K.M. Szpara and N.K. Jemisin Talk Docile, Vampires, and Hanson Fanfic

There’s something really special about established, award-winning authors who have a reputation of supporting debut writers. N.K. Jemisin is one of those unique writers who has always supported her community. When it was clear that book launches and tours were going to be effected by our current situation, Jemisin stepped up and announced she would be conducting an interview series via Crowdcast to help share work by newer authors with book releases over the next few months. This included our very own K.M. Szpara, author of Docile.

During the hour-long live broadcast, Szpara read two incredible sections from Docile, answered fan questions and chatted with Jemisin about his book, fanfiction, writing processes, and more! Check out our transcript of their conversation here.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

N.K. Jemisin: Basically, as soon as I finished Docile—DOH-syle, not DAW-sol?

K.M. Szpara: I say DAW-syle, but when they asked me for the audiobook, I ended up Googling “How do you pronounce “docile?”? There are three or four different ways, and of course, Lee Harris, who is British and works for Tor.com, says DOH-syle, because England. So now I’ve heard solidly three ways to pronounce the word, and I don’t care—I say DAW-syle.

NKJ: I don’t know where I picked up DOH-syle from. Maybe I have British friends or something? I noticed in the poll we took that 14-percent of the audience have not yet finished the book, or are still reading it, and 29-percent haven’t read it at all but are still curious. For that chunk of you, my next question is going to be a spoiler, so you can turn off your audio for, like, a period.

KMS: I will try not to do spoilers throughout, but if I do, I’ll just say so in advance.

[Editor’s note: To avoid this spoiler section, scroll to the bolded “End Spoilers” tag]

NKJ: Alright, so: Audio off! Let’s start with the end of the book. I had capital-F Feelings about Alex and Elisha ending up in a proto-possible-relationship stage, instead of a no-contact-forever stage. To me, Alex is given a redemption arc. He makes steps towards earning redemption, but honestly, I don’t think that he can ever possibly fully earn it back. And I found myself frustrated that Elisha was, to me, forgiving. So why did you decide on this ending?

KMS: When we made up the AO3 tags for this book, we called Elisha “sweet cinnamon roll of steel.” He is, unlike many characters in the book, a very kind person generally. That aside, most people are pretty over redemption arcs, but for me, there’s not really such a thing as, like, an arc that had an ending. I don’t think that Alex has reached an endpoint. I think that all people are flawed and make mistakes and are constantly sort of re-evaluating and putting themselves onto the path ofpath of redemption is not a great word, because I don’t think people can be redeemed, right?

NKJ: Sounds like a new wave thing…

KMS: [laughing] I’m gonna pull an L. Ron Hubbard real fast. I need money.

NKJ: Oh no! [Both laughing]

KMS: I would never do that. So I don’t think that Alex is redeemed. Just like I don’t think anyone is really redeemed, and that’s not my goal. My goal was for him to take the mental, emotional, and physical steps—forsaking his family, moving on without his money, working towards helping the cause of people who’ve been affected by Dociline, giving Elisha space when asked for, learning how to respect boundaries—which sort of sets him on the path of, for lack of a better word, redemption. I still don’t like that, but, you know, people get to change. I think people get to change. We all fuck up. (There’s going to be cursing on this live-stream!) Also, he’s born into a system where all the people around him show him one thing and reinforce his worldview, so he has no motivation to expose himself to people who make him feel bad–

NKJ: He had bad hometraining.

KMS: Yeah. When I was growing up, there are things that I picked up from my environments—school, family functions, friends, television, whatever—that made me think things that I’m not proud of now, but I work hard, all the time, to flush those things out, both with physical actions and emotionally. So I don’t think of Alex as redeeming himself. But Elisha, making that choice—at some point, you have to let people make their own decisions. So many people went at Elisha so fast and were, like, “you can’t see him, you can’t be in love with him, everything you think is fake, you don’t like the piano, just because you think you do, it was given to you, you can’t like these clothes.” He’s got this full personality that was assembled for him by someone else, and now he’s told that none of it’s real. This is so traumatic for him. Do you have to go against everything that you believe? At a certain point, Elisha’s like, I just have to be allowed to choose what I want in the moment, and at the end, for me—me as Elisha—that means being allowed to acknowledge that I do care about Alex, without calling it a romantic relationship. So he decides to maintain a semblance of contact, in a way that is productive for them both, meaning working for the betterment of people who have been affected by Dociline.

