Today I spent the afternoon talking to a class of Northwestern students about Fault Line. It was an incredibly smart and thoughtful discussion with lots of great shared ideas. And for as much as I'm awkward in public forums, I've actually gotten quite good about talking about my book. Or at least better than when I first started out ("It's a book where this horrible thing happens and it ends horribly").
But before I started today's guest lecture, we had all the students write down on post-its the reactions they thought teenagers would have to this book. Not necessarily the university students' reactions, but what they thought teens would say. And the responses were really interesting. Of course many wrote questions about the open-ending, but they also had lots of reactions including fear, shock, sadness, etc. One of them wrote, "it's too much".
That last one sort of cut through me. Made me pause and wonder.
Did these post-its have the right of it?
It's not a book you "like" in that way. It's a book that starts a conversation. And it did start one. A pretty great one, to tell the truth. But even as I was leaving, even as a guy came up to me and said, "I loved your book. I couldn't put it down. I wish all schoolwork were like this," I couldn't help but wonder if I'd messed it all up. If I pushed too hard, if in showing this situation in the way that I've experienced it as an advocate in the real world, I've inadvertently set up a wall between me and the teenagers who could use a book like this.
I don't doubt this book has engaged people. I've witnessed it over and over firsthand. But I find myself wondering if I could've been safer, if the gritty reality of this book made doors close that could've been opened. I don't have an answer to this. I wrote the book I needed to write. I will always hope that it means something to someone.
One month ago, I wrote a blog about standing on the edge of possibility of release day. Today, I find myself worried that I did it wrong. That I risked something of myself, and it didn't pay off. This fear comes from nowhere, really. I don't know sales numbers, I haven't looked at any reviews in months, the people in my world have said really nice things about it. And of course, it's been a month, anyone in publishing would tell you that it's way too early in any game to call it. And yet. The fear still exists. It has since before this class and I imagine it will for quite some time to come. Until I can settle into this published writer's life.
And unfortunately, I have found this fear setting the course of my writing. This need to be "careful" so that the words "it's too much" are never written on a post-it about my book. I once read an article about how you only write in a vacuum once. You only get the one debut. You'll only ever experience that for this heartbeat of time and so you should be grateful for it. You should hold on to that.
To me, I want the risky side of me back. The side that doesn't worry so much. The side that thinks if there's a wall between a teenager and my book, they'll figure out a way to climb over it. I miss that. I would like to wake up with it every morning like I did a year ago. I don't know if it'll ever return. I'm grateful I wrote several books in a vacuum so I'm not stalled out on my own fear.
I have more questions than answers. I usually do. That is my truth. And maybe that is the way to find my way back to the risky me. I don't know. And I guess that's okay for now.