Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. I guess you could say I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately regarding the future of my writing. But this week, completely out of the blue, while reading another author’s book that had absolutely nothing to do with my own writing, I came to a revelation—possibly THE revelation of my writing life.
I’ve been mulling over something my friend (and fellow writer) Donna said to me a few months ago. She said that (and I’m paraphrasing) she long ago stopped caring about the opinions of people who didn’t understand her writing. Well, trust me. I’ve tried not to care. I actually thought I didn’t. But after a not-so-hot contest feed-back sheet, a very negative review from a woman in a review service, and a weekend of sitting at a craft fair trying to sell more than 5 books of what I consider a sound product only to watch teenagers flocking by the droves to the booth behind me (which sold books that were apparently much more appealing to the general public than mine), I started to think maybe there wasn’t a big enough audience for what I wrote to make it worth it. Maybe it was time to move on with life.
Because how in the world can one person tell me that Buddy Check is the best book they’ve ever read and claim that they’ve read it at least 4 times, every year right before camp, and another girl in the same age bracket (the target age for the book) absolutely rip it to shreds and not like anything about it? It made no sense. I understand that no author is for everybody. Everyone gets some good and some negative reviews.
But the extremes were throwing me. The few “Best book ever, my copy is falling apart” claims from camp people versus the world’s disinterest and even “hated everything about it” (okay, so that wasn’t the actual review, but she might have well just said that and saved herself five paragraphs of writing).
Then, the other day, it finally hit me… You know those times when it’s three a.m. on the last night of camp, and the most awesome and hilarious thing happens to you, and you and your co-counselors can’t stop laughing until your sides hurt and tears are running down your cheeks?
You know when that happens and then later when you retell the story at camp the next summer or ten summers later, and the people you were with at the time laugh just as hard as they did when it happened because it was THE BEST THING EVER and the people who weren’t at camp at that time it happened but are listening to you tell the story shake their heads and say, “I know, something just like that happened to me…” and they tell their story, and then you laugh because it is seriously a hilarious story?
Well, what happens when you tell the same story to your friends at home . . . or at school . . . or at work . . . or at a family reunion? They look at you like you’re nuts, that’s what happens. And they certainly don’t laugh their heads off. Because it’s not funny AT ALL to them. It’s stupid. And doesn’t even make sense. And they ask you why you even want to spend one of the two weeks of vacation time you get a year going to that camp because all of your stories from camp are just weird and totally not understandable.
Every Camp Addict I know has experienced this. I know I have.
And I’m not offended when someone gives me a weird look or says that camp can’t be as awesome as I’m making it out to be. Not offended at all. I just think, “Well he’s not a camp person. Of course he doesn’t get it,” and I don’t give their reaction a second thought.
That’s something I’ve known since 1995 when I first tried telling camp stories to my friends from home. But I had tunnel vision with my writing, and I didn’t think about the fact that my books are pretty much a fictional character’s “funny camp story.” Writing books, for me, is just like telling someone a camp story, but instead of a two-minute anecdote, it’s a 200- or 400-page novel. That’s what makes it authentically camp. That’s what I strive to do. That was the intent all along, to write a book that is “SO totally camp,” as one reader told me.
So if I’m not offended when someone doesn’t get a story I tell them from camp, why would I be devastated when someone doesn’t get my books?
Just like nobody but another camp person would want to sit there and listen to me tell camp story after camp story, readers who aren’t “camp people” wouldn’t want to invest hours reading a camp book.
And that’s okay. If everybody was a Camp Addict, then everybody in the entire world would go to camp, and it wouldn’t be a special place for people with common interests. There wouldn’t be those private jokes that make up funny camp stories. Camp would just be somewhere everyone went . . . like . . . well, school or something, instead of a safe haven to be yourself for those who have found it and love it.
I think what threw me for so long was that there were some people who liked my books who had never set foot at any camp before, which gave me hope to strive for that larger, more global audience. But what I’ve come to realize is those are the people who have missed out on camp but who would have loved it, the people who would have fit in just great at camp but never went for whatever reason, similar to that one rare person in the group of eight co-workers who, when you tell a funny camp story, doesn’t look at you like you’re crazy. That person who goes, “Hmm. I never went to camp before. Sounds fun,” while everyone else is muttering, “Not another one of those Bible camp stories.”
Now I get what Donna was saying…
Because if readers don’t understand or don’t want to understand why getting a gimp bracelet from the cute lifeguard is awesome or how the breathtaking view of the lake can stir peace inside you like nothing else can or how your heart absolutely sinks when you get a letter from a camper that says they’re going through a rough time, then they’re the ones missing out on camp. They can think my characters are annoying or say that the plots don’t appeal to them all they want. It’s not for them, just like camp isn’t for them.
I originally started writing about camp because these were the books I so desperately sought out but couldn’t find when I was suffering from camp withdrawal. What right do I have to decide that because the rest of the world doesn’t “get” Camp Addicts, it’s not worth the effort to continue and that that those Camp Addicts have to miss out on finding their camp books the way I did?
And if some of those people who would love camp but haven’t had the opportunity to experience it yet happen to stumble on my books, maybe, just maybe, they will also realize that deep down, they’re camp people, too, and that will help them look into going to camp themselves and racking up some hilarious camp stories of their own that they can tell to their friends at home.
Then they can get those same weird looks that I always get.