What’s going on with Inkubus?

 

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve slowed down on publishing books in my main Inkubus series. It took me a while to come to terms with why I was dragging my feet, but now that I know, it’s time to ‘fess up.
Those of you who’ve read more than one of my books know how much I love a good setting with vibrant characters whose interactions are fun even outside of their own romances. I prefer to create one world, and play out lots of conflicts within it, as old characters make cameos and throw wrenches into new characters’ plans.
So with each book in the main Inkubus series pushing that central conflict forward, I realized that if I wrapped it up too soon, I was gonna miss out on telling a lot of other stories while it’s raging its hottest. (No pun intended).
And that would have wrecked me.
With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to two new series in the Inkubus universe.
Born In Blood Banner
First up, Born in Blood, which will kick off in June with Siren’s Curse. Born in Blood follows Detective John Camden of Reaper fame, and his tough-talking only-a-friend-no-really leading lady Tia. Secrets, lies, and a curse that could claim their lives.
Siren’s Curse (Born in Blood #1) is available for preorder on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo. You can also catch a sneak preview of it in This Is Indie, a free sampler containing sneak peeks at some of the most exciting books to hit your kindle this spring. Get it free from Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.
 Fly Away Angel Bannerr
Next up, coming some time after Siren’s Curse releases, Fly Away Angel, which will begin with Born Sinner. Fly Away Angel is an extremely dark romantic urban fantasy series following an ex-con and her frenemy trying to elude a murderous cabal of demons. Intrigue, repentance, and an answer to the question most of us hope we never have to ask: how long must someone suffer to become the best version of themselves?
Both of these will be multi-book series that are a little more Urban Fantasy-heavy than the main Inkubus series. They follow a single couple- not a new couple each book. You’re gonna get your HEA, and read lots of delicious smutty sex besides, but they’re more of a slow burn.
There’s more to come after that, but those are the two I’m cutting my teeth on. I intend to continue publishing Inkubus books as needed depending how these series move the overall world’s conflict forward. But that’s why you haven’t seen Stalker yet.
I hope you’re as excited as I am by all this. If not, I hope you will be once you’ve checked out an exclusive sneak-peek of Siren’s Curse in This Is Indie, available free from all retailers. Get it free from Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.
Also coming up is the re-release of Alliance, and the release of more Mated in Hell. With my medical stuff getting in the way, I haven’t had time to line it up yet, however that will be coming soon, as well. I haven’t forgotten about Tessa and Liam’s ongoing wary circling.
So that’s the update on all of the magical love stories you can expect to see from my K. de Long penname this summer. I’ve also got Black Roses ongoing, under Tiger Tarantino, and am cooking up a host of new books, as well. Thanks for sticking with me!

On disability.

