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3/18/2011 8:04:01 AM
The Day I Became Controversial
I was one of those kids who was really good at school. I don't mean I just behaved. I mean some people are good at soccer or drawing. I was good at school. I automatically did a psychological inventory on my teachers the first day to assess what they needed from me--Silence? Encouraging nods? Lots of interaction? And I had parents at home who were teachers, so I knew the kinds of things that drove them crazy.
Yes, I was a born pleaser. I didn't want to give my parents or my teachers so much as a moment of stress or disappointment. I tried to do everything just right.
But when I was a senior in high school, I was editor of my school paper. Again, I wanted to do a perfect job and make my journalism teacher proud. But I had not yet learned that if you put words in print, sooner or later, someone isn't going to like what you write.
There was an incident that year in which a teacher's aide had been instructed by the teacher to keep the class in the library. A student decided to leave and the aide put her hand on the student's arm when she told her she needed to stay. The only allegation was that the aide had "touched" the student, not grabbed her or handled her roughly. The influential parents made a case of it though, and the school board bowed to their pressure, officially sanctioning the aide. I wrote an editorial saying the aide was treated unfairly.
That's when I found out that the superintendent of schools--or at least someone in his office--read my school newspaper. I might have been flattered if I wasn't being summoned downtown for a meeting with him--he was tight with the school board and didn't like my editorial.
My journalism teacher was all fired up, ready for me to go defend my story and the freedom of the press. I was a 17-year-old goody-goody who was scared shi--I mean poopless. I went, everything was fine, and I felt vindicated later that year when the local TV station awarded me the Press Day Medal for my editorial. But to tell you the truth, I didn't really put two and two together. I assumed this was an isolated occurrence.
I went about my life for the next 20 years or so, managing to satisfy pretty much everyone wherever I worked. In fact, I was hired for my ability to choose my words well, verbally as well as on paper, and I even won the big annual award one year at my company for something related to those skills.
Then I started writing fiction. Since I wrote romantic comedy, it never occurred to me that anyone could be offended or get angry at me for it. I started putting it "out there" to contests where writers hone their skills and figure out if they're ready for publication. For Not Dreaming of You, I got comments like "fresh, funny," "loved the wonderful distinctive characters," "loved the warmth of Kiki's family," "great dialogue," "I love this!"
Until the day I opened a contest packet and saw, "Kiki and Chris are crazy! What kind of people get angry and then are nice to each other? Mark is the only normal person in the story." Since you haven't read the story yet, I'll just let you know that Kiki and her cousin Chris are very warm people, while Mark is a jaded sarcastic cynic. Sure, he turns out to have some great redeeming qualities and grows a lot during the story, but I was a little worried about the judge who felt he was the "normal" one.
I got another packet back where two judges gave me near perfect scores and the other wrote me an angry--full page, typed--note, telling me that Kiki's passing joke about not enjoying bagpipe music was terrible. She informed me that bagpipes were popular in many countries--she listed a few--and that I should remove the offensive joke from my manuscript. Huh?
Actually, I own a Celtic Christmas CD I play in the holiday season that's full of bagpipe music, but Kiki was looking for a romantic man that would serenade her.
Then I entered Don't Make Me Make You Brownies (coming soon) into contests, I got back "LOL!" "Hilarious!" "Loved the characters!" "I have to tell you I'm laughing my ass off right now!" "Why isn't this already published?"
Until I got judges in two different contests who were angry because "the writer is trying to push her liberal agenda in her book." Obviously, they missed the point. Abbie Greenwood is a very good-hearted, but vocal, crusader who's trying to save the world in her own way. She needs to be in order to make her a fish out of water in the story and to provide contrast and conflict--at least in her own mind--with Rick.
I like to think I've developed a thicker skin over the years, but the truth is, I haven't. It still distresses me to think I've caused another person a moment of upset. It makes writing and publishing books a little scarier--even when they're funny, warm romantic comedies. But, in my heart, I've always been a writer. It's the one occupation I care enough about to risk being controversial for.
So, I keep trying to tell myself it's no biggie. People react to things in unpredictable ways when you accidentally poke one of their tender spots.
Sometimes you win a Press Day Medal. Sometimes you get called to the superintendent's office.
*Not Dreaming of You is scheduled for release March 25, 2011.