With my second book signing coming up in under a week (April 22, 2023), I have been thinking about my first book signing back in October 2019, which featured my first and only book at the time, “How To Make A Monster: The Loveliest Shade of Red." Specifically, I've been thinking about what I regret about that day, which, overall, may have been one of the best days of my life. One of the few things I find myself regretting about my book signing (just a teensy, tiny, little bit) is the book itself.
Don’t get me wrong, How To Make A Monster is one of the best things I will ever write. People who have been reading my work since its publication still rank it as their favourite among my books, and some say they don’t believe that will ever change. And that is amazing for me to hear from horror fans and unflinching readers of dark fiction, but my book signing in 2019 involved mostly friends, old coworkers, and random readers who happened to be in the store, all of whom were likely not expecting what they would end up finding in that book. Because what they saw when they opened How To Make A Monster was something darker and more crude than anything they had read before.
How To Make A Monster, my first publication, my introduction to the world as a writer, starts with an explicit description of a blowjob. A blowjob by a cocaine addled sex worker and exotic dancer who proceeds to fall off the stage in the middle of her set. And that is probably the tamest part of the collection of stories. The book is crude. But the book is crude because humans are, fundamentally, crude. When I was writing these stories, I wanted to describe events the way people experience and think about them at their most vulnerable and visceral levels. Unfortunately, the result of this has been many people – including several that I care for and respect – opening the book, reading the first page (or first paragraph), and immediately deciding that it’s not for them. And that me, and my writing, are not for them. I am often left to wonder if my first book has been a detriment to me in terms of garnering readers. Because even some who managed to read the entire book were discouraged from reading other works of mine because of how dark How To Make A Monster is.
Because of scenes in this book, I have been accused of punishing women who are promiscuous (even though, if you’ve read my work, most of it involves punishing bad men. In truth, I like to punish people in general). I’ve been told that I, as a man, shouldn’t be writing about the sexual abuse of women. I’ve been asked if I’m anti-abortion, and I’ve been asked if I am okay. And who hurt me. Now, whenever someone tells me that they are going to read How To Make A Monster, I cringe a little bit, and wonder what they will think of me after they're done. Then, in a way that is both relieving and distressing, I assure myself that they likely won’t get through the entire book. And they won’t get to the part of the book that worries me the most.
There is a rape scene in one of the stories that is truly horrendous. I legitimately lost, and still lose, sleep over this scene. Before publishing, I had to consult several readers to see if they thought I had pushed things too far. The reason I wrote such a brutal and graphic rape scene is because, prior to finishing How To Make A Monster, I happened to coincidentally read a few books which included rape (it’s kind of part of the territory with dark fiction, unfortunately). And, in each of the stories, the authors decided to blur the line between rape and rough play, making it seem as though the clear victim might have enjoyed what had happened to her. And I was repulsed by that. Because there is nothing in the world worst than sexual violation: rape, paedophilia, molestation, etc. I wanted to make it clear how reprehensible the act of rape is. No grey area, no misrepresentation. It’s something I don’t take lightly and it’s something I didn’t want to write lightly about. Also, more simply, I wanted to write what I believe to be a realistic portrayal of what might happen to that character based on their circumstances. And I needed realistic justification for what they did next. I’ll have to revisit that story because it ties to future projects, and even I don’t want to read that scene.
Do I regret writing How To Make A Monster? No. This collection reflects many of my life experiences, and it helped me to heal from those life experiences. But I do regret the reaction that the book sometimes gets, and I constantly worry about what I’ve written on those pages, and whether I will truly regret them in the future. I’m sure there are things in the book that might come back to haunt me one day as attitudes continue to change, as what is tolerable continues to change. But today, during this current moral zeitgeist, I still believe that the things I wrote in the book are necessary, crude as they might be. And, at the end of the day, what I was doing when I wrote How To Make A Monster was being honest about how I see society and humanity.
These Are The Things That Keep Me Up At Night
If you’ve read this far, consider subscribing to my newsletter. Until the end of May, subscribers will receive a free ebook of The Loveliest Shade of Red, the titular novella from How To Make A Monster: The Loveliest Shade of Red. And you can judge some of the content of the book for yourself. Just try not to judge me too harshly when you read it.