Metrics of Success

Have you ever sat down and tried to sketch out an exact scenario that would signify you’ve achieved your dreams?

I did.

About ten years ago, my friends and I were trying to come up with moments like that. Moments where, once they happened, we could sit back and say “Well, all right. That’s it. I did it.” I constructed this scenario:

If someone I’d never met before and didn’t know my family or know someone who knew my family approached me with a physical copy of a book I’d written in hand and asked me to sign it, I’d consider that my dreams come true.

And now I need to come up with a new scenario, because I achieved that one ten times over!

Last Tuesday was my first official signing! I’d scribbled in a couple of books that I gave as gifts to my family and friends, but thanks to the wonderful people at Chapters in Moncton, I was sitting down a nice table, surrounded by my books, pen in hand, and was ready to sign some copies. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was shocked at what I got.

I was expecting a good turnout, just because my parents are social butterflies and know a hundred people. But a lot of those folks they convinced to come didn’t show up. And I had a good turnout anyway. A really good turnout.

A dozen strangers approached me. They’d heard of the book from an article in the local paper, or one of the posters I put up around town, or they were just walking by and curious what the display was for. They flipped it open. They read the back. And they wanted to buy it — and wanted me to sign it!

I loved talking with the fans. I’m actually pretty  bad in crowds and am quite shy. But it wasn’t only painless — it was wonderful! Answering questions, giving the skeptical my pitch, asking them what names I should write to personalize the signings. It came easily despite all past experience to the contrary. I was filled with such an energy and passion. And confidence! While I sat there, pen in hand, I really believed in the book. All these people couldn’t be wrong, could they?

I hope so deeply that this wasn’t the only time I interact with the people who came and bought a copy. I’d always thought that I’d be awkward at events, but instead, I can’t wait to get out there and connect with my readers again.
A friend of the family is a talented amateur photographer and took some great pictures of the event. I’ll leave those with you while I try and concoct a new scenario for success. It’s going to be hard to top this one!


My Baby Turned Loose Into the World

Today is the day!

It was October 4th, 2011, when I wrote the last word of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. (The last word is “murder,” which is very appropriate.) At the time, I didn’t know if the book was good. I didn’t know if I could ever find an agent, much less a publisher. I didn’t know if anyone on earth would ever read it.

Fast forward! Years later, I have the best agent, the funnest publisher, and strangers all over the world are holding my book and breaking into the first pages. I have traffic on my site, retweets on my blog, and shares on my Facebook. I have 200 goodreaders hoping to win my giveaway! It’s happened faster than I possibly could have imagined and this is it. The day when MY book because A book.

It’s out there in the world. You can get it one click for the price of a nice coffee. It can be on your phone as you read it on the bus. And none of that has anything to do with me. For so long, I’ve been the custodian and arbiter or my own work, but not anymore! Control over my work is completely out of my own hands.

It’s liberating. It’s terrifying. It’s exciting. Did I mention it was terrifying?

Today has been a whirlwind! I’m in the local paper, my social media is blowing up, and my book! My book is out there! Disseminating into the wide crazy world! All I can do is watch it happen and hope that there are people who will love my characters and my stories, because that’s all I ever wanted.

In my first ever post on this blog I said that I wanted you to buy my book. Not because I want to get paid (though who doesn’t love getting paid), but because I think you’ll like it. And I still think that’s true. There’s a link to Amazon in the sidebar of my site, and I invite each and every one of you to take this thing that I build out into the world, out of my hands, and judge it for yourself.

What’s In A Name?

I’m going to go a lot more personal today than I have in the past. There’s now a mere weekend between us and the release of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, and I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the name that’s on the front cover: Kate McIntyre.

It ‘s not my name. Not the one that appears on my passport or birth certificate or driver’s license. But what is a name, really? Something we inherit combined with something we’ve given. And there’s value to be found in the names we choose for ourselves, whether it’s shortening my given name, Kathryn, into something that suits me better, or taking on a completely different surname.

