I’m pretty sure that The Process was a religion based on the ideas of Satanic thought back in the late sixties – and maybe it's still a religion today – that Charles Manson allegedly dabbled in before he became a brown-rice-eating-helter-skelter-spouting-plotting-murder-and-fleeing-to-the-desert guru.
But I could be wrong.
My process that I’m currently examining does not involve the devil, but it does kind of involve an emotional exorcism. Had I been able to achieve that release through a Ouija board, trust me: I would have jumped at the chance. It might have all been spookier, but it would have been a hell of a lot easier than writing over five hundred pages of a book.
When I wrote Student, my novel, I was really excited for it to be released, to have people consume it, to hear the feedback. I reveled in the pride I felt for myself, even though I couldn’t deny (and it bothered me every single time I felt it happen) that I also felt almost sheepish about writing a book. I felt like maybe I hadn’t earned the acknowledgement aimed my way, and I’m not sure why. I slaved over that manuscript, especially towards the end of the process, and I’d earned for myself the positivity that came along with completing such a task.
But inhibited feelings aside, I celebrated that book’s release. I planned a party. I met with caterers. I chose amazing food including a yummy layered Mexican dip served in shot glasses and pigs in the blanket that were arranged in a sea of wheat grass that was meant to resemble a well-watered lawn, the bun surrounding each piggy shaped into a doughy flower. I wore a strapless dress and very high heels to the party and I was drunk after drinking just half a glass of wine before my first guest arrived, and I don’t remember much about the heady night, but I do remember cutting into the cake I’d had made to look exactly like the cover of my book.
I’d go onto the website that allowed me to track my sales and I’d sometimes get excited that the volume was moving so swiftly and sometimes I’d feel frustrated on the weeks I didn’t sell very much at all. Sometimes I would see that someone in Europe had bought my book, and I would shake my head in wonder. I know people who live on other continents, but I didn’t think any one of them would be so compelled to read something I’d written, so the whole thing just felt strange.
But it was a good strange.
I told one of the classes I had that year that I’d written a book and they were so sweet in their collective reaction, applauding like I’d done something kind of significant. A few of them actually bought it, and it’s maybe in the Top 15 of what I’d consider THE STRANGEST MOMENTS IN MY LIFE when the day came where I saw one of them actually reading it.
“Remember,” I’d tell them, thinking only of the scenes where the protagonist gets high or gives blowjobs, “the book is fiction.”
Was it fiction? It actually was in a lot of ways. I mean, sure – I based the main character on myself and she and I had quite a bit in common. We both went to Delaware and we were both Film majors and we were both once President of a sorority. And a lot of what she went through were things I had gone through too. But though I started writing the book at age twenty-one, I didn’t come back and actually hone and then finish it for over a decade. So writing about a version of myself from the perspective that only the passing of years can offer, I did create a book of fiction.
I took events that happened to me alone and made them into incidents that involved three people. I extracted moments I experienced in my late twenties that I fully understood because I’d become a grown-up and then plopped them into a narrative that took place when the girl in the book was twenty-one and didn’t quite know how the moment might end up looming large in the fuzzy structure of her existence. I took the bones of what, in real life, were good relationships and I shook them until they rattled and scattered and became, for the purposes of plot, relationships that were hanging by a fraying thread.
So yes, it was a book of fiction.
I feel, looking back now, that I was writing about a Muppet Baby version of myself – sweet, vulnerable, not fully formed, far less suspicious of others and far more forgiving of myself. And when other people read it, it didn’t really feel like they were reading about moments I’d kept locked in the shadows and crevices of my memory because so much time had passed and I’d restructured so many of the incidents that, by the time other people began to consume them with their eyes, I didn’t feel all that exposed.
The entire process with my new book – from conceiving it to writing it to editing it to releasing it – has been completely different and, frankly, way less fun. Let me put it this way: I haven’t even thought about what the cake would look like if I threw a party to celebrate the book’s release. And when I’m not thinking about cake, something is very off in my world.
This book almost wrote itself. The first fifty or so pages were written so quickly, in less than three days, and I did not go back and read what I’d written until more than a week passed. I did not stop to fix typos as I banged my small fingers across a keyboard, so doing a spell check of those initial pages took almost twenty minutes. I’d look at something that spell check told me it had no replacement words for and I’d see what I’d typed was “dspeyraioedn” and I’d reread the sentence the hieroglyphics were typed in and I’d finally realize that I’d initially typed the word “devastation” in an emotion-fueled rush and that my brain thought far faster than my fingers were able to respond to the sheer velocity of my ideas.
In almost every case, I like going back to read what I’ve written, but I did not enjoy that process with my new book and I rarely did it. I did not make an outline, which is something I did for my last book, and I did not talk to a single person about it. I just wrote. Then I’d work out or take a shower and that’s when more ideas would come to me and so I’d start writing again. I had to feel compelled to sit down and get the words out. I was not able to force myself or tell myself, “I really should get some writing done today.” This project purely happened organically and some days I felt, let’s say, the opposite of organic.
