Life is good. Can’t complain. As I write this, my twelve-day-old daughter, Leni, is sleeping on the couch next to me. She’s secured in this little dock-a-tot dealy that stops her from rolling off, though apparently she might suffocate if her head gets wedged into the plush bumpers. For creatures that really like to push their tiny little faces into small crevices, newborns are surprisingly prone to suffocating. But I’ve got an eye on her, don’t worry.
She’s pretty cute. It’s been a learning curve, but hasn’t been too terrible as of yet. One thing I hadn’t fully understood until I had a baby was that breast-feeding puts an intense strain on the birth parent, and the non-birth parent simply doesn’t have the same experience of raising the child as the birth parent does. I mean, my wife is physically at the mercy of this baby for a significant portion of the day. For me, it’s really not the same. Also, bottle-feeding is so much less time-consuming than breast-feeding. But whatever, we’ve heard that unless you breastfeed your baby will become a career criminal, so I guess we’re stuck (JUST KIDDING, we’re doing it for the immune system benefits. My wife is an immunologist.)
So yes, I’m sleep deprived, but it’s very bearable. Right now, having a baby feels less like parenting a tiny human and more like we have some very exotic and very needy housepet. The main pleasure that one seems to get from a baby at this stage is sensual. You can kiss them and cuddle them and stroke their widdle tummies and let them wrap their fists around your fingers. It’s pretty cool. Also you can put them in adoorable outfits. And they make really cute, fluttery stretchem motions. Babies are basically the cutest thing in existence. There is nothing cuter than a baby. I’m already sad for the day she won’t be a baby anymore.
Also, my book came out today! It’s been an incredible journey for We Are Totally Normal, and I’m pleased as hell that it’s out in the world. It’s an odd thing, by the time a book comes out, it’s been out of your hours for a year or more. I once read an interview with a band, where they’re like, “Does this album reflect any of your personal struggles?” And the band was like, “Err, it reflects the struggles I was having three or four years ago.”
That’s how I feel. This book not only taught me quite a bit about writing, it also led directly to me becoming a better friend and to a re-evaluation of my gender presentation. But I also feel a little distanced from it.
People have been like, “Maybe this is the perfect time for your book to come out! With the Coronavirus, people will be doing lots of reading.”
That’s not insane. I’ve read like ten books in the last ten days, and I’ve bought most of them at full price. Something about this quarantine makes money just run through my fingers. But it ignores the economics of the book business. My book is printed. It’s shipped to bookstores. Right now, there five or ten thousand copies of my book sitting in the back rooms of closed bookstores. Many of those bookstores will be out of business by the time this quarantine ends. The ones who reopen will probably be more interested in stocking whatever that month’s new releases are. Books are only fresh for a pretty short period of time: they tend to move the most copies in their first three or four months. By the time this is over, my book’s time will be done, and it’ll never recover that ground.
But…it’s okay. It’s really okay. People are dying from this thing. Others are losing their homes and their businesses. People are terrified. I am terrified. My mother-in-law is staying with us, and I keep worrying I’ll somehow bring home the virus and infect her. It’s a lot of stress!
Against this backdrop, I feel thankful that I and my wife are financially stable and that the book is coming out at all. It’s true that things would’ve been better if the book had come out three months ago, but I bet at some point a lot of books will get canceled because of this thing. I’m just happy that my book exists in the world. A book that’s in print can eventually find an audience, but it’s very, very possible for books to fail to come out, to be cancelled on the eve of release, and to simply never see the light of day.
I think I’d be more upset if I had really high hopes for this book. I do feel a little sorry for the debut authors and for the people whose books were being positioned to be the next big thing. I mean somewhere out there is an author who was supposed to hit the New York Times bestseller list this week. Now, because the bookstores are closed, maybe it won’t happen. Or if it does, they won’t be able to capitalize on it. Their whole career and their life trajectory is different.
Mine isn’t. This book, if it was going to be a success at all, was going to be a slow burn. And to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be an immense success. The negative reception from so many reviewers and goodreads types has been a drain, if I’ll be honest. With my first book, I sort of understood why so many people didn’t like it: the main character was entitled and dishonest. I didn’t agree with their assessment–I thought her virtues outweighed her flaws–but I understood it!
With this one, I’m a little baffled. I don’t see anything particularly terrible about the characters in this book. If anything, the boys in this book, even the worst of them, are much, much, much kinder, more thoughtful, less violent, and more honest than the boys I went to school with (I went to an all-boy’s school). Honestly, I think a lot of people out there are just so used to getting a relentlessly idealized version of human nature that they’ve forgotten about the full panoply of human emotion and motivation. Oh well, more fool they.
I know you’re supposed to just write what you write and not let the reaction bug you, but it honestly frightens me. If I was trying to write terrible people, I’d understand the reaction to my books. But when I look at the world, I mostly see a lot of weak, passionless, colorless, thwarted, anxious people. I write characters who are larger than life and who are better than life. I wish more people were like my characters. Writing a book is such an odd thing. You can walk through this world, you can make friends, you can talk to people, and you can convince yourself that you have a lot in common with everybody else, and it’s only when you sit down and put everything you know into a book that you realize, wow, my worldview and my experience of life are extremely different from the average person’s.
OH WELL. It’s not some grand tragedy. And if I ever feel sad I have an adorable little baby to snuggle with.