I started my fiction writing career by penning status reports and product schedules for a tech company. Just kidding. I’ve always loved writing. I love the feeling of immersing myself in a world of my own creation. So burned out from my career, and with two busy kids in my life, I realized needed an outlet—something that was uniquely mine, and that’s why I started writing again.
As my husband will attest to, I’ve never been much for romance. I prefer the kind of story that grips you and keeps you reading way past the point where you know you’re neglecting the other things you should be doing—like cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, going to sleep. Whatever. You get the point.
Anyway, I came up with this story idea about a woman who had a secret life, and I started to write. And write. And write. Finally, when I finished writing the darned thing, I had this moment of absolute terror when I realized that if it all went the way it was supposed to, people were going to read the book. PEOPLE WERE ACTUALLY GOING TO READ THE BOOK. (Deep breath.) Friends and co-workers would all know what I’d written. And oh, dear God no, even my mother was going to read this book!
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that he always felt the need to apologize for the stuff he’d written and I know exactly how he felt. The day after I’d published Deadly Lies, I lay in bed with the covers over my head and wanted to stay there forever. Or at least a few weeks. I do have a day job after all.
Then came the dreaded first moment when I passed someone in the hallway…
“I read your book…” they said.
I cringed. “And… well… what did you think?”
Much to my surprise, people loved the book, and whether they liked the ending or not (I’ll admit, it was rather controversial), they connected with the characters and found the plot line compelling.
So with one book out and getting good reviews, you would think this sort of thing gets easier, right? Not so much. There I was completing the final round of edits on my latest book, In the Dark, when it all came rushing back again. That fear. The worry about what other people might think about the book. About me. There are some nasty characters and gritty scenes in the story. I’ll admit that I removed a few f-bombs from the last draft and promised myself that I’d swear less in the next one, but the desire to do even deeper edits to polish some of the grit and grime from the story was sorely tempting.
Because after all, my mother is going to read this book!
So there I was, index finger trembling above the backspace key, vibrating with fear, when I realized something fundamental. If I removed anything substantial from the story—deleted a plot line, changed a character, scrubbed the dialogue until it was squeaky clean, this would no longer be my story. It would be a pale reflection of the book I set out to write. And in doing so, not only would I shortchange my readers, I would be cheating myself too, because the story I told, and the way I told it was uniquely mine.
Maybe you like to put coconut in your peanut butter cookies, or you sing show tunes off key in the shower, or have dinner parties with well-dressed mannequins. Whatever it is that makes you uniquely you, embrace it. I swear I won’t sanitize the next book, and with any luck, I won’t be tempted to do anything that might dull my work ever again.
Yeah. My mother is going to read the book, and she’ll probably complain about the language, and I’ll tell her I learned all of those swear words from her. Then I’ll buy her a romance novel and get back to work on the next story because…
My name is Chris Patchell, and I write suspense novels. Sometimes my characters use bad language. Sometimes my characters do bad things.
Deal with it.