Make no mistake: Kate McIntyre is a poor choice for a pen name, at least from the point of view of marketing and branding. There’s an English anchorwoman with the name, and at least one very successful real estate agent is pretty annoyed that I’m taking a chomp out of her Google rankings. There are a lot of other names I could have taken as my own that would give me no competition in the vicious, fanged world that is internet publicity. But I wanted this name, and I’d like to get personal and talk about why.

Sometimes, I’ll see a photograph of my mother as a teenager. My first thought is always — “Hm, how old was I in this? I don’t remember taking it.” Suffice to say, we look very much alike. My jolly maternal grandfather held me when I was born and jokingly told my father than the only physical resemblance we could have had was if I was a boy. McIntyre is my mother’s maiden name, and I’ve always felt like a part of that clan. We look alike, we value the same things, and we’ve always just immediately fallen into a rhythm with each other when we’re all together.

In the back of my mine, I always thought I might use McIntyre as a pen name, for all of these reasons, but it wasn’t until shortly before I finished my first book that I decided for sure.

In the spring of 2011, my Uncle Steve was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, and for the next two years my life completely changed. My uncle, always uncomfortable getting too close, moved in and really became part of the family. He was a constant presence in my life, encouraging, big-hearted, and wonderful. He joked and loved and occasionally ate all the cookies in the house in the middle of the night like a true McIntyre. He dragged presents under the Christmas tree in the dark of Christmas Eve, all marked “From Santa,” so he wouldn’t have to admit that he bought them for us — plausible deniability, you know. He brought an entire tank of helium and about a million balloons for my mum’s birthday; he and my sister and I spent the whole morning blowing them up, singing along at the top of our lungs to Wild Ones by Flo Rida ft Sia, truly beautiful music that once again says so much about my music tastes. The three of us dancing about, surrounded by an entire civilization of balloons, is one of my best memories, and it’s the story I told him while he was dying and I was holding his hand. He had fought so hard, living longer than anyone thought possible until the day he passed in my living room, smiling faintly when I reminded him about Wild Ones.

(not the kind of song that usually moves you to actual tears every time you hear it)

If not for his cancer, Uncle Steve probably would have continued to hold himself apart from us. He deserved better than pain and a young death, but I’m so grateful for the time that he had together as a result of it.

I wrote most of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant while he was living with us, and he died a few months before I found Caitlin and my career really started. He was always asking about the process and was so proud of me. It breaks my heart a little that he isn’t going to be there Monday when my book hits shelves. He would have wanted to see it through to the end, and he’s always in my thoughts.

I’ve always thought of myself as a McIntyre, but because of the system we live in, I’ve never been able to claim ownership of that name that’s rightfully as much mine as the one on my bank account. Despite what a bad move, business-wise, it was to take Kate McIntyre as the name I shared my work with the world with, I don’t regret it. It’s a tribute, not only to Uncle Steve, but to my mother and my other uncles and my cousins and my sister and all the McIntyres, either by name and by blood. My birth name will be on my birth certificate and on my tombstone. It just seemed right to leave something with that other name, even if it’s just some fantasy murder mysteries.

The Way That You Cheer and Scream For Me

I’ve documented my shameful and yet devoted adoration of contemporary Pop Music. I love all music! Really I do. From trance to drum&bass, from country to world, from alt-rock to folk-rock, from classic rock to just plain classical. I don’t think there’s a single genre that I don’t like, and I can have one window open with Blackmore’s Night while another right beside it is paused in the middle of a Kanye West B-side, and meanwhile I’ve got Allie X playing on my phone.

But despite my eclectic tastes, well… there’s just something that keeps me coming back to that Hot Top 100, year in and year out.

I’m not saying it’s good music. I’m saying that oh my god I love it.

And today, I want to talk about one of my favourite songs, which barely cracked top 40, by one of my favourite artists, who isn’t seeing much top 40 success these days. So take a minute and listen to that modern classic… Applause by Lady Gaga.

Oh hell yes.

Are you still here? Have you closed the window in disgust, yet? Because I’m actually going somewhere with this, other than just publicly shaming myself!