Today, I swiped a stick of foundation across my jawline, leaning into the mirror to see whether the color blended.  The woman next to me snuck a look at me- then a longer one. I smiled at her. “Your eyes are really pretty. Those colors look great on you,” I told her. It wasn’t a lie- the pale, pearly shadow she had brushed on her inner corners showed  up beautifully.
She smiled wide. “Thanks. Umm, can I ask you a personal question?”
Most people don’t get personal over testers at the local Sephora. But I knew the conversation she was about to start, because it was the fourth time that day I’d had that conversation.
Life is different when you’re visibly disabled.
I’m fortunate; unless you strip me down to find the scars, most of my disabilities are invisible in most circumstances.
In most circumstances.
*
As my family began planning a vacation to an amusement park- no small undertaking with several kids and several adults to coordinate- an awkward subject came up. One of the kids was probably gonna need a wheelchair. After the planning session, my partner pulled me to the side. He avoided my eye, so I cut him off before he could force the words out. “I think I may need one too, if the doctors can’t figure it out by then.”
“I’m sure they will,” he said. “But it might be a backup plan.”
The months passed, taking it from a backup plan to a certainty. I didn’t have an easy time with that- I had once walked a mile or so home after moving cross country with a used TV perched on my shoulder for my new residence. I had been athletic for most of my life. But it was more important to enjoy the vacation without being in tears just from the pain of staying on my feet for a single ride’s line.
I nearly cried sitting down that first day. It felt too much like admitting I was never going to get back up.
When my mobility-restricted companion saw me, they squealed. “We’re wheelchair buddies!” They sat next to me on rides, and tried demanding their father race my partner with our chairs. They offered me their arm to lean on when I walked. I was happy that the wheelchair had taken the brunt off them for theirs- I knew them well enough to know how their health issues and mobility issues too often set them apart from others. I smiled, and played along.
But I saw the stares we got. Each one was a pebble tossed into my lap, until I could hardly believe my partner could still push the chair past their weight.
He got up to stand in line at a snack kiosk, setting my wheelchair, with me in it, to the side of the main thoroughfare. A man cutting a corner without looking walked into my chair. “You’re a fucking cunt,” he told me. “If you can’t walk, you shouldn’t be here.”  He was gone by the time my partner got back. I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to ruin the trip.
At the end of that trip, I was overfreakingjoyed to get out of the chair and return to short walks and frequent breaks- and ashamed, that I missed how much less I hurt when I wasn’t constantly forced to overdo my body’s limits for even minor activities.
Like I said, I’m fortunate.
*
Following my recent surgery, my body recovered exceptionally well in some ways- and unusually poorly in others. I was able to start moving in record time- but my blood was functioning abnormally poorly. So I’m on oxygen now. I’m not sure for how long- I guess that’s up to my blood. I hope that it, like the wheelchair, is temporary.
About that conversation…
“Can I ask you something personal?”
“Umm, sure.”
She carefully avoided looking at me, combing a wand over an already-mascaraed eyelash that was free of clumps, too. The action was superfluous, but one of those little moments of grace that those of us who wear makeup rarely get to see others do. “Do you have… that… because you’re a smoker?”
Same I had with the others, I laughed. “Sorry, no. I’ve had one cigarette my entire life.”
The wand stilled. For a moment, the fear she’d been trying to hide hung their between us, painted across her face. “Oh.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I told her. “I just lost the genetic lottery.”
She took her weight off her elbows, standing straight to look me in the eye. “Don’t say that. No genes are bad genes. They make you you.”
That they do.
So why was she- and every other person who started that same conversation- so afraid of me?
Our bodies are our homes. Homes aren’t supposed to be fragile. Homes aren’t supposed to have cracks in the roofing, or gas leaks, or flimsy walls, or quirky creaks on the stairs. That person complaining about the drafts must be imagining it- because no homes have faulty caulking. So we curse at the creaks, and tear up the stairs, installing new planks only to discover that it may not have fixed the creak- or that the creak may not have been worth fucking with. We pretend to ignore those drips until we run out of pots to catch the water. We pretend not to smell the fumes, until they poison us in our sleep. We treat doctors as a luxury, rather than as a necessity.
We look at those whose homes came with flaws, idiosyncrasies, or differences that prevent them from functioning in the same way ours do as having somehow caused or deserved it. The fat. The smoking. The drinking. That person in the wheelchair has no right to the space they take up.
Because so long as it’s their own bad choices biting them in the ass, that person lugging an oxygen tank around, or that person in the chair will never be you.
Until it is.
So long as it’s their own bad choices biting them in the ass, you don’t have to consider whether you’ve been kind to others in their position. You don’t have to consider accommodating their needs.  You don’t have to ask, “What if they’ve always been that way?” You don’t have to consider that sometimes homes just aren’t built that sturdily. You don’t have to consider that even the most sturdy homes eventually succumb to rot, to disaster, to age.
You can blithely believe that there are no bad genes.
Only bad choices.

Why dark romance?

Some of you may have noticed an evolution in my books. I started writing stories about the staff of a strip club finding love, stories intended to be subversive and challenge a lot of the assumptions we have about sex workers. Writing Love and Lapdances is still one of the things I do for relaxation, because it reminds me of so many beautiful, loving, complex, powerful sex workers I’ve met over the years, who have lived some of the most uplifting real-life romances I’ve encountered. I’ve got enough stories outlined to write those novellas for another decade, if I chose.

