Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong August 31, 2014 - 1:19pm

My first novel is being released soon. No, this isn't a shameless plug. I'm curious about something.

Naturally, my biggest fans include my mom, grandmother, coworkers, acquaintances, et. al., people who haven't read any of my work before and who, in large part, don't really read the type of stuff I write. I write sci-fi/horror with dark themes, including politics, religion, etc., basically every conversation topic I wouldn't want to have with my family at the dinner table.

How do you temper the expectations of people who may be surprised by the content of your writing? I feel like I'm about to drop my pants on a stage under burning spotlights with my family and closest friends in the front row. Is there a way to navigate a conversation to ask these people to not judge you based on your writing, and is there a way to do that without insulting them? Ever have to broach this subject before?

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb August 31, 2014 - 1:56pm

Goddamn...I leave the wifi bar and you post this! Got plenty of experience with exactly what you're on about but i need more than my iPhone to type it on...I hope i get my home connection back tomorrow, and it's good to see you back!

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb September 1, 2014 - 11:14am

Hi Tim, here's what I wish I could have posted last night:

It's hard to give advice here when I don't know your folks, or anyone else you might give this to, but I'd be willing to make a bet with you: they probably wouldn't be as surprised by your writing as you might think. Especially not the people who you grew up with who've seen what you read. I never had to put a warning lable on my writing for my family because they know exactly who my influences are.

My dad's read my stuff, and the only real complaint he had about it was the amount of cursing, but don't ask me where that came from because I curse plenty in real life and I've fondly laughed at many times when he's resorted to it too. And we watched The Wolf of Wall Street together and had a damn good laugh all the way through. My mum hasn't read my writing yet, and might not because I have a knack for finding authors she finds too unsettling but I think are brilliant, and if that's who I'm taking my cues from then what I write is perhaps a box better left unopened. If she opens it anyway I doubt it will shock her much. As for my grandparents...well I'll be blunt: they're all dead, so I don't have to worry. If they were still alive, they all read books, and I doubt it would surprise them either even if none of them liked my work (I don't think any of them would have to be honest.)

You use the dropping your pants on stage analogy, so here's my favourite comparrison when it comes to something a little awkward. All through my early twenties I managed to hide from my dad that I smoked until the day he came home unexpectedly and caught me in the garden with a Marlboro in my hand. Of course I did the whole stupid routine of trying to hide it behind my back, but the guy was a teacher for thirty odd years; he'd caught half my friends at school and now he'd got me in our own back yard. I'd rehearsed the day I finally got the lecture so many times that it literally stunned me when he said 'Don't bother trying to hide it, you're a grown up and it's your choice, and I've known for ages anyway.'

My family being surprised at something I wrote would probably follow very much the same routine: I've rehearsed the awful response I don't want to deal with so many times that by now I'm thinking it will be worse than it really would be. In the end, if they don't like what I do, there's really nothing they can do to stop me doing it, and they probably wouldn't want to anyway. It's my life. If I want to be remembered for putting less-than-nice content into the world, it's my lookout.

In truth, I wasn't that concerned when I published my first novel. You read some of the workshop efforts, and what was on display there was probably the worst of it, IE not really that hardcore by comparrisson. The sequel I'm writing....well, that's a different story. I've already got one scene planned, not even written yet, where I had to think 'what the hell are my family going to make of that when they get it?' Thing is though, I can't hold back just because a few people close to me might not like it. Having read some of your stuff, I'm guessing you might feel the same. You've written what you have regardless of what anyone might think of you, and this is the time to stand by it. The thick skin you put on for submitting your stuff for workshop criticism or professional review does sometimes have to be that little bit thicker when your family get their hands on your fucked up side, but it really is just a matter of grit your teeth and get on with it.

If they really find it that bad, they can always skip a few pages just like they could look away from the TV and hit the mute button during a horror film.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 1, 2014 - 11:41am

I think this is a big reason I'm leery showing family my poetry book. They know I have anxiety, but I'd rather they not know how depressed I am ordinarily.

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong September 1, 2014 - 11:53am

Thanks, Tommy. Good stuff. I'm not terribly concerned. It's just an interesting wrinkle I hadn't really considered.

And Sarah, I know where you're at with that. Poetry can easily be misunderstood.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault September 1, 2014 - 2:11pm

It's funny. With some people, certain family members and friends, my biggest goal is TO unsettle them because not enough of them read and therefore have never experienced one of those HOLY SHIT moments where your jaw hits the table you're reading on. So for some, I want to show them how exciting and bizarre and downright unsettling a good story can be. For other people, maybe certain coworkers or family friends who knew me as a child, I don't know that I would ever let them read any of my stuff, because they just wouldn't get it. Some people live in a very literal reality where ugly, scariness is best left under the rug, and to show them the dark places would cause them to refer me to a therapist (which I probably need anyways, but not because I'm a psychopath). So...I really don't know. The people who know me well, know how I love twisted fiction, and so a story about a baby being sacrificed by a cult would be taken with an appropriate grain of salt. For others, I'll wait until I'm good enough that my work can defend itself. 

It's also funny, my mom has read some really weird shit that I've written, and enjoyed it. But once, I was outlining on this page in my notebook, just really basic, right, like: so-and-so is a bitter writer who works a day job and drinks too much and has to take care of his fucked up mom. And MY mom read what I was outlining and it was sort of embarassing because she thought it was about her. 

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. September 1, 2014 - 3:08pm

I was disappointed when my mom didn't suggest a therapist after I let her read my first draft.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 1, 2014 - 7:25pm

On the bright side, maybe I can draw some of my poems. So there is always that. But it still feels strange showing family my stuff.

Plus one poem, is a dual poem. Which means a haiku chain meant to be read by two people. Yes, did I ever mentioned I was weird? Lol

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 4, 2014 - 12:57am

My family is very conservative (in social interaction, not politically) but are all very pragmatic.  As long as I'm getting paid (or have a decent chance to get paid) they'd say something along the lines of "It's a living."

Liam Soutar's picture
Liam Soutar from Manchester, England is reading All The Pretty Horses September 5, 2014 - 4:58pm

If at least one person you know doesn't feel embarassed or uneasy when they read your work...you're not doing it right. If I was ever questioned by my friends or relatives on content that was questionable, I'd stick with the good old "It's just a story".

They already know my political, religious and social views, but not my deepest fears. They know what makes me laugh but not what makes me cry, they know my sexual orientation but not what I do in the bedroom. I like it that way, and I look forward to having a big weight lifted off my chest if ever someone I was close to finally read the most personal parts of my stories.