My Secret Life as an Author
by Joshua Edward Smith
My self-published first novel had been out for a little more than a month, when my wife and I were walking to our favorite restaurant to meet friends for dinner. “Do you think…” I hesitated. “I mean maybe…” Oh, fuck it, I thought. “Would it be okay if I told them about my book?” I finally asked.
My wife shrugged. “I guess so,” she said. “I’m sure they can keep a secret.”
And there you have it. My secret life as an author. Where I am reduced to asking my wife for permission to tell close friends about the fact that I wrote a novel. Sigh.
We will be at a party, and someone will ask, “So, anything new?” And I’ll think, Hell yes! I wrote a fucking novel!, but I’ll say “Work’s been busy. You know, same old, same old.” Sigh.
So the dinner was great. We talked about all sorts of things, and the whole time I’m wondering if there might be a good chance to drop my little bombshell. Finally, the topic turns to the education of our children, which apparently now includes a reading technique in which the children are constantly required to stop reading. Or something. I didn’t exactly follow, because the adrenaline was building in my bloodstream. And then like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, peering up from the top of the slide at Santa, I blurted out my version of the “I want a Red Rider…” speech: “I wrote a novel.” (My speech wasn’t nearly as long as Ralphie’s speech, obviously. But I delivered it with the same passion.)
They looked at me across the booth, mouths agape. I should probably mention that one of these friends is a college English professor. “You what?” “A novel?” “When?” “Why didn’t you tell us?” “Is it done?” “What’s it called?” “What’s it about?” “You’ll put your eye out, kid.” (Okay, maybe not that last one). A dozen questions fired off in such quick succession, I didn’t get to answer any of them.
At this point, I’m glowing, I suspect. I start telling them about it, and decide that’s too hard, so I pull out my phone and find the book on Amazon, and hand my phone over so they can read the blurb, and see the cover and everything.
I don’t consider my novel erotica. It’s a love story, involving people who really like to have sex. Kinky sex. And there’s my problem in a nutshell: my novel that dives deep into the human mind, and uses physics metaphors to explore human bonds, and generally takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster—none of that matters, because it’s a sex book.
And even in literature, which is supposed to be free and honest and pure—even there, sex is taboo. If people enjoy sex, or have unusual sexual interests, or are motivated by sex, then your book is something that must be hidden from the children. And the PTA. And everybody else you know “in real life.” Thank God for Twitter.
My Twitter identity is pretty neatly cleaved off from my “in real life” identity. So on Twitter, I’m free to be an author, and talk about writing, and be the person who wrote a sexy book. And I extended my Twitter identity to a blog, so I can drill down deeper and talk about my process, and my myriad marketing efforts, and all the strange and horrible things I’m learning about being a self-published author in the time of Amazon.
I signed a copy of my book and gave it to my friend, the college English professor. My wife made her swear to hide it from her children, because she desperately wants to help my kids avoid the “Your dad writes porn” scandal. My friend loved it. She told me it made her think of the Nadine Gordimer quote, “Write as if you were already dead.” She said she was proud of me for embracing that ethic.
I published my book under my real name. I had already sworn to my wife that I wouldn’t talk about my book on Facebook where her friends would see. And I promised to keep it a secret from everyone who would be as mortified as she that her husband wrote porn. (I didn’t write porn, dammit!) But I just couldn’t bear to not put my real name on my baby. That was a bridge too far, so my actual full name is blazoned across the cover of my book. And someday, probably, word will get out in this little town that the Joshua Edward Smith they all know is the same Joshua Edward Smith that wrote that dirty physics book. But as long as it isn’t my fault when it happens, I think my wife will probably forgive me.
So that’s when this writer went wrong. I went wrong by telling the story that was spilling out of my head. By writing as if I were already dead. By letting my characters be who they are, and letting them tell me what happens because of that. And so I’ve created a work that I’m immensely proud of, but have to hide from everyone I know “in real life.” Sigh.