But as I kept writing, I found myself returning to stories with a heavy dose of suspense, and violence, stories that just couldn’t fit in that world without dramatically twisting the underlying ideas behind Love and Lapdances- namely that sex work is pretty normal.  As I contemplated where I fit in the romance genre, it seemed more and more clear to me that my heart was pointing me far outside the contemporary romance flow. It pointed me to my gritty, pulpy roots, the books that stuck with me through the years. It pointed me to dark fantasy romances/PNRs, and bloody romantic thrillers that pushed even my boundaries. It pointed me to brutality, and trauma, and people powerful enough to survive it and still put love back out into the world.

Not everyone around me has understood it. There’s a number of books I’ve written that even my partner won’t read, because he knows enough of some of the kink to know it is just not his thing, and will never be his thing. After I discussed the outline for Siren with him, including the description of one of the kinkier/edgier scenes (You know the one, if you’ve read Restrain), he couldn’t meet my eye for an hour.

So often, when I talk to people about the darker side of romance, I hear some variation of “I don’t know why I’d want to buy into a character loving another character with no redeemable qualities.” But the thing is, and this is what makes me love dark romance all the more, there are redeemable qualities. They might not be save-the-cat level mercies; in some books they may simply be that antihero hero having a truly compelling written voice. That hero might have charisma, or such skill at their badness that you can’t help but root for them, with or without any kind of reformation. Maybe there’s even something extra satisfying about watching them corrupt their partner, watching the “good” character discover they’re capable of cruelty and violence, no longer forced to stay quiet in the face of it.

See, antiheroes are a mainstay in basically every literary genre. The doomed mafia kingpin who you can’t help but hope will escape the FBI trap slowly closing in around him. The vampire who has committed atrocities- and still will, for the “right” reasons, or because his bloodlust got away from him at the wrong time. Beauty and the Beast. House of Cards. American Psycho. On and on, deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole our fascination goes. We hate and love people who color outside society’s lines, due to our own resentment at the sacrifices and degradation needed to color inside those lines ourselves.

How could anyone think that those characters exist everywhere but romance?

And as for dark romance… it’s like a bastard love-child of romance and horror. It offers the adrenaline rush of reading disturbing things that you’d get from a horror novel, the how-far-can-you-push-people challenge in seeing exactly how the “normal” partner handles it, the catharsis of feeling angst and pain with them, sometimes masochistic tendencies in finding pleasure in the idea of severe pain or injury (or rape fantasies), the optimism in (sometimes) discovering that even the irredeemable can be redeemed, or the dog-eat-dog thrill of seeing the bad guy triumph.

Plus, dark romance offers a safe space for readers and writers to deal with trauma. One of my favorite things about the subgenre is that so much of it does cover not just the trauma someone might endure, but the recovery. For some people coping with PTSD or the fallout from trauma, this kind of literature can sometimes be a form of exposure therapy, allowing us to relive our worst fears, but with the assurance that it’ll be okay in the end, and that just as the traumatized protagonist has moved past it, we can too. This can make portrayals of trauma in romance subgenres (including dark romance) more powerful than ones offered in other genres, because that promise of a happily ever after means that that character will never be ruined by the acts of violence committed against them.

For these reasons, dark romance has captivated me for a long time. I have my pet peeves with it- particularly in the tropes that guide many authors’ (including dark romance authors’) representations of sex trafficking and sex workers, a seemingly natural topic for dark fiction in our current society. And I have a lot of quibbles with how it’s treated by etailers, since dark romance is particularly vulnerable to censorship by retailers who profit from these books while refusing to provide tools for labeling them- preferring to instead ban them the moment they offer them bad press or a reader complaint, which is all the more likely to happen when it’s not properly labeled. But by far, it’s my favorite genre to write in. Even my paranormal romance is dark by many people’s standards. As a woman who’s lived through a shitton of her own traumas, it’s the language I speak. It’s the subgenre where I’m most likely to see empowering and nuanced representations of survivors like myself.

So for all these reasons, I’m so, so excited to bring you bloody, kinky sagas like Siren, and Anarchy and Romance, and  Anarchist’s Lullaby and Black Roses.

