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.

Seeing Your (Literary) Baby for the First Time

“You’re not going to believe this,” one of my closest friends texted me to say a week ago. “There was a box from Amazon on my doorstep when I got home from work.”

He then sent me this photograph:

Oh my god.

It seemed that Amazon had made an error. Everyone who’d ordered the  book in those first few hours it was up on the site had a copy shipped to them — almost a full month early!

I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. Look at that. That’s my book! That’s my title, my characters, my cover art, my name! It looks so… real! It’s a real book! I couldn’t wait until my own copies arrived and I could hold it in my hands.

Well, it seemed that someone else had made an error — me! I had just expected the books to be sent to me automatically, not knowing that I had to put in an order with my publisher to get them! So here I am, a two weeks before release, and I don’t have my book!

It’s a strange, strange feeling. More and more pictures of my book have been seen floating around on the internet, and every single one makes my toes tingle! But despite all of it, I still haven’t actually touched or even seen my book for myself!

This thing I created is out there, in the world, and I have no way to get to it. All those copies have been arriving at places too far for me to reach. Some days, I just want to scream with anticipation! But other days, honestly, I’m a little glad. Odd, maybe, but it’s the truth. It’s heightened my excitement and it’s coated the stress and nerves of the pre-release hustle with a sense of wonder and glee and eagerness. Will they come today? Tomorrow?

Until I hold a copy in my hand, it still doesn’t feel real. And so long as it doesn’t feel real, I’m able to keep my chin up and keep working on the hundreds of little things I have to do before The Deathsniffer’s Assistant hits shelves for real!

… but it sure would be nice to see and hold my baby!

Here’s a little gallery with some of the pictures I’ve been sent. If you have one of those sneaky copies, be sure to take some pictures and send them to me! I’d love to see them!

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.

Schrodinger’s Manuscript

I finished my first pass revisions of my second novel this weekend. That’s the first step in my editing process, when I just go through and read the book and fix anything that sticks out. I found some contradictions within the logic of the mystery, which I fixed, and ended up combining a couple minor characters into one. I also added a few scenes to build up the profile of some of the suspects in Olivia and Chris’s murder du jour to support the whodunnit aspect. Mostly though, my changes were just cutting scenes down, curbing my natural tendency towards long-winded dialogue segments, and making sentences a lot shorter and more elegant. The big revisions come later. A first pass is more just about getting the book ready to be seen by someone else’s eyes in a way that isn’t just embarrassing for everyone involved.

That “someone else” has the book now. She’s my alpha reader and she understands story structure like a master.  She does amazing job giving feedback on the actual content of my work, be it positive (hopefully) or negative (inevitably.) She’s also an adult, possessed of a life filled with adult things, and my books are around the 400 pages range. Not doorstoppers, but not afternoon reads, either. So it’ll take her a few days at least to get through the book.

And this, for some reason, might be the part of the process I find most stressful!

Before I do my first pass, my book mostly exists in theory, to me. It’s not a novel. It’s a collection of scenes that I wrote over a period of six months. It’s the legacy of one too many Starbucks refreshers and listening to Electroswing so loud I’m going to have hearing problems in fifteen years. It’s a patchwork Frankenstein’s monster, shambling through the slums of my harddrive. It’s not a book.

But once I’ve read it, everything changes. I see what I was thinking in my outline. How this scene leads into this one and how it all fit together. It’s not just a collection of scenes, some of which I wrote what feels like ages ago. This is actually a book! I start getting excited, I realize it’s not a complete disaster, I like what I’m reading! And then I send it off to my first alpha reader and…

Oh, God.

Something about this step just paralyzes me. Like the cat in the box that is both dead and alive, right now my book is both good and terrible. The thing is, even with all the insight provided by my first pass, I am still in no position to judge my own writing! I know it too well. The characters, the world, the mystery, the plot twists. I am not objective enough to be able to read the book and know if it works.

Until I get the response back from my first draft, it’s like I’m hanging in the balance.

A few days from now, I’ll have that response. We’ll open the box and the manuscript will be either good or it won’t be. Reality will collapse back and I’ll know what I have in front of me. What changes will I have to make before it goes to the next alpha reader on my list? What should my goals be working towards my final draft? How much work does it still need? And then I’ll be fine! Give me a mission and I’ll carry it out.

But, oh, this in-between state could kill a writer! I’d forgotten how it felt when I finished The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. I am definitely remembering now.

N: No More Castles, or, why I’ll never write medieval fantasy

(Gosh, it’s amazing how quickly you can get behind on this challenge when you have a busy week, isn’t it? Here’s me rolling up my sleeves and getting back in there!)

I owe so much to medieval fantasy.

The bibliography of my teenage years reads like a who’s who of the standbys: Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels, The Wheel of Time, the Belgariad and everything else David Eddings ever wrote, the Lord of the Rings. Books that I still hold as favourites to this day also are a part of that subgenre: Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire are just two examples.  Medieval fantasy, classic fantasy, changed my life. Knights and princesses, dragons and castles, jousts and wizards, quests and prophecies, sword and sorcery… they captured me all through my childhood and onwards, creating the person I am today.

