How It Feels to Write a Book Your Family Will Never Read

With my maiden name! Damn, that's retro.

Since I announced my authorial intent at the age of 5, my mom has joked that my first book will be dedicated to her.

“To my mother, who has always supported me,” she says dramatically, her hand making a little flourish in the air. I roll my eyes, but she’s right. She has always supported me, even when she wasn’t completely on board with the work I was doing.

My first, bylined magazine piece, for example. It was for Playgirl magazine, and was a travel piece on sex parties around the world. It was accompanied by a tiny caricature of my headshot, plus a full-color drawing of a wild orgy. My mother made copies and passed them out to friends, family, and co-workers. Who does that!? A mom, I guess.

Still, as I write my first book, I try to imagine what that dedication page will look like (without yet even having a book contract, mind you), and can only come up with something like this: Dedicated to my mother, who still holds out hope that this sex writing thing is just a phase.

The working title of my book? Sex Play for Prudes.

The subject? It’s a prescriptive memoir about being a sex writer with “sexual dysfunction” (a term I don’t place much stock in, as issues with libido, arousal, and painful sex are more common than many people realize).

The opening scene? My very first blowjob.

Nope. No one in my family will ever read this book.

As someone who’s always dreamed of being a published author, the thought that my family members will feel uncomfortable reading my first (and only?) book is heartbreaking enough.

The thought that they’re embarrassed by it, though, is even worse. It makes me feel weird when people ask me what my book is about. I don’t know how to respond. In being aware of my mother’s embarrassment, I start to feel ashamed of myself. Even though I feel that what I’m writing is important. Even though I’ve received comments and emails from women thanking me for making them feel less alone. Even though the writing I do has been a form of self-therapy.

The other night, I joined my mother and aunt in the kitchen, where they were washing and drying pots and platters from the dinner we’d just had. “Your mother tells me you’re writing a book,” said my aunt, who was visiting from out of town. “What’s it about?”

My mother, who was soaping up another platter at the sink, looked over her shoulder with a smirk. This was not helpful. I stuttered and stumbled as I searched for how best to explain things.

“It’s a prescriptive memoir for women with sexual dysfunction,” I said. I should have stopped there, but my aunt’s face was blank, so I went on. “It’s about being a sex writer with sexual dysfunction,” I added. The skin between her brows creased in confusion.

“Yeah, I don’t understand it either,” said my mom, who’d had me explain it to her about five thousand times before.

I tried to think of what else I could say. “Well, you know I’ve been a sex writer for 10 years, right?” My aunt looked even more confused. Or perhaps that was horror. “I write about sexual health,” I said, though I didn’t know that a review of the Sexerciseball counted as a matter of sexual health.

“Oh, sexual health,” she said, as if that suddenly legitimized everything. I got annoyed, though it was my own damn fault for throwing in the term.

“Well, sexual health and sex in general,” I said, backpedaling. I then stammered my way through an explanation that encompassed the sexually abusive relationship that had caused my sexual issues, the chapters that focused on my experiences as a sex writer, and the lessons I planned to impart… all without traumatizing her. I finally gave up, flustered. My mom was still at the sink, shaking her head. In the pause that followed, she joked that at least my maiden name wouldn’t be on the book.

“My mother is ashamed of the writing I do,” I informed my aunt, knowing full well that she didn’t approve either.

“No,” she assured me. “You’re mother’s proud of you.”

She may as well have patted me on the head.

Sometimes, with some people, I find myself talking around the subject of what I write about, as if predicting their inevitable disapproval.

Am I projecting? Or are comments like the ones above shaking my faith in myself?

How about you? Are your family members on board with your writing? How do you cope when they’re not?

Related: Spill It: How Do You Handle Rejection as a Writer?, They Hate Me! They Really Hate Me!

Comments

  1. Lyz says:

    Isn’t there a Bible verse that says a prophet is always hated in his hometown? Something like that. I think it holds true for everything. The people who raise you have specific ideas about who you are and have a hard time conforming those ideas to reality. My mom is trying to get me to write a Janet Evanovitch-type book OR a spiritual meditation book. We have the same awkward conversations when I try to explain to her anything I write and I don’t write about sex. You aren’t alone and your mom is proud of you.

  2. Terri says:

    Stephanie, this hits close to home. While I am not working on a book, I am in the final stages of editing an article for an outlet I’ve always wanted to be published in, Your Tango. However, I realized my parents can never know my dreams are that much closer to reality because it’s a very touchy story about sex. And I know my parents won’t approve as they are extremely religious. Turns out this will be an accomplishment I just might have to keep to myself.

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