Dispatches | December 14, 2004

The reviews have not yet been written. My family has not yet been shamed. The people who live in the small town in which I was raised have not yet participated in the popular parlor game, “Also Known As: The Real People Behind the Fictional Characters in the Stories of Scott A. Kaukonen.” (“Hey, that’s me! Or . . . is . . . it?”) The book has not yet sold miserably. It has not yet been remaindered. I am not yet a mid-list writer, the guy who once wrote the book whose name escapes you just now. Readers have not yet had their expectations unfulfilled. I have not yet had to justify the cuss words and the sex scenes to angry parents of schoolchildren. I have not yet had to face my grandparents, who, while shopping for the final installment of the Left Behind series, stumbled across the book in Barnes & Noble. Former students have not yet written to tell me what a piece of crap I have written and to offer, for the first time in their lives, complete and thorough workshop peer reviews, complete with line edits.

This, in other words, should be the best time of my life as a writer, like being engaged but not yet married. All future, no past. I have a book forthcoming, my first book, Ordination, a collection of stories to be published by The Ohio State University Press. I have seen the cover. I have been to Amazon.com where the book is listed as forthcoming in April 2005. I have my first ISBN number (which will soon be tattooed around my bicep, something to flex in coffeehouse debates). When people find out I write fiction, I no longer have to answer the inevitable follow-up question—”Have you published anything?”—with a sheepish look away, the sole of my shoe sweeping the ground as I say, “Soon. Some day. I will. Probably. I hope. Perhaps.” The judge for whom my girlfriend will clerk next year wants an autographed copy and the alumni magazine from my undergraduate institution has a feature story planned for the next issue.

And yet it is an unsettling time as well, this awkward space between acceptance and publication, between potential and realization, between expectation and experience. The fear that, in this moment when you should be reveling in the accomplishment of this long-sought goal and dreaming of even greater honors (inclusion in Best American Short Stories, a New York Times featured review, finalist for the Pulitzer, winner of the National Book Award—hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?), you recognize that, in fact, you will soon be revealed as what you truly are—a charlatan, a fake, a poser, a fraud; in short, a mediocre writer who happened to get one book published and who will soon fade (even further) into obscurity, one day to be found living in a trailer in the desert with a sawed-off shotgun and a bull terrier named Moose.

I am, as you may have noticed, still not convinced about my collection of stories. There is, within me, a certain streak of insecurity, and also the professional recognition that each of the stories has its flaws, some more notable than others (and, no, I’m not telling; you’ll find plenty on your own). And, yes, I’m still a bit suspicious when people talk in glowing terms about a story that I have written. I figure they’re just good friends or illiterate friends or disappointed editors who think, “Well, at least it was better than all the other crap we had to read.” When friends compliment me, I figure, hey, they loved “Temptation Island” too, so what does that really say? If they’re friends who are writers, I think, “Would I really tell them their book sucked? No. Hell no.” And if it’s my mother? Well, my mother thought the song lyrics I wrote when I was eight were great, so, there you go. She loves me; I love her. But that would be true even if I never published a single word, if instead I still lived at home, detasseled corn every summer, and spent my free time solving the legend of Zelda.

So, here we are. Forthcoming. A few more months of bliss and then I have to live with myself. And my work. Published. In black-and-white. For all the world to see. Or to ignore. Zits, comma splices, and all.

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