People love Roving Pack. I think sometimes friends are surprised by how shocked I am at this news, but I really am – and not in a self deprecating fishing for compliments sort of way. I wrote Roving Pack because I needed to, because these were the characters that I couldn’t get out of my mind, the story that didn’t let me focus on anything else until I had it on paper. One of the things that has been my private work with the help of those closest to me in the last three months since Roving Pack released (OMG how has it already been 3 months?!?!) has been learning to take in the compliments, learning to not just listen but truly hear the ways in which this book has impacted readers.
I didn’t expect such a steep learning curve in this department, but the experience with Kicked Out was so radically different because it wasn’t my book. Kicked Out truly in everyway belongs to each of the contributors, the family of writers who came together and partnered with me to make this book, this dream real. Every brilliant review, every honor we received belongs to us collectively. Learning to shift my language, my understanding to take in the praise that has already come for Roving Pack has been an intense one for me. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but am getting there. A pivotal point for me came waiting with Toni Amato for his bus to take him back to Boston after Roving Pack’s NYC release. I was being dismissive about something connected to the book, and he turned to me and said “There is a difference between being humble, and dismissing a readers experience.” His comment shook me because before that moment I’d never thought of it that way.
A core component of my work is very much about creating books that tell a story that I needed (maybe still do) to read. The books that I am most drawn to, the ones that I have carried in my backpack and read over and over again, are the books that depict other worlds and experiences that in someway mirror my own. I think a big part of what touched me so intensely about what Toni said, was thinking about how I would feel if the author of a book that really intimately touched me, the kind of book where I was able to see myself reflected, especially a part of me or my life that I’d felt alone with, or had struggled and found tricky to understand or express to the world. If one of the authors who wrote a book that touched me so deeply then dismissed their work, dismissed the book, I know that I would be crushed, silenced. It never really hit me, even as the initial positive reviews and the brilliant endorsement blurbs came in, it hadn’t really hit me that a reader would feel that way about Roving Pack, about my book. The idea of dismissing my work and silencing someone who only moments before felt connected to my work is essentially the opposite of what I actually hope to accomplish in the world through my work.
I remember really vividly about this time last year when I was going into serious edits with Roving Pack still in the final bits of communication with a few publishers and finalizing the decision to go it on my own with this book that I had some panic about the amount f leather that was written into the book. Toni who edited the book every step of the way and really helped to guide and direct my writing process gave me some of the best writing advice I could have been given: “This is your time to edge play. Write the most dangerous story you can.” I followed that advice and didn’t censor myself or my vision for this book even though I feared the result might be a text too edgy, too much that would be off-putting to readers and reviewers. Much to my own surprise the themes I was most nervous about putting out in this novel – leather, the really complicated portrayals of gender are exactly the aspects of the book that it seems readers have been most drawn to, that they were the most hungry for.
Speaking of learning to take it in, this past week or so has been an exciting time as I look at the response to the novel – I appeared on Tristan Taormino’s “Sex Out Loud” radio show and we had a great conversation about gender and creativity and really dove into the novel – the show is now up for podcast streaming here. Roving Pack also received an incredible review from trans author Everett Maroon on his blog – where Roving Pack is compared to being a contemporary reminiscent of a Stone Butch Blues. Not sure I could get a better review than that.
In the midst of these great reviews this I also got some of the most touching reader letters I could imagine. As an author I am humbled by people feeling so drawn in by the book, by the story that they took the time to write me a letter, drop me a private facebook message, or send me an email to talk about what the book has meant to them. I wrote Roving Pack most of all for the genderfuckers, the leather folk, the punks, and the queers who are building their own families and figuring out how to survive. These are the very kinds of folks who are messaging me, telling me how in the pages of Roving Pack for the first time they have seen themselves, their families, and their lives. There is no higher honor I could receive than knowing in the pages of this novel I helped someone to feel that they were not alone, that there are others like them, that there is a home out there somewhere.
I am coming to understand that my job is not only to write these stories, but also to give the space for people to experience them. I’ve been so braced for the fight – I expected such backlash to Roving Pack that I never planned for what would happen when people liked it. Readers are connecting to Roving Pack in ways I couldn’t even let myself dream of. I’m proud of that, scared, but proud and incredibly humbled. Roving Pack matters to someone, to more someone’s than I ever thought possible. I’ve come to learn that it is my responsibility to move beyond my discomfort and own that, and honor the experience that my readers are having.