Let’s Get Edgy (or, How Far Is Too Far?)

So, maybe you’ve noticed that I describe my writing as “edgy romance and speculative fiction”. Maybe you’ve wondered… why?

Well.

It’s not about being explicit/graphic (though sometimes, sure, I’ll consider going there); that’s just called erotic romance, or “hot” or “spicy”. And naughty books are so popular right now, even mainstream — moms outside the preschool chat about their favourites and check out each other’s Kindles and Kobos — that there’s no edge in it, not even with a little bit of kink thrown in for titillation (this isn’t the 1950s: we’ve all heard of bondage and threesomes by now, no one is shocked).

It’s not about profanity, though my voice goes where the characters want it to go, and sometimes that includes teh swearz. Lots of books have swearwords and gritty language of varying forms; that’s nothing edgy, and nothing to do with romance. Obviously, there are some places readers don’t expect to find, well, words a kindergarten teacher wouldn’t use in class (e.g., sweet romances, particularly faith-oriented romances where a wedding is de rigueur before the happy couple gets even an off-screen naked snuggle), but I don’t think most people classify a few $h!ts and f^*ks as particularly edgy these days.

Walking on the edge, for me, is going as far as I myself feel comfortable, and then taking a step or two further. Pushing myself into uncomfortable territory. Going into mindspaces where I don’t have the answers, and seeing what my characters will do.

So I take the classic “nice girl meets a rock star”, and she’s a virgin and he’s a stud, and she’s grown up with the white-picket-fence life while he’s been on the road… and I say to myself, let’s make him a heroin addict. Let’s get onto Erowid and learn everything we can about what that looks and feels like, and think about the risks and damage he’d be carrying. Where does that put the girl? Can she take that on?

I take the classic “just dumped and vulnerable” situation, and put my protagonist/heroine in the path of a delicious rebound dude… and then I say, let’s make him polyamorous. Yes, as in, he already has a girlfriend, and she’s all fine with him having a new lover alongside her. Let’s check out Polyamory.com and find out what that really means for real people living it, and think about how a traditionally-brought-up woman might react to what her new temptation is offering.

Now, I’m pretty sure many — most? — readers aren’t going to be into addicts and polyamorists. But I don’t want to write about just another red herring obstacle, and I actively look for challenges that make me think, damn, I don’t know if I could handle that. So for me, it’s more about the emotional/psychological edge than anything sexual or verbal, exploring the shadowy area just outside of the furthest edge of my own comfort level.

I know that’s how/what/where I want to write, to explore. But… how far is too far? At what point do I cross from just being edgy to going over the cliff and splatting onto readers’ repulsion? Where is the hard line between raised eyebrows and disgust? I really do worry about this — how much is too much? — but I just can’t seem to dig into novel ideas where the problems could all be solved with an hour or two of honesty and good communication and some sensible decision-making.

I don’t know. I suppose at some point I’ll find out. I hope I haven’t put everyone off already…

But “edgy” is my warning label. Not for language, not for spice, but for “don’t expect normal and don’t expect nice”.

When You’re Someone Else’s Job

As an author, at some point (unless you do absolutely everything yourself) you’ll be someone else’s job. At least, your manuscript, or your cover, or your e-book formatting, or your marketing plan, or… something of yours will be on someone else’s desk and part of their work day.

Now, most people in the book industry (whether they are traditional publishers or micro/indie/small-press publishers or service providers who work with self-publishers) do it because they love books. And really, their reputations are stacked on making your book the best it can be, right? So it’s safe to assume that they want to do the best possible job they can with your stuff… isn’t it?

But…

Just for a moment, let go of the fantasy that your book is the only (and/or most important) one on other people’s desks. Most book industry professionals can’t afford to take on just one assignment at a time, and many have personal creative endeavours to pursue as well. They know we love/need/want to feel as though our particular projects are everyone’s all-encompassing priority, so maybe they let us feel that way because it keeps us happy, and that leads to warm fuzzies all around, but really?

When you’re someone else’s job, it’s work for them. If they’re professional and good at what they do, it will be done competently and (barring unforeseen circumstances) on time, regardless of whether you’re a jerk or an angel. Do you want competent, though, or do you want best effort? Do you want just good enough for your book, or above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty, labour-of-love, best-it-can-possibly-be?

Think about it… Are you always a rock star and superhero at your day job, or only when you feel appreciated and personally invested in the outcome?

So really, isn’t it in our best interests to make sure the people who work on our books feel that way — appreciated and personally invested, sharing our hopes and anxieties because it’s their project too?


MY CORE PRINCIPLES FOR GOOD PUBLISHING RELATIONSHIPS

ONE
I will not treat professionals as service providers,
even when that’s what they are. I will treat them as equals and partners in the project we’re working on, or maybe even employers/senior ranks/mentors (depending on the circumstances). I will remember that if I treat them as servants or subordinates, it will likely result in subordinate-quality care from them and a lower place on their personal priority lists. I will avoid behaving like a boss or client (even though I may sometimes feel like I should be the boss or client) because it will not advance my relationship or priority with them and will not elicit their best work.

TWO
I will not forget that they have other projects on their desks
apart from mine. I will not assume that they can or will drop everything to tend to my project. I will not impose an artificial urgency based on a timeline of my wants rather than needs, not least because people tend to see through that pretty quickly. I will remember that if I behave as the squeaky wheel, I may well get (metaphorically) oiled first, but I won’t get oiled well — I don’t want a quick job done so they can get me out of the way.

THREE
I will not assume that they’re as obsessed with my book as I am,
that because I’m willing to work on it day and night, weekends and holidays and through my lunch hour and even if I’m sick, everyone else must be too. I won’t expect an instant response to an email sent Saturday night, or assume my publishing professionals will be at their desks on statutory holidays. If I do get a response outside of regular working hours, I will take it as a reminder that they’re super busy, and not as an indication it’s a good time for regular communication. I will remember that publishing professionals have a right to take sick days and go on vacation, and that even joking about it being a problem might drop my book from “current favourite project” to “chore I really don’t feel like facing today”.

FOUR
I will not confuse or conflate business and friendship.
I will not allow the blurred lines of social media and online friendship to obscure the fact that my book is my publishing professionals’ job. Even though I may be friends or sort-of-friends with the people I work with, I will not use that friendly relationship/access to impose on them with regard to my book and/or their skills. I will respect their right to be compensated for their skilled labour and/or consulting time. I will recognize that being on Facebook at 3 AM does not necessarily constitute a desire to talk about work projects, and that social media chat is probably not the best avenue for business communication. I will bear in mind that straining this boundary will likely sour the friendship and result in their fervent desire to never work with me again.


NOTE: I’m not always perfect at this. I’ve made all four of these mistakes on occasion. In at least one case, it was bad enough that I’m still embarrassed about it — but grateful that I woke up to the wrong moves I was making before worse damage was done.