by Susan McBride
My good buddy Maggie Barbieri emailed the other day to say she’d had a dream about walking naked through the mall, and her husband had very astutely remarked, “You must be feeling vulnerable.” Which got me to thinking that as a writer in today’s instantly-connected society, I feel like I’m walking naked through the mall just about everyday!
I often say to my husband, “Someday, I just want to write and not worry about the other stuff.” Because I do worry, way too much. But that’s how it goes these days when you’re still building a career and haven’t quite reached the New York Times bestsellers list (and, perhaps, even after you have). When I daydream, I imagine doing nothing but composing more novels and enjoying my real-life without so many other frantic items on my to-do list. And the only instance when I’d feel especially vulnerable would be the release date for my latest opus, when I wonder how my readers will react.
In days of yore (okay, like ten years ago), everyone seemed to be reading their daily newspapers and most people depended on those for book reviews. Not today. The new daily paper is the Internet, for me and for a lot of other people around the planet. So turning on the computer, booting up, and getting online is what slapping open newsprint with our cereal used to be.
There are tons of web sites and blogs offering information and opinions. It’s almost scary how quickly “news” appears. Folks can pick up a book and review it within minutes after they’ve turned the last page. Interviews and articles can pop up within 24-hours and can remain cached for years and years and years.
So what makes me even more nervous than having to speak in front of 300 people at a fundraiser or appear on a local TV segment is my presence everyday on the Web. And it’s not just about seeing negative reviews (although that’s never pretty, and I’d love to tell the mean reviewers who ruin things for everyone by spilling plot points to go to–well, you get my drift).
I’m one of those “foot in mouth” people who speaks from the hip (and the heart). I don’t work from a script. What you see is what you get, and I know that–in the past–my bluntness has upset a few people. I tend toward sarcasm, and not everyone likes or gets that kind of humor. So every time I post on Facebook or write a blog entry (like this!), I hold my breath and hope that no one sends me hate mail.
I even debate whether or not to comment on posts at the various blogs I like to visit throughout the day. I’ve seen name-calling and flame wars in some comment sections that scorched my eyebrows. It’s gotten nasty out there, and often I decide to keep my opinion to myself, if only for my own peace of mind. I don’t think they make flak vests yet to wear when you’re online, ones that deflect angry rhetoric rather than bullets. Until they do, I’m going to try to stay out of conflict. I do love words, but I want to use them to tell stories, not to argue with someone I’ve never met face to face.
Even emails can make me nervous, especially the ones that come through my web site and seem to be waiting in my in-box every morning. Opening these are like tearing through wrapping paper on Christmas gifts. What will I get? Pearls? Or coal? A lovely note from a mystery fan who wonders if I’ll be writing any more Debutante Dropout books? (Sadly, no, I won’t be, not in the near future anyway.) Or a newly-divorced woman over-forty who discovered The Cougar Club and wants to say “thank you” because it hit the right spot? (Man, I love those!) Or an invitation to speak, a message from a childhood friend, an inquiry about foreign rights? (Thank heavens for web sites! Lots of wonderful gigs, friendships, and even business connections come to pass because of it.)
Or will it be a list of typos from my backlist mysteries (how I wish I could correct those after my books are in print, but I can’t)? Or might the message be like a finger shaken at me, describing something that made someone mad (say, a reader didn’t appreciate the opinion of a character so I emailed back to explain, “I’m sorry this struck you wrong, but I can’t control everything the characters in my books say or do. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, they act in a way I don’t expect. But the way they feel doesn’t necessarily reflect how everyone feels in the book, or how I feel for that matter. Please remember that”). Sigh.
Whatever I do online, I always get a little pang in my heart as I hit “comment” or “send.” I hope I said the right thing, what I meant to say, and I worry that maybe someone will take something the wrong way. Oy. Much as I appreciate the Internet for the ease with which I can grab information and/or communicate, it still makes me a wee bit uneasy. I often feel like I’m walking naked through the mall when I’m on the Web, just as I do when a new book I’ve written is out in bookstores (and on e-readers!), completely out of my hands.
So I’m wondering, what makes you feel most vulnerable? I’d love to hear some of your “walking naked through the mall” moments, if you’re willing to share!