Monday, August 24, 2009

A new kind of reader--Testing my courage

Three readers have my book right now. The first two are in the same category more or less as previous readers--helpful but impartial friends. The third is my baby sister. She's the first blood relative reading it.

That feels a little bit scary because it's getting closer to the limited number of people who -- however much I insist that it is fiction and not a representation of my family -- will tend to see themselves in the story anyway and perhaps feel not a hundred percent OK with that. My sister was actually born after most of the real-life events that influenced the book, so she won't be offended on her own behalf. And she probably won't be offended at all, because she's sophisticated enough to separate fiction from memoir. But she might feel a little bit protective of other family members who could potentially see themselves in the book.

That possibility, and the more likely problem of how other relatives will react, is something that an author has to tune out or they will end up channeling the voices of self-criticism and self-censorship. I've tried to think of it this way: imagine your mother's most embarrassing secret, the thing that just burns her up to know that you probably told your spouse but that no one ever speaks of. If you're not willing to put that into a story should it be required (not that it always is), then you're not ready to be a writer. If you set out determined to avoid hitting certain sensitive spots, you're on a path to compromising the art at some point.

That's a way to think of it, but life is never so black and white. I guess that's more of a guideline. I'll let readers 1 and 2 judge if I've compromised on the art. In the meantime I'm nervous about what my sister will say. It's like two streams of intimacy crossing courses -- the intimacy of sibling relationship and the intimacy of revealing an artistic work that I've put a lot of myself into. Thus, a whirlpool of anxiety.

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