A rose by any other name…

I don’t have kids. I have dogs. Four of them. And two cats. But no kids. So I can only guess at what it must be like for parents on that first day of school, when they trundle their little Mini-Me’s out of bed, pack up their lunches, zip up their jackets, and march them out to the roadside to board the big yellow bus that will carry them off into the Rest of Their Lives.

I would guess there’d be a quirky kind of euphoria at first—likely followed by angst and trepidation. Then all the self doubt would probably creep in. Did I do a good enough job? Will they be able to stand on their own two feet and handle anything that comes their way? Did I let them go too soon? Will they lose their milk money? Will they remember not to accept rides from strangers—or from their creepy cousin Barry? Should I have held them back another year just to be sure all that potty training really stuck?

That kind of thing.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that for an author, letting go of the book you just wrote elicits most of the same emotions, knee-jerk reactions, and night terrors—except for that part about accepting rides from cousin Barry.

On November 16th, I zipped up Aftermath’s little jacket and loaded it onto the big yellow bus that would carry it away from me and into the abyss of public opinion.

Now I wait. And I try really hard not to cringe whenever a new review posts. Normally, I make Salem read them first—then advise me about how much or how little I need to increase my morphine drip.

So far, so good, and I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But one disappointed reader suggested that I was “trying too hard”—and that Aftermath was “an attention deficit cartoon, spitting woefully contrived situations and dialogue at the reader.”

Ouch. 

Really?

Growing up, I never was all that good at spitting—at least, I never seemed to hit anything I was aiming at. Maybe my aim has gotten better? Or maybe I just need to cultivate a thicker skin? Still. Comments like this one are hard to read when you’ve poured so much of yourself into writing a book about people and situations that you love, and did your best to present honestly and openly.

Joni Mitchell
Photo by Gregory Helsler

But this reader was right about one way I tried hard: I tried hard to tell readers in my introduction that Aftermath was not another Jericho. It is, by design, a very different kind of book. Attention deficit disorder, notwithstanding, I will go out on a limb and assert with some authority that Aftermath, whether it meets or falls short of reader expectations, is a much better written and more tightly constructed novel than Jericho. So I won’t apologize for the sitcom-like structure of the book. That, at least, was done intentionally—and I’m glad it worked.

Human beings are imperfect by nature, and I know that what I attempted to create may not work for everyone—but I sincerely did give it my best effort. And in the horrifying prospect of writing sequels to beloved books, I’m reminded of the immortal words of Joni Mitchell (talking about the difference between painters and musicians):

“A painter does a painting and he does a painting. That’s it. Somebody buys it and hangs it on a wall someplace. Or maybe nobody buys it, and it sits in a loft until he dies. But nobody ever says to him…I mean…nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ He painted it. That was it.”

So, as I stand here with empty hands in the last hours of morning, and watch the taillights of that big yellow bus disappear around the bend—I think I did okay.

My fervent hope is that more of you will agree than disagree.

But thanks for reading and for sharing your opinions with me, regardless.

Permanent link to this article: http://annmcman.com/a-rose-by-any-other-name/

12 comments

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  1. I’ve been wanting to stop by and write that I really appreciate both Jericho and Aftermath. I particularly love Aftermath. Aftermath kept me smiling but with depth. It is lovely and reassuring to get snapshots of normalcy in the midst of the absurd. And that is what Aftermath provided for this reader. I love being queer. It is one of the gifts I am most thankful for besides my daughter and beloved. However, queerness comes with its troubles, sorrows, and obstacles; it comes with misunderstandings and familial homophobia. But, Syd and Maddie and David and Michael and company demonstrate the genuine common people living among us–iin small towns, in neighborhoods; they are true representations of diverse community. No contriving. The dialogue is light and then it digs into the raw. I like that. I like your folk story. I like the realness. Thank you for it.

    1. Wow. Can I hire you to write my book jacket blurbs???

      🙂

  2. No one writes lesbian fiction quite like you Ann. You are a true artist and a stand out in your field.

    1. You know…my mother says the same thing to me — but I somehow don’t think she means it in the same way you do! At least…I hope not! Thanks so much.

    • Lori on November 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm
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    I had to read Aftermath twice to absorb the full impact and it was even better the second time around. It is a story about real life recovery, told with compassion, wit and humor that had me laughing at a time when I needed a good laugh. I look forward to the next story in the lives of Syd, Maddie & Henry. Keep up the great work Ann, your humor is refreshing and so spot on…

    1. I really appreciate this feedback, Lori. I knew that I was taking a chance by sandwiching the somber between the silly — but I really hoped it would work. Life, after all, does kinda work in exactly this same way. I’m so gratified that the book made you smile…that’s the best I could hope for.

    • Mary Anne Frett on November 27, 2012 at 1:54 pm
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    It was a wonderful book. Funny and touching. A perfect mix of laughter and tears. I hope someday you revisit the characters. I’d love to see what becomes of these people that I’ve come to care about. And that is the difference between your book and a painting. The painting is an image frozen in time. You’ve created characters that have lives on the page and then come to live in our imagination. They are not frozen. Maybe that’s why books are more appealing to me than paintings. At any rate you did what you set out to do. You wrote a terrific book. Thank You!

    1. Thanks SO much, Mary Anne! I do think we’ll be taking another peek or two at these folks. Seems to me that they have a few more things to share. I appreciate your support more than you know.

    • Larry Garrett on November 27, 2012 at 1:31 pm
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    I have to admit I read Jericho and then immediately Aftermath so I was a little taken back by the different tone of Aftermath. But as I read into the story, I have to agree you made a great decision in how you took this book! Some sequels are just rehashes of what has already happened and I loved the direction you went with Aftermath! I will say I can’t wait for the next installment and would like to see more of the interaction of Syd and Maddie, but as long as all the characters are there it will be a great story! Keep up the great work and don’t worry to much about what some people say not everyone recognizes a genius in their lifetime!!

    1. Thanks, Larry! I appreciate this great shot in the arm! I promise we’ll get another look at these folks. Of course, by then, David will probably have his own Cable TV network….

    • Samantha on November 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm
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    I have been waiting for Aftermath since I read Jericho, and I admit, when I read it had been published, I flailed around with all the grace of an octopus trying to ice skate on a rink of frozen butter. Shortly afterward, I calmed down and started reading. I think it was an excellent decision to make Aftermath different from Jericho in style. I have read so many sequels and been disappointed, but this one made me smile all the way through.

    I was in a theatre class a few years ago and my instructor gave this advice about delivering monologues, “When you choose a monologue, don’t choose one that’s well known. Don’t pick Jack Nicholson’s monologue from A Few Good Men, because no matter how good you are, Jack Nicholson did it first, and everyone will compare you to him.”

    Jericho was a well known monologue, and even though Aftermath was not something we expected, it was delivered very well. Standing ovation.

    1. Thank you VERY, VERY much. My mom always said that she spent the first 18 months of my life trying to get me to talk — and the next fifty years trying to get me to shut up. Can I have her call you???

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