Should Your Children Read Your (Adult) Fiction?

Can We Read It Yet? 

This week ten copies of Smells Like Heaven arrived in a box on my doorstep. I waited until my children came home then filmed them painstakingly taking turns opening the box with an old steak knife. When they took out the books, they looked even happier than me, not an easy feat. I’ve found the cover gorgeous since I first saw it but holding the object in person and seeing all the little touches not picked up by the two-dimensional jPeg took the experience to another level. I crowed about the red spine, the pretty splotches on the back cover. I clutched a copy to my chest.

Then I noticed my 8 year old daughter scanning a random story in the middle and blurted, “You can’t read it yet!”

“When can we?” my 10 year old daughter asked.

I mumbled a few ages: “18? 12?” then changed the subject.

What About When the Rest of the Family Reads It? Launch month (yes, it’s arrived!) represents the turning point when the book ceases to belong to the author. Others will read it, form their own relationships with it and, it is hoped, take the stories into their hearts. I’m used to this wrenching, this letting go. I’m even used to (sorta) my parents reading my stuff. My mom read my first book in a day then called me in tears. My dad hasn’t spoken about it, but I’m assured that he’s read it.

My children are another matter. The thought of them reading my book adds a new level of feeling exposed, as if I’m revealing something intimate and adult about  a world I might protect them from otherwise. I do write for adults, though some of my characters aren’t much older than my daughters. The stories are complex and resemble the kinds of stories I might offer to them in glimpses in our conversations.

How Do Memoirists Handle This Conundrum? This week I went to my first Graphic Novel Book Club at Epic Books. The book we discussed, Calling Dr. Laura, by Nicole J. Georges is a graphic memoir about a woman coming out to her mother after finding out a secret about her “dead” father. We discussed whether Nicole Georges would have shown the book to her mother. Hard to say. But I admire Georges’ fearlessness in creating it, and her vulnerability, both necessary qualities when writing memoir. Fiction, too.

What Would Alice Munro Do? Alice Munro once wrote: “A child’s illness, relatives coming to stay, a pile-up of unavoidable household jobs, can swallow a work-in-progress as surely as a power failure used to destroy a piece of work in the computer.”

While I don’t tend to write when my children are around, my writing has shadowed their lives since they were wee. My choices first to return to teaching after motherhood then to leave my teaching job altogether have informed how and when I write, but this book is proof that motherhood hasn’t derailed my writing. Quite the opposite.

Why should I feel awkward about my children reading my stories? They’re sophisticated consumers of story. They would ask about what they couldn’t understand.

Would I give my daughters this book if another writer had written it? No, not yet. Soon. And that time is coming fast.

What I’m Into These Days: Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (esp. episodes featuring Tina Fey); Sopranos rewatch; graphic novels; Sparkling Water; exploring my city on my bike; contemplating quitting sugar; A Tribe Called Red.

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