writers. With those kinds of odds, I’m much better off at a craps table in Vegas. Still, I was foolhardy enough — and, like most writers, unreasonably optimistic — to think that I might creep into that glorious one percent. And after years of work, no sleep, a two-foot stack of rejection letters and a divine miracle, I did. My first novel, OFF THE MENU, sold to Penguin, and I celebrated as if I had just won Powerball. I celebrated as if I had achieved something better than winning Powerball because I had. My husband jumped up and down for joy. Literally. My friends congratulated me and told me that I was awesome. My coworkers (unfortunately, I have an arduous day job) gawked at me enviously. Life was good. It was better than good.

Fast-forward thirteen months to eight weeks before publication. My publicist told me that my first book signing was going to be August 15th, and suddenly, I felt exactly the way I’d made my characters in OFF THE MENU, which is to say that I was gripped by paralyzing fear. After all, it’s one thing to hide away at home and write, to have my baby safely within my grasp. It’s a different thing entirely to have that work out in the public where everyone can see it. I kept thinking, what in the world have I done? What had possessed me to push so hard to get my book before an audience that might judge? What if my friends laughed at me? Or worse, thought I was a hack? A fraud? The self doubt that was plaguing me was made worse by the fact that everyone was telling me to laud myself, a characteristic that my Korean parents — who had adopted genteel Texas sensibilities — had spent their entire lives telling me not to do. It’s unseemly, they said. Terribly uncouth. And yet, as an author, I have to sell myself. I know that. I knew it even when I was praying that a publisher would notice me. And still I went for it. And still I was terrified when everyone was telling me that I should be nothing but thrilled.

Of course, I am thrilled that OFF THE MENU’s out on bookshelves now. But I’m still anxious and nervous and all the other nail-biting emotions that go along with having such a personal piece of me out there. Maybe all authors feel this way. After all, we want our readers to enjoy our books. To feel like they can escape from the real world for a few hours. To feel uplifted and inspired and entertained. In a way, having my novel in the public is like hosting a party. I want everyone to be happy and taken care of. And if that’s why I push myself so hard to make my second book better than the first, and the third better than them all, then maybe this anxiety isn’t such a bad thing.

Post script: I feel much better now that the signing's over, but the nerves are still there. Maybe they'll always be. But that's okay.

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