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On releasing a novel (again)

Releasing a novel is such a vulnerable feeling.

When I first started writing The Things We Hide, it started with one segment of a scene. I shared the start of that piece at an author event during a reading to a room of people, and they all seemed genuinely excited and impressed with the commentary. Which was great, except...

It was going to be a whole other book that simply wouldn't come. It just wouldn't form into a complete story, and then when it started to, it was in fits and spurts. Something just wasn't right. So I shelved it and moved on with life and once in awhile I'd poke at it, and for a long time, nothing came.

So far, my stories have started with a big, fat "what if" and spiraled right into a tale of people and places and things that happen to them that I hope are so relatable that my readers step back and think about themselves, their own lives, and the people around them. I can't share my "what if" for The Things We Hide because it would be a huge spoiler, but it was about my favorite main character in the novel, Joel, and the position he unfortunately finds himself in. When I started to go in the direction Joel was taking me, I realized I could place the writing I'd already started into the book and it would fit. I had the puzzle piece long before I had the whole image it would form into, which doesn't usually happen to me. This book was a little bit odd that way, and it just kept being different from there...

I started to write the book from just one perspective before I realized it was going to need to come from a second angle to really be complete. So I did something I'd never done before, and I shared it from two. It was difficult in the sense that I kept being pulled in one direction more fiercely and had to step back and give the other one justice. I knew both stories needed space to grow, even if I had a favorite character.

Any time I write, I do pull some specific things from my everyday life, like habits people have, or things I have observed, but the characters themselves and what they do seems to come from some other realm. People often jokingly ask me if they'll be in my book, or if I killed off someone I don't like, and the answer is no. (Especially if you're the FBI asking.) These stories are their own creations, and the people in them feel just as real to me as someone I know in person. It would be like asking me if I fabricated a friend.

One thing I've always loved about my characters, and I hope my readers love, too, is that they are so REAL. You might not like everything about them, but that's true for anyone. You may see the things they're doing and cringe, you might relate, you might dislike them for a time (or even for the whole book), but there's never someone who is so solidly perfect that they're not somehow familiar or relatable. At least, that's how I feel about them. I love them all in that kind of way where you feel like a very close friend discloses to you that they're not perfect, and you don't mind. I show their stories because the stories are realistic, complex, confusing, painful, scary, and interesting.

And in the midst of all that comes the vulnerability. How can you show off a character that pokes at your own insecurities, that understands your heartbreak, that feels the same loss you've felt before, and not be left with the impression that you've just laid pieces of yourself out there for everyone? Sure, I haven't done or been through everything they have, in any of my novels, but the idea remains the same: my characters are so real that sharing them feels personal.

In fact, I've noticed a bit of a response to the title. A little comment, sometimes in jest but maybe sometimes coming from a place of insecurity... "Oh, what are the things we hide, anyway?" Something about exposing secrets gives people a little thrill- whether that is excitement, vulnerability, or fear, it seems to get under someone's skin a little bit. It's not a rare reaction to the name, either. It's something everyone can identify with, somehow.

I get it. I mean, until I share this with the world, even my work is something I hide. (I don't even let people read over my shoulder when I'm writing.) I sit here, wondering if people will enjoy it, wishing they will, and waiting for the reviews or comments to come in. Sharing art is a funny thing. It's all about opinions, which everyone has, and in this day in age, everyone can widely share. That's a little heavy.

I can say, with confidence, this process is exciting, exhausting, and rewarding. Even through the vulnerability and fear comes the overriding message that this is absolutely worth my time. I feel lucky these ideas come to me, that these imaginary people are mine to share, and that I've found ways to express and enjoy the craft of writing.

I have to remind myself every day that I'm not everyone's cup of tea- it's okay to be coffee.

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