So, you know, there’s the two ends of it, right? There’s Alex trying to learn and figure himself into a new, helpful and productive role—to actually be a better person. There’s also Elisha being like, look, there are some things that I like and don’t want to get rid of, or maybe I want to get rid of them in the future, but let me figure that out. Other people can’t figure that out for you. It’s like someone telling you, in terms that maybe most of our audience might understand, “You know, this book, you revised it a million times. Maybe you should just put it aside.” You’re going to give that book up when you want to give that book up, but not before. That’s a really hard decision, so… He, in his own time, will make his own decision, and that’s why there’s not a sequel. If anyone didn’t know that—surprise! There will not be a sequel.

[End spoilers.]

NKJ: That’s what fanfic is for.

KMS: Yeah. You know, you can still write fan fiction! Don’t link me to it—I’ll know it’s there in my heart. You can make fanart, though, and link me to that. Especially the sexy fanart. People are like, “Why did you write this book?” And I’m like “so that people will make sexy fanart.”

NKJ: [laughing] That’s the best reason to be a writer these days, as far as I’m concerned.

KMS: My real reason to become a writer is so that I obviously become super famous and then Hanson, my favorite band from the ’90s, reads my book and falls in love with me. That’s it. That’s the secret.

NKJ: Uh uh okay…

KMS: [laughing] Yeah I know, you don’t get that at all.

NKJ: No, I mean, you know, I was a hip hop fan in the ’90s, so… But go for what you know. Okay so…

When you decided to write this novel, did you worry about whether you’d find an agent or a publisher, and did you have any trouble with either? Or did they snatch it up and beat down the door to give you a contract?

KMS: I was definitely worried. When I started writing, I sort of learned what fantasy and science fiction looked like from a couple of other writers I knew, but I wasn’t plugged into the community until at least 2012—not even then. Even after I published my first short story. Not even until maybe 2013 or so did I even know what a Hugo or a Nebula was. I just wasn’t raised on it. I was raised on fanfiction, and there’s like 20 Anne Rice books behind me on the shelf.

I had started writing like, “Oh they kiss at the end of the book,” and I was like, okay, but what if they like dry-humped a little in the middle? People were, like, unresolved sexual tension is the only way you can do it, and I was like “but what if they did do it very early on?” So I thought no one’s going to want to publish this book that’s basically all queer characters, and there’s just so much fucking in it, and a lot of it is… I tend to use AO3 tags when I talk about the content of this book. There is a warning on the back cover that says that this book has a frank depiction and discussion of rape and assault and abuse, and that’s true, but it also has a lot of “dubcon” and “non-con,” meaning Elisha is trying to figure out what those various sexual encounters mean to him, so he doubts whether he consents or not.

So I wasn’t sure that anyone would want that. I didn’t know if you could publish anything with that much sex in it. That was most of the reason I was nervous. It didn’t take me a weirdly long—I mean, it took me a year to get an agent, but that’s just because agents are busy people, not for any real reason. And honestly, the advice I’d heard from all my friends who’d published so far was to start working on your next project immediately. Don’t think about it when you go on sub. Just try to move on. That’s something I’ve really learned and is one of the only bits of advice I would ever strongly give to people who are trying to make a career out of writing. Making a professional career out of writing, to me, is learning to fall in love over and over again with your next project, which is very hard. So, I had already fallen in love with a second book, which is actually now going to be my third book. It’s about vampires.

NKJ: Nice!

KMS: So I’d already fallen in love with the next book. I thought “No one’s going to buy this, I’m ready, it’s fine.” Then, in maybe two or three weeks, my agent told me we had a phone call with an editor, and that shocked the hell out of me. I don’t think I really got the experience of being on submission, because it happened very fast.

NKJ: That’s a good sign though!

