Sunday, February 12, 2006

My novelist counterpart. And so on.

So I've found my novelist counterpart, and she's Tess Gerritsen, a writer who probably could not seem any more different from me if she tried. She writes medical thrillers; I write nonfiction and children's picture books. But I've been following her blog for some time now, and looking for a good excuse to chat with her. I found it.

A few weeks ago, the psychic editors at Writer's Digest wrote to ask me if I was interested in writing an article about the dangers of the Internet for published authors-- things like checking blogs and message boards to see what people are saying about your books, obsessively checking Amazon and BN.com to see your rank and new reviews, etc.

Their timing was uncanny. I had just gone on a hiatus from my own message boards because I needed time to think about my mental health and how it relates to just those sorts of things. When you run a big site for writers, you leave yourself open to criticism and scrutiny. I had, once again, inadvertently run into a baffling scenario. For a long time, I've been a vocal opponent of scammers in the literary world-- particularly PublishAmerica. I understand that along with that territory comes the fact that there will be writers who think I'm just "being mean" and "picking on" their publisher. Therefore, they'll insult me. I get that.

I also understand that the scammers themselves will give me plenty of trouble. I'm used to the lawsuit threats, the nasty comments. I'll take it because I feel like it's important that I keep doing what I'm doing.

But then there are the randomly horrible remarks by strangers that I just can't process. Lately, they're mostly about Stories of Strength, suggesting that there must be a hidden agenda... that it's really just a way for me to get publicity, or something. I want to shake people and say, Are you daft? I took off almost three months of paying work to self-publish a little book that I knew would have no real distribution, just in the hopes of raising money for disaster relief, and (just a few, I know) strangers are trying to twist that into something selfish and bad. Why in the world would I need the kind of publicity you get from a self-published book when most of my current work is ghostwriting celebrity biographies and health books? Picture me throwing my arms in the air.

Then there are the couple of stalkers and general weirdos I've acquired along the way. Some have been downright frightening, others just discomforting.

And in a weird sort of way, I got into writing in the first place out of a desire for acceptance. I'm coming around to the idea that I need to be more behind the scenes in my life. I "fit" as a ghostwriter. I am not composed of the stuff that famous people need to stay away from sharp objects. I am not capable of being detached, or of not taking things personally, or of believing that strangers don't matter. It's a flaw. I've worked on it. I've failed. I've come around to the belief that it's better to just accept that I don't like the spotlight, and get the heck out of it.

But back to Tess. I had an inkling, based on things she's written before, that she shares my oversensitivity and my sense of "outsiderness." What I couldn't have known was that on the same day I wrote to her to ask for a quote for the article, she had just found out that one of her greatest literary dreams had come true-- her book was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel-- and she nearly immediately found a stranger online commenting, "WTF is she doing on the Edgar list?"

She says nothing could bring her down from that day's high, and I hope it's true. But-- and I'll take the liberty to use the word "us" here-- for people like us, I suspect it's never quite that simple. There's always going to be that desperate fear of not being good enough for someone. Of letting someone down.

Hell of a way to live, constantly trying to control the uncontrollable, waiting for the sky to fall again.

But my life is changing. I'm in a weird flux right now, kind of changing everything all at once, but I'm getting more secure in it. I quit smoking 28 days ago. Anthony and I are trying to have a baby. I'm making some major career changes. I'm looking for a new agent. I cut and dyed my hair and finally got health insurance. I made reservations five days in advance to actually go somewhere on Valentine's Day for the first time ever. Different. It's all different. And I'm eager to find out where it's all leading.