December 28th, 2022
“Sometimes I think the goal in writing a book is to ‘create energy’ – God save us from a raft of tepid reviews or (very possible in today’s publishing climate) no reviews at all. If people are talking about a book passionately, that’s a good thing – we might even use that as one measure of a book: does it inspire strong passion, differences of opinion? Does it delight some people and disappoint or even piss off others?”
– George Saunders, in his Story Club on Substack
As we look back at our past year, we organize our memories like a squirrel prioritizes nuts; digging up the familar parts of our cranial territory to save the precious moments we hope to find when we need them most.
One of my favorite moments of the year had to do with the aforementioned “strong passion” of a reader of one of my books.
At my last big convention of 2022, a fellow writer stopped by my booth and invited me to be part of a writing panel. I had never done a panel as a writer before, but I am always open to new experiences; worst case, I thought, is that there’s no audience and we would just talk about our craft for an hour. I could at least make four new friends.
That’s actually what happened, except people showed up!
During the second panel, I was talking about the plotting of my books. Usually, before I sit down to write a story, I know how it ends. I compare it to a marathon: who would start running if they had no idea where the finish line was, or if there even was one?
An exception to my own rule was Theia. I thought I had the ending, but when I got there, I realized it was actually a shocking twist in the middle of the story. The real ending came instantly to mind and the themes I had been working towards made themselves immediately clear.
My jaw hit the floor when a member of the audience chimed in moments later:
“When I got to that part in Theia, I threw the book across the room and yelled, ‘Goddammit!'”
She had read my book. And she had real feelings about it!
Some days I wake up and I feel like a decent writer. Most days I wake up and feel like a terrible fraud.
The thing I am always aiming for is emotion, of any kind or flavor. It’s why I am obsessed with the idea of clarity of communication; if you don’t understand something, it is hard to feel something.
So I spend my time feeling things and trying to spread those feelings, like germs, to others. I am a creator of cooties.
And that moment, during my first-ever panels, gave me the realest sense that I am doing something right.
P.S. If you or someone you know has been a victim of my work, please leave a review in a place people can read them. Like George said at the top, in this environment, it isn’t unusual for a book to receive no love at all.