Put it this way. Most of us like candy. Some of us like chocolate and gummy bears. Sweet stuff that’s like a culinary hug. Others like candies with a faint tart tang, like Jolly Ranchers. Still others of us like sour candies that are so goddamn strong, they’ll make your eyes water, and your teeth hurt. No one’s gonna make anyone else eat those candies ’til their tongues bleed and they can’t taste their other food. But some of us will choose to dive into that gluttony, and will love every fucked-up second of it.

Some readers nope out at explicit sex, or consensual BDSM. Others reach for power fantasies in which the reader’s consent to read the story is more important than the character’s consent in the book (dubcon rape fantasies, stories such as 50 Shades of Grey, where you can debate for hours the exact nature and authenticity of consent offered, in places). Others reach for even more graphic explorations of power, trauma, fear, and lust (Pepper Winters’ Debt Inheritance series).

Everyone has boundaries. Everyone has wants.

Me? I’ll eat that sour candy ’til my tongue bleeds. And when the bag is empty, I’ll show you my bloody, peeling tongue as a sign of pride.

For those readers interested in reading my dark romance, it primarily appears under my Tiger Tarantino penname, though some dark paranormal titles appear under K. de Long. Those books will always include a warning in the description that the book contains material some readers may find upsetting. Readers seeking to avoid that stuff should stick with Lila Vega, or K. de Long books that only contain mature content in the warning.

Anarchist’s Lullaby, and the fights ahead of us.

Anarchist’s Lullaby comes out, what, tomorrow? Hard to believe. I’ve spent the past month in and out of medical procedures and surgery, and have largely made myself at peace with it being out of my hands, and out in the wider world. But that’s been a frightening process, because of what this book is to me.
Anarchist’s Lullaby, to me, is a promise that when the time comes, I will fight. My ways of fighting are weird, due to my patchwork of disabilities. For me, writing a novel such as Anarchist’s Lullaby is a form of activism and protest- rather than simply a piece of entertainment or art. It’s not a battle as we’ve come to think of them. I’m hideously unsuited to those kinds of battles.
But it’s a promise to fight my way.
It’s hard to think of myself as a fighter when I’m breathing with the aid of a tube. When disruptions to our health care system could deprive me of medicines that prevent my body from committing suicide on a cellular level. It’s hard to think of myself as a fighter when some days my body seems so alien that it makes me dizzy to look in the mirror. It’s hard to think of myself as a fighter when the avenues that are visible to us are out of reach. I cannot become a politician- that’s a privilege largely reserved for the already-wealthy, as well as those who have never made compromises in poverty, such as sex work or bankrupcy or petty theft. It’s out of reach for many, maybe even most of those seeking to join the fight. I cannot become a protester- my health issues would never permit it. Many of the “do-gooder” jobs in social work or private charities are unsuited to my physical and mental issues.
But I do fight.
I fight through my writing. I fight through sharing private snippets of my life with you guys, so that you can understand how those around you in similar situations may feel pressured to silence. I fight through doing my best to share things that uplift people who don’t always have many with the privileges and power I do have reaching out to show things that make them feel beautiful and strong.
I fight by trying to be the best damn person I can be.
But sometimes, I need reminding. I need reminding that even when I’m quiet, even when I’m healing, I will not back down from the fights ongoing.
Because we need every fighter we can get if we’re gonna uphold the progress we’ve made, and keep marginalized members of our communities safe.
Even a sick, crazy romance novelist.
We all have roles to play. We all have fights to face.
Maybe the nice thing about having severe medical scares so frequently is having that constant reality check. People emerging from near-death situations often talk about feeling their life was wasted, looking back on it and realizing all the things they wanted to change. Going through that frequently leaves me constantly doublechecking that my feet are on the right path so that if this next medical scare is the one that sees me dead, I won’t have too many regrets.
I won’t regret Anarchist’s Lullaby.
I won’t regret fighting.
En garde.

 

Anarchist’s Lullaby is available on Amazon.com. All profits go to Black Lives Matter. Thank you for reading and supporting my books!

All profits from sales of Anarchist’s Lullaby will be donated to Black Lives Matter.

Hey all, Katie here temporarily. Very temporarily. For those of you who don’t know, I recently had surgery, and am still healing.

I wanted to talk to you before Anarchist’s Lullaby goes live.