As the release date of my debut novel draws closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about Applause. I’ve been thinking about the truth of Applause. The song has a very simple message: Lady Gaga likes it when you like her. When you click the little thumbs up under her Youtube videos, that makes her happy. When you tweet her to tell her that you like her album, that makes her giddy. When she walks out on stage and the audience erupts into applause, that’s the best feeling in the whole wide world. It’s an uncomplicated sentiment that’s been said a thousand times before, and yet…

It’s not a popular one. We like to think of artists as altruistically placing their creations in front of us so that we can either like them or not at our leisure. We don’t like the thought of them watching us, breathing down our necks, waiting impatiently for our reactions, and then being filled with joy if we smile and devastation if we frown. We want to think of them as proud of the creation for its own sake, willing to stand by it and by unswayed by either praise or criticism.

Well, bullshit. I think every artist is breathing down necks. I think we all live for the applause.

Since the time our first cave-dwelling ancestor told a story instead of keeping it in her head, creative people have sat with bated breath waiting for the cheers or boos to follow. Homer didn’t fictionalize the siege of Troy in the Iliad because he wanted to keep his ideas to himself. Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet so it could play to empty theatres. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby to prove himself a literary giant and was devastated when it was poorly received at the time. And Lady Gaga lives for the applause.

(Oh, yes. I just compared Homer, Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald to Lady Gaga. I can always be relied upon for casual literary heresy.)

I’m not afraid to admit it. I want people to read my book and I want people to like it! Everytime I get any positive response from anyone, even my mother, it’s like a perfect dumb flower of joy bursts into bloom right in my heart. And anytime someone says they they hated one of my characters, it’s like a kick in the crotch. And why is that bad to admit? I don’t think I’m different than anyone else. I maintain a professional bearing and don’t go after people who don’t like it. I try not to get upset by negativity, because it’s unavoidable and inevitable. I won’t be one of those authors clambering all over the Goodreads statuses of their readers. My mantra for my career is: “Be cool, Kate. Be cool. Come on. Just be cool.”

But inside I’m a roiling storm of READ IT, LOVE IT, AND THEN TELL ME IN EXPLICIT DETAIL WHAT YOU LOVED ABOUT IT AND WHY. The same as, I believe, Homer and Shakespeare and Fitzgerald and the honorable Lady Gaga all did before me. I don’t think I’m different than anyone else.

I think we should stop being ashamed of it. I mean, by all means: be cool. Act like a civilized adult. Do not stalk your readers. Do not let yourself be destroyed by criticism. While as a writer, I’m struggling everyday not to turn the most annoying person in the world, as a reader I find desperation as unpleasant a trait as anyone does. But acting mature and admitting that you love being appreciated for your talents are completely different things.

If artists didn’t want their work to be admired, we wouldn’t have art. It would exist in basements and backrooms and hard drives, where the humble creator hides it from human eyes and doesn’t need anyone’s appreciation and the act of creation is its own reward.

I say it again: bullshit.

I feel you, Gaga. I live for the applause – applause – applause, too. We all do.

And no one can convince me otherwise.

R: Random Facts About Me

I’ve talked a lot about my writing, a lot about my inspirations, and a lot about my interests. But what about me? It’s tough because I’m a super private person! I don’t like putting myself out there. It’s my instinct to try and conceal facts about my life. But I want my readers to feel like they know me, so in this post I’m going to share five random facts about me that are not available anywhere else in my online profile!

1. I love cold weather and hate “nice days.”
It happens at least once a week. I’m paying for something at a cash register, and the friendly cashier looks out the window. “Horrible weather we’ve been having!” they bemoan, indicating the snow. Or “It’s finally nice outside!” they chirp, talking about the 28 C/83 F weather outside. And I smile and nod and agree and get my change, because arguing about the weather with a poor service employee just doing their job is a douchey thing to do. But deep inside, I’m crying. Because I love snow, ice, and freezing cold. And if it’s too warm for a sweater, it’s too warm for me. Something is deeply, deeply wrong inside of me, everyone agrees.

2. I didn’t eat a taco until I was 28.
It’s not that there isn’t Mexican food where I’m from. It’s just that Mexican is foreign food where I’m from, like Indian or Thai. It’s there, you just have to know where to look for it, and it’s considered something of an acquired taste among the locals. There’s only ever been one Mexican restaurant in my hometown, and it’s so high end that I never went. We don’t even have Taco Bell! My best friend is from Southern California and she finally sat me down and made me some nice, authentic tacos with real guacamole. I had no idea what I’d been missing!