There is a structure to the book I like very much. The action that makes up the narrative flow of each chapter is written chronologically in the way the events actually transpired but after each chapter there is a framing device of snapshots that are completely nonlinear. And that structure is maybe my favorite thing about the book itself, but I have absolutely no recollection of how I came up with it in the first place. I just know that I did it and that I am proud of it.
I started the book in mid-August of this year. I think I got through a hundred and thirty or so pages before I put it down and didn’t so much as look at it again until mid-October.
I finished it on the first day of November.
That Year was officially published on the fourth day of December.
I wrote this one as a way to unburden myself of memories and to take something that was a suck-filled mess and turn it into something I could find pride and personal gratification in. I didn’t hold back from revealing a lot about myself and I didn’t fictionalize a single word.
But as I neared releasing the book, I began to feel very conflicted. I’m a really private person. I know that saying such a thing on a very public blog is weird, but the thing is that I control every single word everyone reads when he or she stumbles onto this site or when they arrive here on purpose. There’s a lot I don’t reveal and what I do share is done in a way in which I feel comfortable. And I guess the book is the same thing; I controlled what was put forth into the world and I can embrace a feeling of solace and of self-respect in knowing that I took absolutely no unfair or cheap shots against a single person I wrote about – besides perhaps myself – because I don’t play Author that way. I am not interested in verbally eviscerating anyone. It’s not now, and has never been, my style.
But the events recounted in this book are written in a raw fashion and the story is one that happened recently. I haven’t buffered myself from the story with the comfort of a bunch of months and I can’t fully laugh about any of it yet. The quotation I chose to go next to my high school yearbook photograph was from Rosalita and it went like this: Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny. And that’s a line I’ve found proven almost entirely true throughout the peaks and the valleys and the rolling tundra of my life, but I’m not really there yet and still I have chosen to share the story.
As I neared the end of my writing, I told maybe four people that I was almost done with a book, but when they asked a simple question – what’s it about? – I couldn’t even form the words to answer them. Instead I would shrug and I would stammer and it was not a good look on me and I would think, I cannot even form a sentence. Thank God I’m pretty because it looks like I can’t rely on this talking thing I’ve usually got going.
When I finished the manuscript and asked two friends to read it, I emailed them a copy with the instructions, “You cannot share this with anyone and you cannot judge me or yell at me for anything you’re about to discover that I did. Trust me, I have already yelled at and judged myself, so that’s been covered. All I want to know is if the writing is good. That’s literally all I care about.”
I was being entirely serious. All that mattered was that the prose was fluid and engaging and full of humor where it should have been. I wanted to be sure that someone who didn’t know me could plunge herself mind-first into the story. And I got great feedback and a specific suggestion to add a chapter and I listened to the advice and slipped in a few pages just as I was heading into publication.
When I logged onto Amazon at seven-thirty in the morning on December 4th and I saw the book come up, ready for sale, I was alone in my classroom. And I stared at the screen and I smacked my hand across my mouth and I felt something almost drain out of me. I don’t know if what left was the utter privacy I’d shrouded myself in, or the doubt I would have to ignore in order to stand behind the book, or the confidence I’d begun to feel was what defined me again, or the loss of control I had over it all because now it’s out there. I’m still not sure what it was that left me at that instant, but I’ve decided not to care.
Still, the book was released on a Thursday and I didn’t announce its release until the following Monday. I needed a few days for the whole thing to be mine, to get ready to answer questions, to prepare myself for the reactions to the news, which have been such a strange thing to experience. Seriously: some people are fucking weird. Most have been amazing and supportive and congratulatory – even people I don’t know all that well – but some of the closest people in my life have reacted oddly. One, to whom I sent a text with a picture of me holding the book and a message that I’d written a book and it was just published, wrote back, “That’s great! Mazel tov!” But she has not asked what it’s about or said she wants to read it and she hasn’t asked how doing all this has made me feel.
And this person is my sister.
A guy I know who is not on social media and didn’t see the news that way was someone I approached to shyly tell him a book I wrote was out.
“Yeah, you mentioned you were writing a book,” he said. And that's all he said.
I found his reaction strange and I shared it with a friend last night.
“Maybe he’s jealous,” she said. But I’ve always had a hard time pinning someone’s reaction to something I’ve done on jealousy. It seems like the kind of thing Paris Hilton would blame something on. Still, it all felt awkward and I think I might have to get used to feeling that way for a little while now.
I filled the bathtub last night with blazing hot water and dumped in almost half a bottle of Philosophy Coconut Cream bubble bath and I brought a copy of my book with me. And I settled into the water, making my peace with the sudden and scalding heat, and I went to pick up the book that I wrote all by myself to read it in that moment of blissful relaxation. I held it in my hand and I smiled at the cover and at the weight of the book itself and I read the words on the back cover and was again pleased with the author photo I’d chosen – and then I put the book down, unread, on the white tiles of the bathroom floor because, though other people might just be heading out on my journey now, I’ve completed it.