This past weekend, I attended the wedding of my husband’s cousin (does that make her my cousin in law?). I haven’t seen any of that side of the family in quite some time, and some (okay, most) of them I don’t know well. Or really at all.
So the dance of ‘What do you do?’ commenced.
I dread this question. It makes me cringe and want to hide. I’m a writer. I’ve been telling people that for a while. I’m not ashamed of it (who would be?). So I guess what I actually dread are the inevitable follow-up questions.
What do you write? (Um…books?)
What’s your book about? (That’s a loaded question…do you have an hour?)
You’re going to let me read it, right? (Yes, of course. And you’ll pay $15.99 for the privilege. Or whatever my future publisher [I’m optimistic today] decides to charge you.)
I’ve written a little bit about questions writers get before. That was back when I was still working on this one. I was really hoping by the time I was done with it, I’d have better answers for all the politely curious out there.
My problem with these questions (the first two, anyway) is the brevity they expect in the answer. My stuff doesn’t fit into one genre. I can’t just say ‘fantasy’ and be done with it. And I have a hard time summarizing all the intricacies of my book into a couple lines, which in all reality is what the asker wants. They don’t want me to go into a twenty-minute speech (minimum) about the character development, the world I’ve built, and all the subplots. And trust me, I can talk about it for hours. Ask my poor, suffering husband. The question is really the equivalent of expecting me to summarize my entire life in one line. Not gonna happen. Not on the spot, anyway. Give me a couple hours/days/weeks to sit down and craft something that would satisfy you.
Part of the problem is that I’ve only written the first book in the planned trilogy. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with the second two. (I know how it will end, but getting there is in the works.) So I can’t sum it up yet.
Another problem, especially when dealing with my husband’s quite religious family, is that my book is about hell. Not exclusively, but some of it does take place there. I’m not the first person to place a story there. But when someone hears this information, I can see their brain shut off, their body tense, and their hand reach for the cross hidden beneath their shirt. Die, demon spawn, die! I exaggerate, obviously. But there is a noticeable change in how they look at me, and it kills my enthusiasm.
So I’ve begun avoiding the question. I just say it’s complicated to explain. But that doesn’t really work either. Then they just stare at me like I’m an imbecile. What do you mean you can’t tell me what your book is about? How could you not know the answer to that question?
I could give you something vague. A girl dies, goes to purgatory, and is assigned to escort souls to hell. Too brief. They always want more. Then the following tumbles out: there’s a prophecy foretold by a little girl, gods, mythology, Death (as a character), a love triangle, amnesia…
You’ve got it now, right? Because that’s really all I can give without giving away major plot points.
Nope. They’re still wanting more.
So I’ve asked my better half to help me come up with a summary. He’s not as close to it as I am, so maybe he’ll be able to help me focus on the important parts. I think maybe I’ll just print the summary on card stock and hand it to people. Like a business card.
Then, if I haven’t turned them off yet by either the mention of hell or my crazy rambling, they ask if they can read it. When I first started writing, I let everybody and their brother read every little thing I wrote. And then I’d change a sentence and they’d reread it. And it continued that way until they couldn’t stand the story or me. Now, I prefer to have a select few read any of it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them wanting to read it. But I can’t go giving it out to everyone before it’s been through a professional editor. Just no. It’s not ready yet, even if I do say I’m done with it. Plus, I’ve learned there are only a few people I know that are capable of giving me feedback. Or finishing a book. Any book, not just mine.
So no. You’re not reading it until it’s published. Sorry.
How do you deal with these questions?