3. My favourite colour is purple.
Oh, yes it is! My wardrobe, my jewelery, my makeup, even the colour I painted my bedroom… there’s a definite pattern! I love every shade! Royal, violet, wine, burgundy, magenta! Maybe it’s embarrassing to love purple (and pink!) so much, but it makes me happy, and happy is good!

I still want to be her when I grow up, I'm not gonna lie.
I have to confess: I still want to be her when I grow up. I’m not gonna lie!

4. I love mice.
Longtime blog readers might recall that my first novel when I was just a little sprout was about a nonhuman lady detective, Mary the Mouse. You also might think it sounds familiar when I say that my childhood role model was Gadget from the Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers! What came first, the chicken or the egg? I can’t say, but I do know I’ve collected mouse stuffed animals, figurines, magnets, Christmas ornaments and other bits and bobs both kitschy and classy since I can remember!

5. I love birthdays and Christmas more than anything because…
I love giving and receiving presents! I don’t know which I love more. It’s like choosing between your own children! The feeling of opening a gift and knowing that someone you love picked it out just for you? Or the look on that same loved one’s face when they see what you spent months working on? How could anyone choose! I’m like a little kid on birthdays, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. And I put little kids to shame when December 25th comes around!

D: Dreaming of the Publishing World

Am I the only one who’s just enamoured with publishing as an industry?

I know, I know. It’s flawed. It’s a business. It turns art into commodity. Good books get rejected cause they don’t match trends. Bad books get accepted because they do. Etc.! I know all the flaws with capitalism and the industries it births as well as anyone else does, but is it okay to love those industries with all your heart in spite of that?

I love publishing.

I always wanted to be an agent or an editor for my day job. While that didn’t end up happening, I still dream about it sometimes. Being inside the machine, reading all those books, meeting authors at the ground level. The chance to see potential and then do something about it! Or try to do something about it and fail. My dreams are realistic. They’re practical. And I don’t intend to drop everything and pretend to be an agent any time soon!

But publishing is just special to me. Somehow, our industry has survived in an age where other forms of media have supplanted what books once where, and book have, in turn, become a subculture. And the industry, for all its flaws, for all its goals being aimed toward turning a dime, is just jammed full of people who love reading. Who love books. Who chose publishing as their career despite the fragility of the industry.

And that’s exciting! I can’t help but get a little worked up when I think about it. Books have survived and continue to survive. Up here in the Great White North, whenever I walk into a Chapters, it’s just full of people browsing books, reading at the adjoining Starbucks, and helping their children pick out a new adventure to explore.

Try as I may to remain pragmatic about the realities of publishing, I can’t. There’s a whole body of people out there who still believe in books and authors and readers. They work every day with the written word. I look back on my life so often and wish that I had have ended up as part of that body, but I’m glad with the role I get to play in it now. To all the agents, editors, production people, publicists, and marketers out there:

I can’t help it. I love you.

C: Clean Reader, or, the c-word and when I used it

There’s been a lot of talk in the publishing community lately about a new app called “Clean Reader.” Clean Reader can be installed onto tablets and phones, and it replaces profanities in most ebook formats with “cleaner” versions of words. Some of these censored words are  unarguably offensive (fuck.) Other words seem old-fashioned to remove (damn.) And some are downright bizarre (breast.) But what all these words have in common, from the objectively dirty to the puritanically outlandish, is that the author who wrote them chose those words.

I am so against Clean Reader I don’t even know how to put it into words, but I’m going to try.

This is my professional blog. When I started it, I had to make a choice. I weighed my options and made a choice to keep my language here largely professional. The choice was really tough to make because in casual speech, my mouth is shockingly vile enough to horrify a sailor. It’s incredibly rare for me to get through a sentence in normal parlance without having some profanity in it. It’s the way that I talk, and I choose to talk that way because I like it. I like how punchy and powerful dirty words are. I like how they can take a boring sentence and ramp it up to eleven. I like how it’s an instant signifier of casual, friendly conversation. However, sometimes I choose to talk in a different way. When I’m in a business meeting. When I’m talking to my parents. When I’m ordering at a restaurant. I could swear then, too, but I don’t.

