I wonder if all first-time novelists feel this way. The first books go out, they’re received, they’re read. I wait. I wait. I try not to twiddle my thumbs anxiously. I check and double check my Goodreads page to see if my readers have finished reading. I check again until finally my feed says that one of them has reviewed it. I hold my breath. I read it hastily, still holding my breath. I read it twice. I read it four more times. It’s the most straight-forward, clearly written report of success.
The process begins again. This time my reader is a twice-published novelist. He writes a different genre, a different style and he’s done a great deal of research. His hard work shows in both his books. I was glued to both. I was in his books. He’s clearly a skilled writer.
Take my previous anxiety over my first reviewer. Multiply it times five.
The review pops up on my Goodreads feed. I read it twelve times. I try to read between the lines. It’s a good review. No doubt.
I heard the words of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: “Writers are fiercely competitive.” I used to feel that way, but that was before I wrote this story. While writing it, I never felt more confident or more powerful. Yet, I’m fully aware that there are far better writers than myself out there, have been and always will be. The paranoia is drowning all my writing senses. I’ve read the ten chapters so many times, I marvel that I don’t have the whole story memorized. I’m not at ease. I question my decisions about my narrative. What about my characters? Were they too perfect? Were they maybe a little flat? Was my hook good enough? I wrote it all intuitively like I write my poetry. Maybe that wasn’t the best way. Maybe I should have read every book on novel writing that I could before I started. Maybe I should have thought the ending through longer before publishing.
Poetry vs. Story Telling
I never felt this strange when I published my collections of poetry, so what’s the difference? Simple. My poetry contains my most intense emotions. Emotions that come and go faster than a summer storm. I’m not ashamed of them. My reader feels snatches of my soul. Sometimes I make them cry. Sometimes I make them reflect. My verses are short and potent, like a shot of espresso.
Now take my first novel. I have to carry my reader on a journey. I have to make them follow me to unknown places, feel unexpected emotions, make them love, hate or misunderstand my characters. Harder yet, I have to make them care about what happens to all of them. Add to it that I’m giving up some of my own secrets in a way I don’t in my poetry. One of my characters suffers a major heart break by a skillful person who loves to play with hearts and always gets away with it. Been there, done that. All his feelings during that time that he’s absorbed in that experience are mine. I described how she made him feel. It took me about two minutes to write those four paragraphs, because I lived through that when a guy toyed with my heart.
The Root of the Problem
When it comes right down to it, each of my main characters is either a piece of me or a picture of what I wish I could be, at least in this first novella. I wish I could be as brave as Olivia who travels to foreign countries on her own and makes a living from her writing endeavors. I share Jess’ haphazard way of discovering places on vacation, just going where his fancy takes him. Like Jess, it takes me a long time to get over heart break. The tidbit about his relationship with his grandmother is similar to mine with my paternal grandmother. Maritza is a special case. I don’t share her prejudice at all, but I would love to be like her when it comes to her endurance and strength in the face of injustice. She does what has to be done even when it tears her heart apart. She’s “sinewy” in every sense. I love that about her.
When I look at it this way, I realize that I’m terrified because I’m hoping my reader will really like…me. Kind of scary, right?
In the next novella in the series, I’ll be exploring different aspects of my main characters (sorry, can’t tell you more), but I will also introduce at least two more characters who are nothing like me. They have polar opposite ways of looking at the world (sorry, can’t go further than that). Hopefully my readers will love or hate them accordingly.