My first published book is titled How I Survived Being A Girl. It was bought by the same editor with whom I've worked on all my books, but she was at HarperCollins at the time so it's not part of the catalog I have at Knopf and (long story short) it is now out of print.
When I wrote HISBAG I had no idea what it meant to be published. Oh, I had a theoretical idea, but having written several books that never saw publication, I didn't think through the hazards of giving characters names too similar to those of the people on whom those characters were based.
Maybe I just didn't believe that this one would ever see the light of day (or bookstore shelves) either.
Nicknames seemed safe. Who would ever claim to be those characters? In real life (and in the book) the people next door were called Freeko and Fattabutta. (You read that right, and I will skip over the whole explanation of this because, really, nothing can explain away those names. Or excuse the things we did to them. Those are tales better left to the pages of a novel.)
When HISBAG came out in 1997 my mother suggested that I take out liability insurance in case Freeko and Fattabutta decided to sue me. I wasn't worried. We'd moved away ages before, and they didn't seem like readers.
Definitely not readers.
But fast forward to 2013 and sudden I am worried. Not about being sued. And not about any of the adults from the neighborhood. The last one standing moved into a 'home' earlier this year. (Which makes me very sad. She was an awesome neighbor. And such what a tolerant person! Her house was headquarters and she had so much patience for the wild neighborhood kids tearing through her house and yard.)
No, I'm suddenly worried because next weekend I'm traveling back to my hometown for an "elementary school reunion."
Most of me is super excited about it. Some of these kids I knew from K-6th. Formative stuff happens during that time and it'll be so much fun to reminisce about our shared experiences and hear each other's varied recollections. Just to see these people again after all these years and find out where they've wound up is going to be great. It's way better than a high school reunion. It's way more...pure.
But someone in the reunion group posted a comment about how I'd written a book about the neighborhood. And all of a sudden I'm going Uh-oh! I mean, it's been quite a while since I've read the book. What did I say about people? I remember that Andy down the block became Little Andy in the book. (Do you think he'll figure that out?) And will Wobblehead know who she is?
There's even a map in the beginning of the book pointing out who lives where!
And it's clearly The Neighborhood.
I guess all I can do at this point is hope that the "kids" take the book in the spirit intended, and recognize that it represents a magical time in our lives--a time where you could go "bombs away" on boys from the top of the jungle gym and no one posted you. A time where there were no rules in four square (back slaps and spins were fair and fine and expected). A time when getting slammed in dodgeball just meant you'd better move faster the next time someone hurled a ball at you.
I hope I still have some of my moves, 'cause there's no hiding from this, and I may just need to dodge and duck if enough of them have read the book.
Olly olly oxen free!