This is the person that I am. I am a person who loves to swear, and when I’m around my friends or relaxing, I will swear your ear right off. I’m also a person who chooses not to swear in a situation where it might hurt someone. And the world is made up of people like me, and people unlike me. People who never swear. People who only swear when they’re really, really angry. People who swear no matter what and don’t care who hears it. All of these different people make up the world around us… and good writing mimics the world around us.

I use a hell of a lot of profanities… but I avoid slurs at all cost. I’ll drop f-bombs twenty words a minute, but you’ll be hard pressed to hear me call a woman a bitch. As a feminist, the slur that is the most toxic to me is the c-word, which I consider so vile I won’t write it here. It is an ugly, horrible word that makes a beautiful and normal body part possessed by half the world’s population into something bad and disgusting and negative. I hate the c-word. Saying it is the fastest way to get my finger waving in your face.

I use the c-word, in all its hideous uncensored glory, in my novel.

Why? Why would I write this word when I hate it so much? Well, because I am a writer, and I’m a writer for whom character is everything. What I strive for is characters who come across as real. Flawed and complex and ugly and confusing, just like real humans. And the c-word in my book is said at a time and by a character who would say it. I refused to blunt that moment. I refused to sanitize that character.

And I want my reader to experience that moment. I want them to be shocked. I want them to be uncomfortable. I want them to think less of that character in that moment. I don’t want a reader to choose to sanitize it. As an author, I included that word I hated so much because I wanted my reader to have the visceral, uncomfortable experience of reading it, and have them be forced to consider that the character who says it is not a good person.

It’s my right as a writer to impart the experience that I intend to my reader, and it’s my reader’s right to put down my book and not continue.

It’s also worth noting the other sides of this. My characters don’t all talk like me. My protagonist is clean-mouthed and will never so much as forget a courtesy, while his younger sister learned language from him, but is in a rebellious phase and occasionally says something scandalous for the sake of it. My tough as nails police woman has some rough language (lots of damn!) but rarely crosses a line because she’s a professional.

Just like in real life, my world is made up of different people. That’s the experience I want a reader to have — a world where a polite young man chooses never to swear while at the same time his boss says the worst word I can imagine. A world like ours, where you don’t get to choose what’s pleasant.

My Influence Map

I’ve taken a short break from my Labyrinth series while I’ve been hard at work on my second book, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to blog about! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my map of influences. I think that we creative-types can trace our particular formula to a set of ingredients that, when mixed with our unique and stunning personalities, makes our creative footprint.

Different people at different times are influenced by different things. And I am very much a product of my time. I’m turning thirty this year and a lot of the points marked out on my influence map shouldn’t be much of a surprise to people who are also my age, especially if they come from the same area as me!

Continue reading

Meet Some Amazing Rescue Sweethearts

There are two fine little ladies in this picture. The roly poly bald one is me, at about fifteen months. And the cutie wearing the exact same facial expression is Toby, the rescue dog my parents brought home as a sweet puppy months before I was even conceived.

Toby was a beautiful, sweet-tempered, playful little dog. No one could even guess at her breed. There was probably some collie in there. She was friendly and she listened well, and even my friends who were afraid of dogs loved little Toby. She lived to a ripe old age of seventeen. She was a great dog and she was unique, which is part of what’s fun about rescuing mutts. Nobody out there had a dog like Toby. I’ve looked and looked and never found another pup who had her curly ringlet ears, small stature, vulpine snout, and long hair.

Toby was such a fixture of my life. We had her since before I was born, and she died when I was sixteen. She was there through all the formative years of my life. So when I first heard all the stereotypes about rescue pets — that they’re poorly behaved, that they’re rangy, that you’ll never be able to train them right, that they misbehave around other animals — I was just so shocked I didn’t even know what to do with myself. Pets like Toby were supposed to be those things? There was no way!

Well, fifteen years later and I still believe that. If anything, I’ve only gotten more passionate about how great shelter pets are, because I’ve gotten a lot more of a sample base of choose from.

Continue reading