So why do I absolutely never ever intend to write it?

One of my favourite authors, N. K. Jemisin, has a great quote from her interview included in the text of her novel The Killing Moon. “I don’t have a problem with medieval Europe. I have a problem with modern fantasy’s fetishization of medieval Europe; that’s different. So many fantasy writers and fans simplify the social structure of the period, monotonize the cultural interactions, treat conflicts as binaries instead of the complicated dynamic tapesty they actually were. They’re not doing medieval Europe, they’re doing Simplistic British Isles Fantasy Full of Lots of Guys with Swords…”

And it’s the truth. The more I’ve learned about history, the more I’ve realized that the “medieval fantasy” we’ve been creating for decades is just that: a creation. It’s a big shared universe that we all deposit ideas into and withdraw ideas out of, working from a set of beliefs that honestly aren’t even true!

I like new ideas. I like growth. I like freshness. And the level of attachment that has grown to that shared universe of medieval fantasy has made it so that it’s incredibly hard to innovate within it! There’s a set of expected parametres a writer is expected to be working with.

I’ve come to be interested in how things can be stranger, newer, more unique. I like seeing how different types of technologies, environments, climates, cultures, gender roles, flavours, and so forth can affect fantasy. Where my twelve year old self was thrilled by sword wielding duelists and wanted nothing else, now I enjoy seeing what early firearms change when added to a world. Where I used to love war narratives, now I’m more interested in how conflict arises in times of peace. My book takes place during an economic depression — a different kind of political warscape than a battlefield.

Jemisin goes on to say that “not all medieval fantasy [is like] this, of course–but enough [is] that frankly, they’ve turned me off the setting.” And I think the same applies to me, too. I’m bored of Person With Sword. I’m bored of all the tropes and trappings. Not only have I read that book a thousand times — I’ve read it written by people who are just a lot more passionate about it than me. I don’t feel there’s anything new I can or even want to bring to that specific table.

When it’s recommended to me, I still read medieval fantasy. I still love plenty of books — and non-books, if my love for Bioware’s Dragon Age games are any indication! — that have that setting and flavour, that borrow from that shared universe. But it’s not a universe I’m interested in sharing myself. There’s so much of it out there, and so much of it is so very good. I want to make my mark somewhere new.

I: Inspiration, or, Where Did the World of My Book Come From?

Today I’m just going to talk a bit about my own work. My first book, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant, offers a lot of things that I don’t think you can get just anywhere. Like my cast of very different women, each with different kinds of strength and their own individual weaknesses. Or my melding of the whodunnit, conspiracy, and urban fantasy genres. But I think the most unique thing I’m bringing to the table is my setting.

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant takes place in an entirely fictional world, but the aesthetic I’m trying to evoke is Edwardian England, specifically the era between the mid 1900s and the early 1930s. And so far as I can see, I’m the only author who’s ever written a fantasy novel with this flavour! Fantasy has come up from its medieval roots in recent years, but while I’ve seen a fair amount of  Victorian, Regency, or even 1950s flavoured fantasy, no one seems particularly interested in the Edwardian era! In fact, I originally started intending for that more Victorian or Regency feel, myself. It seemed like the thing, and I knew a lot already. But as I wrote my first draft, my aesthetic just warped under my fingers. It modernized, and I let it. I realized that something really one-of-a-kind was possible if I kept on this path.

Rewinding a bit, the kernel of my setting, what I started with, had always been in wanting to write a world that had the fairy tale splendour of a city like Zurich, and filling it with components that are usually coded to lighter fantasy, like elementals or unicorns. I wanted to take the wonder of that airy sort of world and then juxapose it against that universal constant of daily life: it’s boring. It involves work, taxes, traffic, paperwork, and repetition. I think that everyone’s life is boring, and everyone can empathize with the grind it can be.

pictured: my top secret recipe
pictured: my top secret recipe

I made the magical into the routine. Almost everyone in the world of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant possesses amazing magical gifts, but those gifts are heavily policed and categorized and have a strict set of rules. Which gift you have limits your employment options and is an integral part of your government identification. It’s a part of the daily grind and is just a cog in the beaurocracy.

Ultimately, the technology I felt this level of organized society would create would be further ahead than my planned era. And as my world “aged,” I felt the aesthetic of the early 20th century offered really interesting venues to explore. And as I learned more and more about the era, it just felt right! It felt new and fun and exciting.

I read a lot of historical novels set in this era as a little girl, so maybe that’s where my fondness for it came from. But all those pieces swirled together and clicked, and I couldn’t be more happy with how my world fell out! I hope everyone looks into checking it out when The Deathsniffer’s Assistant comes out this summer!

When writing yourself, let your setting change underneath you if it wants to, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Unique is fun. Embrace it.

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.