Sunday, April 15, 2012

What Happened When I Made the List

Before I was a professional author, I used to imagine what my life might be like if I ever became an author or what life must be like for successful authors. I didn't imagine a lot of glamorous things, because I figured that authors spent more time writing than they did at parties in Hollywood. Some of them probably spend more time authors, but I imagine that not that meant authors spend much hobnobbing with celebrities.

I'd always imagined this moment in my life. It was a big party, with all my friends and family, and there would be things hors d'oeuvres and champagne in flutes. This party would take place after something fabulous happened, like when I got a big book deal or made the NY Times Bestsellers list.

Here's what actually happened the first time I made the NY Times Bestsellers list:

It was roughly 4:30 in the afternoon (Minnesota time), and I was sleeping. I do usually sleep quite late, but I actually wasn't feeling good that day at all. I think I may have thrown up that morning (not related to the Bestseller list - I just wasn't feeling well). My editor Rose called and woke me up. Here's how the conversation unfolded:

Rose (very excited) : "You made the bestseller list! Switched is number (something. I can't remember what number. Let's say... eight.) Congratulations!"

Me (sleepy and not as excited): "Really? That's cool."

Rose (somewhat baffled my lack of excitement): "Yeah! How are you feeling? Are you excited? Everyone here is excited. Switched is doing so well."

Me (trying to sound more excited): "Yeah. It's great. I'm excited. (pause) I'll probably be more excited later."

Rose: "Okay. Good. Well, I'm going to have a drink to celebrate for you, and you should have one too!"

Me: "Okay. (bad fake laughter) I will. Thanks."

Rose: "Congratulations, again!"

(Side note, Rose probably is the nicest person ever).

I remember lying in bed thinking I should've been more excited. And then I became worried I wasn't excited, like I'd become too jaded and numb, and I was slowly going to morph into a Patrick Bateman-esque psychopath who has to kill hookers to feel anything real. I was not happy about that prospect because I don't like blood, and I don't even know where to find hookers.

This wasn't anything new, either. In the beginning, like in 2010, when sales were beginning to take off, I'd been very excited and anxious and on a constant emotional roller coaster. But at some point, I'd just stopped reacting.

I could tell it was disappointing, or at least confusing to the people in my life, like my agent, my editor, my mother, my assistant. All these people were like, "Hey, something super awesome happened to you! Aren't you excited?"

And I'd be like, "I guess. I mean, it is awesome, and I'm grateful for it."

Then I would lapse into the same fear that I'd become jaded and lost the ability to feel.

But that wasn't it either.  Because when I talked about Batman or Archer or really anything that wasn't my career, I was very excitable. What I'd actually lost was the ability to get excited about myself.

I have this weird thing. Everything seems impossible or awesome until I do it. Then, the simple fact of me doing it leads me to believe that it must not be that hard or that neat. So even though it had been my goal most of my life to be on the NY Times Bestsellers list, when it happened, I was like, "Meh."

It took me three days to tell anyone that it had happened. And then it was only Eric and my mom. And I was like, "Oh, hey, Rose said I made the NY Times list."

Mom: "Really? Congratulations! That's so great! I'm so proud of you honey."

Me: "Yeah. I guess. I'm way back on the kid's list on the last page, so nobody really sees it anyway."

Mom: "Still, that's quite the achievement."

Me: "I don't know. I mean, the list isn't even compiled by total sales. There's this whole weird secret process on how they make the list. There could be books way out selling mine that didn't even make it."

I didn't say anything publicly about making the list for awhile, like on my Twitter or blog or even my personal Facebook. On one hand, I kinda wanted to, because I wanted to validate my decisions and my career and to show people that thought I would fail (or at least hoped I would) that I hadn't (not yet anyway).

On the hand, I still couldn't reconcile my own feelings about making the list (or my lack of feelings, as it were). And I didn't want to sound like I was bragging. I thought talking about it would make sound all haughty, and people would be like, "Ooo, you think you're hotshit now because you got some stupid list to validate you? Whatever. You're a sell out, and your books suck."

(It should be noted that my internal monologue is a complete asshole. That guy can never say anything nice). 

I eventually did start talking about it because I thought it be weird not to. And I feel this strange mixture of pride, shame, and apathy whenever I do. None of those emotions go together, so I don't even know how it happens, but somehow it does.

I love writing. I still get very excited about projects. And there's plenty of things in life that I'm passionate about and that I enjoy very much talking about. Just most of those things aren't myself or my career. (If we're at a party, and you try to talk to me about my books, I change the subject as quickly as humanly possible.)

I feel defective for not getting more excited about things the way people think I should, the way other people would. I always want to apologize to my agent and my publishers.

"What you're doing is very good and other clients, I'm sure, would be jumping up and down. But I'm just going to sit here blankly and awkwardly until you stop looking at me, and then I'll go back to working out the idea for my next book in my head or planning the design for a new tattoo. Thanks, though. Great work, guys."