When your credit cards are charged for the preorder of Anarchist’s Lullaby, and going forward, any profits from Anarchist’s Lullaby will go to do critical work protecting some of the communities most impacted by racism and systemic persecution. I’m thrilled to say that 100% of the profits from Anarchists Lullaby will be donated to Black Lives Matter.

I’d wanted to do that from the day I uploaded the book for preorder, but with my family struggling through a particularly rough patch, I knew we might need every penny for the medications keeping me alive long enough to cash the royalty cheque. But since we had a bit of a windfall, that’s no longer a strong enough reason to justify keeping that money for myself.

Sure, there’s an argument to be made that it wouldn’t be fair to expect me to NOT get paid for that work, given how very hard I worked on it. That the dichotomy that says it’s better to be a starving artist than a sellout is a way in which capitalists try to restrict artists’ view of their power and justify paying them less. But that argument wasn’t anywhere near a strong enough pull to keep me from feeling that in this case, I DON’T want to be paid for this piece of art.

Many of the issues that it would have been impossible to write Anarchist’s Lullaby without addressing aren’t ones that affect me directly. So it wouldn’t seem right to keep the profit on a story shot through with other people’s pain, struggles that affect whether those in my community live or die, such as Quanice Derrick Hayes, a black seventeen year old who was murdered by the Portland Police not so long before I stuck my face into the main city for my recent surgery. No community, no matter how liberal or forward-thinking on the surface, is free of issues stemming from racial injustice. In hyper-liberal Portland, people of color still routinely suffer from police brutality, and violence that is but an extension of systemic hostility tracing back to when Oregon was founded as a “white paradise.” It’s a reminder not to believe the whitewashing, that somehow your community is untouched by injustice.

Many, many causes are gonna need all the donations they can get over the next few years, but I chose Black Lives Matter because their work seems PARTICULARLY urgent. With a government that even now is taking away the few constraints that exist on law enforcement to hold our authorities accountable for racism, brutality, and corruption, and that condemns the post-election wave of violence building toward racial minorities here so little that it could even be construed as endorsing it, Black Lives Matter’s work is more important than ever.

I want to thank you for choosing to purchase Anarchist’s Lullaby, and reading my stories.

<3

Katie

Romance is political. Period.

I wrote a political book. Not a “well, I’ll try to toe the line between subversive and mainstream, and try to seed new ideas in quietly” balancing act, but a make-your-eyes-bleed polemic diatribe of a story.
 .
Political things are not always well-received in our pop culture, including in romance. “I read to escape.” “I’m tired of the negativity.” And so on and so on.
 .
But can I let you in on a secret?
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Romance is political.
 .
Love is political.
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It was when women were expected to marry strangers for stability or economic need, and come to discover good traits in their partners after the wedding. In such an environment, a romance that showed a woman that she shouldn’t have to be unhappy was a deeply political act of rebellion against those who would rather she bore her distress in silence.
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It was when the Lovings were forbidden from marrying by laws against miscegenation. When the “white slavery” panic created laws such as the Mann Act to punish interracial couples by portraying men of color and foreigners as evil, lustful deceivers who would lure good (white) men’s wives into prostitution and sin.
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It was when same-sex couples were forbidden from marriage. (Or are, if a new Supreme Court and Congress overturns that precedent). In many areas, small public displays of affection such as handholding or kissing are still deeply political acts.
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For a woman to read a book that tells her that she deserves someone amazing who enriches her personal growth is a deeply political act in a world in which half the population still thinks she should be legally required to be submissive to her male partner.
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For a woman to read a book that explores her sexuality, and treats her sexual wants as relevant and necessary to the success of a relationship is a deeply political act in a world in which women’s sexuality is still held up for public contempt and harassment.
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For a woman- especially a woman of color- to read a book in which people of color are portrayed as desirable, it is a political statement. And the reverse. When we only consume entertainment showing white couples, or straight couples, it is a political statement.
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For millions of women to spend billions on books that affirm these values despite being treated like a cultural punchline is a deeply political statement.
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So yes. I wrote something political. If I’m lucky I’ll never write something so political again.
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And by choosing to read it, or similar political works, or not, you’re doing something just as political, too.
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Anarchist’s Lullaby is now available for preorder, with a March release.

