more lessons from Roving Pack: trauma, disability, DIY but still, claiming Fiction

This week has pretty much been all about things becoming very very real for me.  On Monday morning the post office knocked on my door and delivered a box with the print proofs of Roving Pack.  I’ll never forget the first time I held Kicked Out, and receiving Roving Pack for the first time truly was no less intense for me to be holding in my hands this world that I’ve lived, breathed, and slept for the past couple of years.

On a practical level, the layout turned out amazing, and still every time I see it, I’m in complete awe about the cover art that KD Diamond created.  While unlike with the Kicked Out anthology, Roving Pack is all mine (something I’m still really adjusting to) there still has been a tremendous amount of work from my incredible editors, the preliminary readers, and everyone else in the community who has been super supportive and encouraging as I was writing, editing, revising etc.   I am without a doubt an admitted dinosaur and for me in a lot of ways the realness of a book is very much about the physical object itself –its’ why although all my books are or will be available as ebooks (because it’s a fight I’ll never win) I personally don’t read in that format, and so while I’ve had the finalized layout as a PDF for a the past couple of weeks, for me to be able to hold Roving Pack printed and bound with an ISBN and just looking like the actual book that it is, after all the intensity of the work on this book the past couple of years was just incredible.  Needless to say, some tears may have been involved when I opened that box and flipped through those pages for the very first time.

As if getting proofs of the novel wasn’t enough excitement for one week, I also had an event Tuesday night.  I was excited to have been invited to be a reader at Wicked Queer Authors as part of the 2012 HOT Festival at Dixon Place here in NYC, and it really was a fantastic evening with incredible authors and an amazing audience. I shared some new work that’s somewhat of an pre-story to Roving Pack which was well received and handed out the shiny new Roving Pack postcards to folks.  In the midst of this public event I was sitting on a barstool and had a really intense moment that honestly even writing about sounds a little silly or contrived, but sitting there nervously getting ready to read (I’m always nervous when I read in public- the day I stop being so will be the last public reading I do) and as I was called a fiction author, for the very first time I didn’t feel like I was an imposter. Intense moment right before reading!

It’s funny, for a long time I didn’t really think of myself as a fiction writer. I don’t mean that to sound self deprecating, it wasn’t –it was just that along the way fiction was something I started writing, but  in my mind it wasn’t who I *was * as a writer. For the past couple of years as I’ve worked on Roving Pack, and other projects I would laugh a little to myself every time I called myself a fiction author, or when someone else did.  It wasn’t how I saw myself; it was just a quick & dirty way of describing the direction of my work at the moment. Even when I won a fiction award last year I really dismissed fiction as some fluke creative project I’d worked on, but held tight to the idea that I was almost exclusively a memoirist/creative nonfiction writer and I’m not really sure why.

I think some of my resistance to claiming the identity of a fiction writer had to do with not being a professionally trained writer. “Fiction” seemed like the kinda thing you were supposed to go to school to learn how to do – god I hate how internalized this stuff is! ! I started writing in my teens when I found queer zine community, and a mentor who was the very first person to make me believe that I had stories inside me waiting to get out.  Everything I’ve learned about writing I’ve picked up along the way accidentally through the books I’ve read or in the haphazard writing communities I’ve been part of, but still I’ve never been formally trained. I don’t know how to diagram a sentence or a paragraph. I don’t know the fancy literary terms for how to construct stories; I just somehow, know how to do things in this gritty style that has emerged along the way.  There were some really great moments while writing/editing Roving Pack where Toni would comment on something interesting that I had done stylistically and would be met with a confused look from me because I had no idea what he was talking about. I think for me being a ”fiction author.”

There have been times that I’ve been tempted, tempted by an MFA, or other more formalized way of learning writing. For a while I was even planning remedial studies for myself where I thought I would finally learn how to define what an adjective is (even writing here that I don’t know feels really risky and edgy), or how to diagram a sentence because it’s what authors are “supposed” to know how to do.  For a long time I carried a lot of shame about my learning disabilities, crummy public school education, and about the way that formalized education is highly intersected with trauma—the way birth mother would sit over me as she dictated my first high school essays slam my fingers into the keyboard again, and again, and again whenever I tried to add in my own opinion, or didn’t type fast enough.

There was a time I believed I wasn’t smart enough to learn sentence structure or the way to talk about work in literary intellectual circles. Then, a couple of years ago there was an intense breaking point for me where I reached a point where I actually believed that I could learn those things—but that I was making the empowered choice not to.  For me it was about keeping true to my crusty roots – it’s about maintaining that I came out of a DIY self-taught zinester community. It’s also that in my case not knowing the rules means that I can break them – it means writing stories the way that they flow regardless of how “correct” it might or might not technically be. By not knowing what I’m doing “wrong” I don’t have to get any anxiety about breaking the rules, it also and perhaps for me this is the most important part enables me to keep the grittiness within the stories, and means that the process of writing doesn’t loose the magic for me.

Writing Roving Pack and being able to bring these stories into the world has been a really transformative experience with layers and layers of growth that keep surprising and kicking my ass in the best and most magical of ways. I’m not sure exactly what came together on Tuesday night for me and realizing finally, that I might have got here on my own terms, and may have redefined for myself what the identity means, but disclaimers aside, I actually feel like I can call myself a fiction author and not feel like an impostor, and that’s a pretty good feeling.