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.”
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.
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.