Just coming off Mother’s Day, I am reminded of my own relationship to my mother, which has been precarious at times. Over at I Miss You When I Blink, novelist and screenwriter Smith Henderson talks about what it feels like when you release a project into the world. Smith says, “It’s really intense. Even when the response is positive, it’s emotionally daunting. I felt like I was proud of the book, and it would be all right if people didn’t get it, but generally I was pretty confident I had written the book I would like to read—and I hoped others would too.”
When I began writing Wasteland, I didn’t really think about my mother or where the story would end up, whether people would actually read what I had written. The short story was a private kind of affair. When I decided to move the short story into a novel, that’s when I began to worry about the public reception. Nobody has not liked it. And I am so very thankful my mother hasn’t read the thing. Sometimes, she gets fiction and nonfiction confused.
I did not kill anybody. Nor have I ever tortured anyone. I have never eaten the heads from live baby birds or drained the blood from a cat for one tasty Bloody Mary with a happy sprig of celery. The people in Wasteland are all so messed up; they are certainly not me. But the story comes from within me; something dark lives in my soul…
My current work in progress, Breath: An American Story, probably troubles me more so than Wasteland ever did. The new novel is loosely biographical and based upon what little family history I am aware of. My wife, who is also a writer, has finally stopped asking me, “Are you sure you want to put that in there?” I am actually not sure at all. What will my mother think? Will my brother stop talking to me if/when he reads this thing? For the past month, I have asked myself why I am even writing what I am writing. To make matters worse, I’ve decided to shop Breath to traditional publishers. Wasteland languishes at the 1,748,711 spot on Amazon. Banana Sandwich is doing better, at the 342,963 spot. If what happens to Breath is what I hope happens to Breath, the finished novel will find its way onto bookstore shelves. There might be an author tour, book club readings, everyone will know about the time I buried my sister in the sandbox. They’ll watch my grandmother die. There will be no hiding in the bowels of Amazon Kindle sales.
Poet Allen Ginsberg once said, “Concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening.”