Lions and tigers and…

Happy 2017, guys!

I’m kicking off the new year with a bang, admittedly even more of one thanks to 2017’s first medical crisis. But I’m hanging in there, and doing well. So I wanted to tell y’all a little about the changes.

First off, as you may have noticed from the site’s new look, it’s time for a new look! Because I write so many different styles of romance, I want you to know what you’re getting. So to that end….. Say hello to Tiger Tarantino and Lila Vega!

For the most part, nothing will change. You don’t have to sign up for a new mailing list or anything, and most of my social media will continue being handled from my existing Katie de Long accounts. But when you see “Katie de Long writing as Tiger Tarantino” on that cover, I want you to have a little bit of an idea what you’re in for.

As Tiger Tarantino, I write romance suspense that skews toward the dark end of the spectrum. Horror influences, boundary-pushing shit, antiheroes galore, and lots of blood and gore.

As Lila Vega, I write flirty erotic contemporaries that are a bit lighter in scope and content. Very little bloodshed, very little stuff that you need to “prepare” yourself for, if you’re sensitive to some topics. Maybe you wouldn’t read these to your mother, but at the very least, you wouldn’t have to cover your eyes if you’re squeamish.

And, of course, K. de Long, where I’ve written PNR for a year now. All the same magic and weirdness and adrenaline, the same name… nothing new to see there. My paranormal romance as K. de Long skews toward the darker side of the genre, with dark fantasy elements, thriller and horror elements, and- yes- antiheroes, my favorite of favorites.

So when you see that dandy new email in your inbox with new books, and see those author names on the covers, I hope that gives you a little guidance, so you can get just the book you’re looking for!

I’m hard at work redoing covers for my backlist, so you’re gonna see this on new books before you see it on any of the past releases you’ve already snagged for your Kindle.

On a personal level, I’m super psyched to introduce you guys to the new “me”.  Any stripper worth her salt can tell you that a pseudonym that she has a strong connection to can be worth its weight in gold. And both of these names speak to very, very different parts of me. Lila is the me that’s fun-loving, a little exhibitionist, and taking it all day-by-day. Tiger is the me that’s like, “RAWR!”, ready to come in, baseball bat swinging, taking no prisoners, seize your hand, and send you careening off on the adventure of your life.

So happy 2017, guys! Let’s make it a good one.

<3

Katie

aka Tiger Tarantino, Lila Vega, and K. de Long, here for your romance-reading needs.

All Romance Ebooks Closes: What does this mean for you?

We woke up to a nasty surprise today- an email from All Romance Ebooks alerting all that they would be shuttering their doors after December 31st. Hopefully, if you’ve purchased books from them, you received it in time to download copies of all your books, so that you don’t lose them.
But three days ain’t a lot of time. Maybe some of you won’t have gotten the email until it was too late. Or maybe the site kept crashing, and you never managed to get through. What they did was really crappy on a lot of levels, and it’s understandable for readers and authors ALIKE to be fuming over the crappy treatment. (What they did to authors is a whole ‘nother story. But this isn’t about that.)
Anyways, for those of you who purchased my books from ARE, but are unable to download them in time, email me at KatiedeLong.writer@gmail.com with the title of the book, and your preferred file format in the subject line. I’ll provide a free copy to replace it. You, the reader, shouldn’t have to bear losing your book collections because of an etailer’s business mistakes.

Edgeplay’s back on Amazon!

It’s a relief to be writing this after the high-stress updates of last week, and the frantic emails of the week before. However, I’m thrilled and surprised to announce that the ebook edition of Edgeplay is back on Amazon.

When Edgeplay was pulled, you guys were tremendously supportive in spreading the word.  And someone at Amazon must have noticed.
Yesterday, the higher ups at KDP’s customer service called me (itself a rarity) about Edgeplay, and were exceedingly forthcoming in discussing the book with me, including the elements that had caused it to be flagged. Because of their decision to communicate openly with me, Edgeplay will be able to go up for sale with everything important intact. No changes to the book, no censoring words or content in the book itself. The changes they required for me to make to metadata/description were reasonable. While I still believe that banning books on the basis of metadata provides a poorer experience for their customers, and that failing that they should communicate with authors about where they draw the line from the beginning, in this case, it’s a happy ending. It means that Edgeplay can be on the largest retailer’s digital bookshelf, where it has the greatest chance of reaching people, which is all an author ever wants for their book.
As you guys may be able to gather, the story I told in Edgeplay was never about the money for me. It’s a polarizing book, but it’s the one that I get contacted about most frequently, from people who were touched by it. I’m over the moon that Edgeplay will be able to continue touching readers.
Thank you guys for your support!
If you want that ebook now that it’s back on the shelf, you can get it here.

