Two years ago yesterday, on December 5, 2014, I received an email from Amazon: Tightwire, my second novel, was up and running. With that message — rote and impersonal — my extremely personal Tightwire journey began. I’ve had readers email me to say the novel made a difference in their lives; I’ve seen my writing through the eyes of college lit students and psych grad students; I’ve established a dialogue with classrooms in Ask-The-Author threads; I’ve collaborated with professors. I’m still traveling the path of my Tightwire journey — striding and stumbling, learning and questioning. All I know for sure is what I didn’t know on this day, two years ago.
I didn’t know that my second book (Tightwire) would feel just as challenging (a polite word) and overwhelming (more like the truth) to write as my first book (Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable). I didn’t know I’d rewrite Tightwire between 50 and 100 times before publication; I figured that happened with my first book only because it was my first book. But that’s my ongoing process as a writer, and it’s holding true again as I work on Novel #3. Apparently, there’s no rushing art, especially mine.
I didn’t know that every time I’d publish a book, I’d feel vulnerable. I’m not talking about a mature brand of vulnerability, described with balance and eloquence, preferably while sipping tea and reclining comfortably. No, I’m talking about clutch-a-stuffed-animal, scrunch-your-eyes-shut, hide-under-the-bed (if I could still fit). Tightwire follows two main characters: Caroline, “a whip-smart neophyte therapist who lives too much in her head” and Collier, “a gorgeous child of the circus who has only been admired for his body” (from a 5-star review on Amazon). The story is pure fiction, but Caroline’s style as a therapist bears a striking resemblance to my own. What’s more, anyone who knows me will recognize that Caroline and I share too many personality traits to be mere coincidence. When I put up Tightwire, I put up pieces of my self for public consumption. Searingly vulnerable.
I also didn’t know that Tightwire would change my relationship to my own vulnerability. Within a few weeks of publication, Tightwire would top Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases…and I still felt vulnerable. Tightwire continues to land on and off Amazon bestsellers lists — and I still feel vulnerable. Reviewers have tossed out words like “riveting” — “profound” — “inspirational” — “spectacular” — “captivating”…and I still feel vulnerable. Of course, the reviews are validating, and I’m grateful beyond words. But curiously, the vulnerability remains. I finally realized that to connect to my readers, I need that vulnerability. I can’t speak for other writers but for me, if it isn’t rooted in vulnerability, it isn’t worth reading. My Tightwire journey is grounded in layers of vulnerability.
I didn’t know how many Tightwire journeys my readers would share. From 5-star reviews on Amazon: “I feel this book could help many readers realize they…shouldn’t be afraid to seek therapy” — “The story is one of hope, with an ongoing theme that people can heal from all sorts of past difficulties through insight and the power of healthy relationships” — “This book could help many readers realize they’re not alone”– “Sexuality is not as simple as the categorizations that our society often attaches to it.” I didn’t know there would be so many Tightwire journeys, from so many readers.
Clearly, I didn’t know a truckload, but the past 2 years have been an education. I now know how grateful I am to each person who reads my work. I know how much I’ve grown to respect the value of vulnerability. Most of all, I know how open I am to discovering what else I don’t know.
*If you’re considering Tightwire for a course or book club and you’d like a curriculum guide and chapter summaries, go to my website, click on contact, and you can email me. http://amykaufmanburk.com
Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through her first year of high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, continues to follow Caroline, now a rookie psych intern treating her first patient. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website.