I don’t have any babies. Not any more. Now I have small divas who live in my house, who like to make messes and crazy demands and fight over things like Barbie dolls. This is what my kids fought nearly to the death over this morning. By the way, it’s a magnet:
And that’s okay with me. I mean, not having babies in the house anymore is okay with me. The other part… Well…
Ah, just kidding. I love my children. As much as anyone can love an incessant whirlwind of chaos and distraction, because there are also the sweet kisses and soft snuggles and gaggles of giggles. When they are sweet, I feel like I’ve produced two of the most amazingly magical efforts of my life! And when they are not… I think every honest parent has had the thought: Why did I do this!? What was I thinking?! WHY?!
Book are like this – the ones that you write. They are like needy babies, who demand your constant attention. And like children, who turn your world upside-down in other ways. Plot lines commandeer your grocery lists in sometimes insanely incoherent scribbles. Characters whine for your attention in the middle of the night.
And like children, who pain and stress and aggravate you until you feel like you can’t breathe anymore… Who delight and entertain and enchant you until you feel they are the only reason you breathe… Like children, the books you write eventually leave you. Your kids head off to school and college and on with their lives; your books head to the publisher and the market. Like any good parent, you know that what you’ve nurtured and put out into the world is not perfect, and this is mostly, if not entirely, your fault. But you hope with all your heart that your labor of love will land in a world of affection and appreciation. (And, if you’re honest, will be successful beyond imagination.)
Also like children, your books are never totally alike–or even like you. Like your children, they’re threaded with strands of you, but ultimately, they are who they decide to be. You can guide them with your firm sentence structure and chapter breaks, feed them with interesting conflicts, dress and accessorize them with fancy adjectives, but they pretty much roll over you if they’re true to themselves. You know, like your kids.
My first “kid”, Rita Hayworth’s Shoes, is out there already. She’s kind of a sweet and quirky little nerd. A charming misfit, much like the characters that make up her story. For the most part, I have to say, she’s doing all right. My second, The Girl, The Gold Tooth & Everything, is in final revisions by me and about to be handed over to my publisher–and to the world. She’s definitely darker, a little edgier. I worry about her, like I still worry about her sister, that she’s not going to snap easily into any comfy literary cliques (read: obvious markets), but I’m confident that she will find her place.
In any case, when any writer tells you that their book is like their child, don’t dismiss them. Even if that person has never had a child. Even if you have never written a book. Simply clasp their hand in yours, look intently in their eyes, and tell them, in the gentlest way possible, “You tried your best.” And if you have to say, “But your kid’s kind of an asshole,” well, I suppose that’s up to you. Just be kind, or, at the very least, constructive. Remember: That’s someone’s baby you’re talking about!