On the utility of trigger warnings.

TW: vague discussions of mental illness, specifically triggers.

Trigger warnings are one of the best ways for people to engage with sensitive content in a healthy way. They enable someone to create the safest space possible for consuming the material.

For some people, this means only reading upsetting materials when they have a supportive friend or partner nearby, to hold them and tell them it’s okay. For others, this means reading upsetting materials alone, because the presence of a partner will feel threatening and make the fear worse. For some people, this means reading materials that hit close to home with a partner in the house, so they won’t be tempted to self-harm, attempt suicide, abuse substances, or other harmful behaviors. For others, they may need to be alone, because the strain of acting “normal” when they’re upset will grind the pain in worse, until they lash out.

For some people, this means avoiding upsetting materials because they can’t be consumed in a healthy way, and for others, it simply means picking the right time and setting.

See, triggers affect everyone differently, depending on really minute aspects of their lives and mental state. For some people, it might cause a panic attack that causes them to be unable to leave the house or pursue their to-do list. For others, it might cause them to become aggressive toward those around them who are making the trigger worse, unknowingly.

Forewarning and awareness are a survivor’s best friends. When a trigger sneaks up on someone, sometimes it can be too late to back away before the person is already seeing detrimental effects. Content warnings actually enable people to deal with more traumatic material than they otherwise could, because they are able to do it safely. They actually prevent consumer dissatisfaction, because they help consumers know up front what they’re in for.

Vague product warnings like “steamy material” or “too hot for your kindle” don’t actually provide the cues necessary to tell sensitive readers that a book may contain themes that they actively try to avoid. If Amazon is truly interested in being all about the customer, then building better tools for labeling should be one of their top priorities– not filtering authors out who use trigger warnings or censoring specific words. Is it any wonder that without these warnings, there’s a lot more people blindsided, reacting negatively, and bending Amazon’s ear either with direct complaints or bad reviews?

One of those tools could be providing a form to allow authors to label various common strong themes, such as sexual violence, and providing a button on the site that would allow readers to opt out of seeing any content with those themes. Not restricting their visibility in lists, searches, etc. Simply allowing it as an optional filter, similar to how they allow consumers to filter books down by length, for readers who are seeking shorter reads. Or even just a general adult filter toggle similar to what their competitor Smashwords uses.

Hell, this is a niche that readers already desire, and that other sites attempt to cater to in the small scale– a Google search for “clean reads” turns up a host of blogs, publishers, and groups that specialize in assisting readers seeking books without such mildly offensive things as cursewords, like the much maligned Clean Reader. Clean Reader came under fire last year for scrubbing swear words or offensive content from books entirely… without the authors’ consent. Authors came together to protest, to declare that their aesthetic could not be honored by replacing those words– that even if they made some people uncomfortable, the word had been chosen for a specific reason (Does that sound familiar?). They removed their books from the retailers who supply to Clean Reader in protest. But even though Amazon’s policy is much more destructive, arbitrary, and pervasive, it holds too much power for authors to be able to protest in an effective way, as they could for one fairly small app. So we are stuck with whatever Amazon says, no matter how unfair, problematic, or contradictory. And all of that is getting off the topic of trigger warnings as a needed classification tool.

Keywords such as “clean romance”, and “sweet romance” help readers who prefer to avoid sexual content entirely develop a community and a niche built around their desire to avoid that content. Could you imagine if we were allowed to similarly label and build communities around fiction with other love-it-or-hate-it themes, too?

Put simply, Amazon’s practice is bad, in every way. Bad for consumers, bad for authors, bad for survivors and people struggling with PTSD, and bad for society as a whole.