I’m pleased to introduce a guest blogger today. Chandra Hoffman received her MFA from Antioch University in 2007. Her current book, CHOSEN, features a young caseworker increasingly entangled in the lives of the adoptive and birth parents she represents, and who faces life-altering choices when an extortion attempt goes horribly wrong.
The following was previously posted on Chandra’s website. You can find more of her essays here: http://www.chandrahoffman.com/essays/
Would You Like to Take a Look at My Dinosaur Book?
There is a story in my family's folklore about my oldest brother's first day of school—the lone time my mild-mannered, kid-loving father wanted to smash some six-year-old skull. My brother was a slightly geeky type, a skinny-necked proficient reader from the age of two who stepped on to the playground that September morning with an encyclopedia about dinosaurs he had memorized tucked under his arm. My father watched anxiously as my brother approached clusters of children and asked, with a hopeful lilt to his voice, if they would like to take a look at his dinosaur book?
The story goes that the kids were not mean, just preoccupied with monkey bars and chucking sand, but my brother's requests went ignored. This stirred a zealous rage in my father, even as he talks about it now, the angst of a parent as their child ventures out into the world to lukewarm reception. In his words, "I wanted to grab those kids by their little chicken necks and pin them up against the bricks and hiss that they'd look at his damn dinosaur book, and they'd better like it, understand?"
I experienced something similar when my younger sister was on the outside of a bitchy, sixth-grade classroom clique-fest--a crazed hunger to prowl the town by moonlight and sniff out these mean-spirited girls, eviscerate them slowly with all a mother bear's fury.
In our family, we call these Mattress Moments, based on the horse race in Siena called the Palio, where riders and horses are protected from their treacherous turns in dashes around the town's plaza by the residents' mattresses. That is how I show love--protecting my darlings from life's sharp corners and painful falls, taking it all in my super-absorbent springs.
And now this fall another of my children heads out into the world, only this time it's my paper and ink baby, my newborn novel. I'm experiencing spasms of that same anxious protectiveness. But for what? This is not my oldest son who is small and speaks differently or my middle boy who hides his insecurities behind fists and teeth or my baby girl with her withering Ice Queen stare. This is a book, a story, and although the characters are dear to me, they are their own imaginary entities. My protagonists won't scour the two-star reviews at Amazon to find out exactly what makes them unsympathetic, unlovable or clichéd.
Am I afraid for myself, then, the ego of the artist? I don't think so. I have a pretty healthy self-esteem, a confidence in my ability as a storyteller and I am proud of this novel. But nobody likes to be misunderstood.
Pre-publication, I have received beautiful jacket blurbs from respected writers, fabulous Kirkus and Booklist reviews, but one day this past July I tripped out of the starting gate with a mediocre one from Publisher’s Weekly. You can see this review here, and unfortunately, on every major bookseller's summary for CHOSEN.
I reeled for a week, memorized the monologue on the critic from Ratatouille, until I remembered my oldest son and a playground incident that happened this spring. Hayden is a very small eight-year-old, so short we have to cuff the hems of his little brother's size six pants. He was born with a medical condition, a craniofacial defect, which may or may not have anything to do with his height. One lunch hour on the playground, Hayden was called a 'midget'. I took it hard. Driving home, I told him not to worry, that we could talk to the specialists at our annual appointment in June, assured him that the window was still open for us to consider supplements of Human Growth Hormone and--
"Mom?" he interrupted me. "I like the size I am. I fit perfectly inside the hockey net when I'm in goal. It's not my problem if someone wants to make themselves feel better by calling names."
Of course he is right. When a critic calls my beloved characters 'weakly realized’, or my debut novel an ‘inexpert exercise’, it is not my problem. Not every book is for everyone—I’ll confess that my boys and I have tried three times to get swept up in the Harry Potter hype without success.
Never mind the naysayers. I’ll just steer my babies over towards the swings, where the kids seem a little friendlier, more open-minded, and see if there’s someone over there who might want to take a look at my dinosaur book.
*****To learn more about Chandra Hoffman, visit her website. Visit amazon to learn more about and purchase the book.