As the release date for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities approaches, I seem to be going through some changes in self-perception. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking – “Mike, you’re clearly a megalomaniac, which means you’re not capable of changes in self-perception!” Here’s a little secret: I’m not really a megalomaniac. I’m actually a quivery ball of emotional insecurity, which makes it a bit strange that lately I feel…good about my writing career? And not in a spoofy “I’m the king of the world” way, but in a “oh wow, THAT just happened” kind of way, or a “perhaps all this good stuff happening to me is justified” kind of way.
For example, I now have advance reader copies winging their way out into the world, and I was asked to whip up a list of suggested readers. I asked a bunch of people who I know to one degree or another, which was hard enough, but in a burst of uncharacteristic real-world bravado I also asked one of my very favorite kidlit authors if I could send them an ARC. Someone who I don’t actually know at all – no email, no Facebook conversations, not even a single-tweet exchange on Twitter. Nada. And that person said “sure, I’d love to take a look.” At which point my head suddenly – oh wait, I think it’s about to happen aga–
Uh, sorry. I’ll clean that up later… Anyway, the fact that this person is willing to read my ARC is FANTASTIC! It’s fantastic partly because it’s something that seemed so far out of reach three years ago, when I was scuffling through the query process and revising in what often felt like a state of intense psychological isolation. I have the best critique partners in existence, but it really isn’t the same as working with colleagues in the publishing industry the way I do now. I partially defined my writerly identity with terms like aspiring, up-and-coming, and just plain unpublished. And the word I’ve used more than any other is, of course, writer. But now I find myself growing increasingly comfortable with a different term, one that I’ve always perceived as having a certain air of untouchability: author.
Starred-review-collecting EMU J. Anderson Coats touched on this in her early post on how we answer the question “What do you do?” It’s funny how loaded one little six-letter word can be, isn’t it? Writer, author, author, writer, which one am I, oh I don’t dare call myself an author, etc. One of the things I appreciate most about the kidlit world is that people are clearly invested in living the self-examined life – logically enough, since it’s a prerequisite for the writing process. There’s a widespread awareness about how we project ourselves as public figures, assess our place on the continuum of children’s literature, discuss potentially sensitive topics, and affect the feelings of our colleagues and friends. I value this tremendously.
The thing is, I also struggle with this. I’ve struggled with it before, but now it’s happening differently, probably because the advent of my career as a published author feels so much bigger than anything I’ve previously experienced in my professional life. I’m struggling with the balance between being sensitive/diplomatic/cautious/humble and being expressive/optimistic/risk-embracing/celebratory.
I don’t want to be a jerk, you know? I’m entirely too capable of being a jerk. But I also feel really good about my place in the kidlit community, optimistic about my book’s prospects, and confident in my own abilities. Back in my pre-published days (which are still pretty recent), I started making a very informal list of things I wanted to happen during my journey to publication. They were things I thought I’d really love to experience and were contained within the big dream of publication, but they also qualified as dreams in their own right. And those things have actually started happening!
In a scene from the old James L. Brooks movie Broadcast News, William Hurt’s character says, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Albert Brooks’s character responds, “Keep it to yourself!” That’s not an uncommon sentiment, and I do want to be mindful of the pitfalls of excessive self-adulation. L.B. Schulman touched on this in her early post on “Spreading the Good News.” I know the danger of being perceived as a braggart is real – in fact, the danger of genuinely becoming a braggart is real. I’m both a writer and a library professional, so I spend a lot of time in the company of people who share my don’t-be-a-blowhard concerns, which I think is much more positive than not.
There are times when these tendencies have inhibited me. There’ve been moments when I may have robbed myself of joy and satisfaction in the pursuit of diplomacy, and that by trying not to irritate people through excessive self-regard I’ve unnecessarily put myself down. That’s the last thing I want to do right now, because I have this extraordinary feeling that my professional life is metamorphosing into something that has more purpose and meaning than it’s ever had before.
I keep returning to the great warhorse in my stable of quotes, Marianne Williamson’s astonishing insight into our deepest fears, and realizing that I don’t want to play small. I want my light to blaze like the sun! I’m very happy, and I’ve tried to be open about expressing it. The infancy of my career has been more than a dream come true: it’s been an entire series of dreams come true. I’ve driven myself like a plowhorse to get here, and I’ll continue to drive myself as my career progresses. I’ve described myself as many things during the journey to publication. I’m a newbie! I’m a wannabe! I’m a dreamer, a writer on the verge, a burgeoning creative professional! Now I’m adding one more thing to the list, yes I am, right out there for the entire world to see.
Look alive, world. I’m an author.