Attention is scary. Being a writer* is embodying a strange paradox in that on one hand, you would like people to read your writing – that’s why we submit it to anthologies and magazines. But on the other hand, knowing that people are actually reading your writing is a deeply unnerving experience. It feels like undergoing a full-bodily medical examination, except that instead of a clinic room you’re on stage, and the audience is full of people staring at your deeply inadequate, squishy, crumbling and imperfect self. Intimate, but uncomfortably so. This effect is compounded when you know that people are not reading just one of your stories – couched comfortably between other people’s stories, so as not to be the sole focus – but an entire book of your stories. There is nobody else to hide behind; nobody else’s stories to take the attention off. There is only you, and the reader.
(*okay, maybe this is just ‘being me’)
Lest I sound hideously ungrateful, I want to point out that it’s absolutely wonderful even as it is deeply existentially terrifying to know that people are reading your book. Genuinely so. People have been so kind and enthusiastic, so genuinely pleased for me. People have been generous in their praise and their time. And I am incredibly grateful for every person who buys a copy, who reads a copy, who gifts a copy to their friend. To everyone who signal boosts my tweets and facebook posts. The writing community is a gift and the people in it are magical human beings. It’s just that it’s also quite scary to be in focus. My esteemed colleague and immensely talented friend Georgina Bruce explained it very eloquently in her own blog:
I went about humming little ditties, flipping through my book, admiring the gorgeous cover for hours on end. I had NO IDEA my bubble was about to burst, big time. The weekend after review copies were sent out and I realised that people were actually going to be reading my stories, I had a legit full-on panic attack and spent an entire day talking myself down from the ledge of outrageous imposter syndrome.
She’s completely right, is the thing. Imposter syndrome is the realest thing. It tells you that nobody is going to like your book. That your friends are only buying it to be kind. That the dearth of Amazon and Goodreads reviews are actually a blessing rather than mildly soul-crushing because you don’t want to know what people really think.
I’ve been very fortunate so far that the reviews for Sing Your Sadness Deep have been kind, and incredibly thoughtful and insightful. That’s a bit scary too, because you realise just how much of yourself you have unintentionally revealed through your writing. I think its inevitable to an extent that we leave something of ourselves in everything we write. I think we do it without realising, and sometimes we do it entirely on purpose, but it happens all the same. And reading the reviews has made it plain that I put a lot of myself in my stories. I don’t set out to write with themes in mind; I don’t have a message I want to convey, at least consciously. But the messages and themes people are picking up on are things that are dear to me. Some of them are things I did not recognise as dear to me until I saw it in writing, and realised that yes, this is part of me, this is something I want to say.
Gemma Webster at Fiction Unbound says this about SYSD:
Mauro is generous with her characters, including the monsters. She finds their humanity when they are messing things up, when they are testing the boundaries of love, or hurting other characters physically and emotionally. There are no senseless monsters or senseless violence in these stories. Evil is done and obstacles raised often out of love. There are understandable reasons and human emotions that cause these strange things to happen. Redemption, in these stories, also comes from a place of love. I found this to be an amazing through-line in the collection. The variety of relationships that are tested makes the collection deeply human even as the supernatural unfolds again and again.
Paul StJohn Mackintosh is similarly insightful:
There’s an awful lot of toxic family dysfunction in this collection. Philip Larkin fans will be very glad to have “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” confirmed in spades. Not just mum and dad, but epileptic sister, bizarre homesquatting homunculus, birdboned acephalic foetus, foggy revenant father, guilty bloodstained mother, fish-skinned foundling, wooden changeling sibling, angelic adoptee, painsucking grandpa. Look at the cover illustration, so well suited to the contents, with the girl-child peering from behind the door at the fox-faced (mother?) figure in Jane Austen dress, scissors threateningly poised. That’s how distorted, surreal and mutagenic relations and relationships are in these tales. Almost always here the strangeness blossoms from the cracks and fault lines between people.
Rowan Fortune’s deeply thoughtful review:
Mauro distorts quaint divides between the inhuman and the human too; often a source of deep anxiety, but also of curiosity about ourselves unexpectedly exposed as alien, as always having been alien. There’s a depth of observation that looks acutely at a subject (a grief, doubt, longing, fear, often externalised) so that it becomes painful in its intimacy. It’s when things don’t operate as we expect that they become most visible, and this principle often guides Mauro’s fiction—full of misfits and misfortunes.
It’s strange, and gratifying, and a little alarming to see themes emerge through the eyes of other people. It’s also highly affirming. All of these themes – outsiders and misfits and empathy for monsters, alienation; the faultlines in our relationships and the way we relate to one another, the way the lost find one another; the possibility of grace – these are all deeply personal themes and I’m glad that they shine through in my work because I think they’re important.
There have also been very kind and detailed reviews from Ginger Nuts of Horror, Mario Guslandi at Hellnotes, and Sadie Hartmann on Goodreads. I am immensely grateful for the time, the effort and the depth of thought that people are putting into reviewing this book, and I’m actually a little overwhelmed by it, in the best possible way. And although I know that not everyone will enjoy SYSD – that some people might downright dislike it – it’s a pleasure to know that a handful of people enjoy the work I’m doing. Even if nobody else in the world enjoys the book, I feel like there’s some small purpose in continuing to write. (And I know external validation should never be the driving force for any artist, but god knows I am a deeply flawed human and approval is an enormous motivator.)
So. Whatever else happens. At least I know someone is reading, and someone is relating. That’s a precious thing.
If you’re not completely sick of me yet (and I would hardly blame you if you were) you can catch me being interviewed by Gwendolyn Kiste over at her blog – she is an astonishingly good writer (The Rust Maidens is a sublime book).