I do sometimes worry about offending people though. The character I am channeling right now is bawdy and outspoken, and behaves in ways I would absolutely never. I make a brief foray into the so-called decadence of 1920s Berlin, and so my character refers to “sipping pink champagne with kohl-eyed nancies.” Politically incorrect epithet aside, my stepsister’s name is Nancy. Will she be offended?, I wondered as I wrote that line. I have a line about a town called Harveysville and how it sounds like “a hamletful of inbreds.” There may be dozens of Harveysvilles across the country. If any of their inhabitants pick up this novel, will they be offended? I think about things like this as I write—along with the inescapable squirminess of making sexual references knowing my grandparents are someday going to read it—but in the end I know I have to ignore these worries or the story’s integrity will suffer. That might sound a little pretentious, but what’s the point in writing this character’s story if I’m going to censor it? The new novel is written in the first person, and when a story is written in the first person you’ll inevitably have some readers who think your beliefs are synonymous with your character’s. Heck, they’ll think so even if you write in the third person.
While we’re on the subject of offending people, I might as well note that it seems I have offended a few Republicans who didn’t like the fact that one of the main characters in Mary Modern is a scientist who is vehemently anti-Bush. (She’s from a clan of Massachusetts Catholics, so it’s no real shocker, is it?) My editor and I did discuss toning down the liberal rhetoric in the novel, but ultimately I decided to follow my own character’s advice: “Life is too short for subtlety.” I noticed a review on Amazon that said this lack of subtlety “took the shine off a bit” from an otherwise fine novel, and that criticism is perfectly valid. But when people say my novel is “bad” just because they don’t agree with my characters’ political beliefs, well…that seems rather ignorant.
So I’m not going to worry about offending people—or at least I’ll try not to!