I was recently sitting with a group of friends discussing a book we’d all read recently (Perfect Likeness by J.M. Phillippe – group consensus: two thumbs up, funny and touching!). But then the conversation turned to whether or not the author had left room for a sequel. Some thought there was definitely going to be a sequel, while others read the slightly open-ended conclusion as the perfect metaphor for the books message about depression. Since we happen to know the author, it was a simple matter of waiting until she returned from the bar with her cocktail, so that we could ask her. But the entire argument reminded me of the very first public reading I did of my own writing.
I was 19 and I’d just won third place in a contest for Just Between You and Me, a short-story of a high-school girl who sells her English teacher a sense of humor. There was an awards ceremony and the top three all read their stories. I was incredibly nervous. I’d practiced, but still read too fast and killed one of the jokes. But by the time I was done, I felt triumphant. I’d read, and people had clapped. And not just people in my family. Actual people.
And then the audience was allowed to ask questions.
Whoever invented audience participation was a sadist. Who wants the audience to participate? Don’t you know that when they participate they ask questions? Questions that I had never considered in the entire breadth of my imagination that anyone would ever actually ask. A few years later, I discovered that I might be a masochist, because audience particpation suddenly seemed fun. But this was my Day 1 as an AUTHOR and I was totally unprepared for THE QUESTION. It was delivered by forty-something guy who seemed to have really enjoyed the story, but asked this doozy: “Did she really sell a sense of humor?”
But… but… that questions the very foundation of my story. If you didn’t buy into the premise how could you like it? I left ambiguity on purpose. Did you not enjoy the ambiguity? Does this mean the story was bad? How do I answer that? What does this meannnnnn???!!! <- insert author confidence down spiral here.
A few years later, with more writing and more experience, I would have replied, “Yes, she did. How did you enjoy your first visit to the Fantasy section of the bookstore? There are many more books like this out there – don’t be afraid to experiment.” Instead, I sort of fish flapped my mouth for a second or two and said something vague like, “That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.” Which, again, with more years and writing experience later, I’ve recognized as sub-conscious code for, “I wasn’t able to decide either, but I’m not telling you that, you impertinent person.”
I did eventually decide. Ariana, the young person in question, really did sell a sense of humor. You can read Just Between You and Me and more about Ariana’s adventures in my collection of Tales from the City of Destiny. And as for the sequel status of Perfect Likeness? Well, you will either have to read and decide for yourself, or follow the authors suggested solution – bribery. Preferably with cocktails and cake.