I couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. For three and a half years, I’d had a secret crush on this boy, and now he was asking me out.
We weren’t exactly social elite.
But now, we were in high school. The rules changed over the summer. And he was sitting in front of me, turned around in his desk, asking me to go with him to the Christmas Dance.
Me, the chubby girl whose glasses took up half her face, was being asked out by the only boy I’d hoped would.
I turned him down.
I don’t remember what I said—recently my mother reminded me that I made an excuse about not being able to afford a nice dress—but I do remember the look on his face as he turned back around in his seat, embarrassed, never to turn around again.
That was almost 20 years ago. Today my reasons sound so pale, so hollow but it all felt so real then. I had two sisters, all practically the same age, and going out with a boy was uncharted territory for any of us. If I went first, I foresaw a future of endless, relentless, jealous teasing. Not the jovial kind that makes you red in the face but leaves you feeling loved. This was the epic, teenage girl “I hate you” kind that puts you in tight-fisted tears, heaving from the gut in a bathroom stall. The fear of it was so powerful that my refusal and the accompanying lie were out of my mouth before I could stuff them back in.
As soon as I said no I wished he’d ask me again so I could change my answer. But he never did. Not just that day; my playground pal never spoke to me again.As an adolescent, I regretted losing my best friend. As an adult, I regret more that I had hurt him.
I don’t know if the truth would have made him feel any better than the lie. But I do know that he deserved the truth. And the full truth that I’d loved him secretly for years...?
Well, doesn’t every fourteen-year old deserve to know that someone loves you for who you are, awkward braces and all?
|Bea and Ben from The Dreamer|
These days I favor honesty to a fault. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable. We’re so used to living in a society of little white lies that little white truths can feel abrasive.
But they can be oh so liberating, as well.
People look at what I’ve accomplished and have their own expectations of what that means. But when they ask me questions about my success, I tell the truth. And they don’t always like it.
I had those same starry-eyed, rosy-cheeked misconceptions before I was published. And if only someone had told me the truth up front, I could have avoided a lot of heartache. But we all want to look successful and work hard to keep those fragile parts of us secret. Those parts that dream too big, want too deep, fear too hard are often the best parts of us, but are the parts we work hardest to conceal.
It wasn’t until I became a professional myself that other professionals began to speak candidly to me about their circumstances. We were all having similar experiences. But no one was honest with me until I was already “in the club.”
It was some comfort to me then to know I wasn’t alone. But it would’ve been a lifesaver to know before.
Today, I’ve been accused of being overly bleak when I talk about making a living as a writer. Sure, there’s the overnight success story—the American Idol tale. It’s certainly the better story. It’s the one people want to tell. The one they want to hear. The one they make movies about.
But it’s not the story that most of us live. It certainly hasn’t been my life. So if you want to hear from me, saddle up, cowgirl, because I’ve had to cross a few deserts to get where I’m at.
I don’t know if the truth will make aspiring authors feel any better than the lie. But I do know that they deserve the truth. Yes, it’s brutal. It’s exasperating. It’s exhausting. It’s unforgiving, unkind, but utterly, undeniably... alive.
And the full truth is...? I love my life as a writer, awkward braces and all.
Reader Question: What secret, hidden, vulnerable parts of you have you been reluctant to share? How can being honest about those things improve your writing? Can you put any of that into a character to make them more real and relatable to your readers?
Author Bio: Lora Innes’s romantic, time-travel adventure comic about the Revolutionary War, The Dreamer (IDW Publishing), has been nominated for three Harvey Awards, a CYBILS Award, and is the recipient of the S.P.A.C.E. Prize. The Dreamer Volume 1 is now in its second printing, and Volume 2 was released in November 2011. You can read the comic online at www.thedreamercomic.com where it updates twice weekly.
Currently she is writing and producing three graphic novel tie-ins for the upcoming Civil War television mini-series, To Appomattox, starring Rob Lowe, Will Patton, William Peterson, and Richard Dreyfuss. The first of Innes’s books will release in conjunction with the show’s airing, spring of 2013. http://www.toappomattox.com/Home.html