KMS: It was very good! It really alleviated a lot of my stress. We would get rejections on other ends and I was like, “That’s fine, we almost have an offer I think?” So I’m feeling good, and I love working with my editor. I work with Carl Engle-Laird at Tor.com Publishing. He “gets” my stuff and has said “anything you could throw at me, I could handle or I’ll look up,” which is great, because my next book is, like, heavy sadomasochism and chastity play, and the one after that is a lot of vampire blood and daddy kink.

NKJ: Alright! I just added a new poll during the time that you were talking. The new poll is, “Are you a fan-fic person? Are you into it? Are you not?” We’ve got 21 votes already, all of them are “Woo-hoo yes!” None of the answers are “ew no,” and none of the answers are “What’s fan-fic?” So alright then, we’ve got lots of fan-fic heads up in here.

KMS: I feel very lucky that I wrote all my fan-fic, almost all my fan-fic, in journals. They’re all over here on my shelf. There’s my journals from when I was a child.

NKJ: Oh wow!

KMS: Unless someone breaks into my house and scans them, you shall never see them.

NKJ: Never see the light of day.

KMS: It’s mostly just me making out with Hanson.

NKJ: [laughing] Yeah, I didn’t even discover fan-fic until grad school. I’m super grateful for that. No one will ever see the stories that I wrote as a teenager, or any of that. Nope nope nope. I’ve already got people circling and asking, “Can you give me your papers after you die?” I’m like, nope, fuck that.

KMS: As a strong fan of a band, I’m always like, “I want all your unreleased songs, let me hear everything you’ve ever made, I love all of it, it’s perfect,” but as a writer, I’m like, “Do not look at anything that has not been through a professional editor.”

NKJ: Nope nope. “We want to see how you developed as a writer!” No! You don’t get to see that.

KMS: Nope, you don’t, no thanks.

NKJ: Why did you decide to avoid the use of the word “slavery” for what is so obviously indentured servitude at the bare minimum, and effectively, because debt is inherited and passed down in Elisha’s family’s case, chattel slavery. So why did you decide to avoid the use of this word and other words that clearly establish what’s happening here?

KMS: Sure. So, not everyone avoids the word. Not a tangent, but the word “rape” also only appears a couple times. For me, slavery and rape are both very strong words that are very specific namers of intense traumas, and not everyone in the world of Docile has that vocabulary. You either have Alex’s point of view or Elisha’s point of view, and Alex’s point of view is so full of that sort of, like, “people of means.” For the record, I coined “people of means” in my book, and then some dirt-bag politician in real life said it…

NKJ: You did it first!

KMS: And I was like “No! This is not the kind of thing I want coming true!” So, people like Alex are saying things like “I’m a patron.”

NKJ: “This is a business relationship.”

KMS: “This is a business relationship! This is the docile.” When you are in the ruling class, and you make up the language, it’s harder for people to realize what’s happening to them. It’s harder for people to name their specific traumas.  It’s part of the bow that’s wrapped around the nefariousness of the docile system. In fact, even words like “debtor” are rarely spoken, except couched in like “Ooh, a debtor.” The Empower Maryland folks will say “debt slavery” and “rape.” Only the people who have sort of seen beyond the veil, so to say. When I talked about people learning and growing and sort of starting to see the systems that they’re a part of, only the people in Empower Maryland have really progressed to the point where they can name specific things.

NKJ: I love that most of the Empower Maryland people we meet seem to be people of color. That’s where we meet at least one other prominent black character. I would hope that, in the future, when slavery returns, people like me would be on the front lines of breaking that shit down. But we will see, I suppose.

KMS: We always want to see ourselves in the roles of the protagonists and the revolutionaries and stuff like that, but it was really important for me that people not only see themselves in Empower Maryland and in Elisha. I wanted people to see themselves in Alex too. I know people that are like Alex’s parents. I know people that are like Jess, who continues to work at Bishop Labs, making Dociline, even though she was a Docile herself.

I did browse the questions, and one comment says, it’s a discussion about how race is handled in the speculative world of Docile. So I just wanted to address that now real quick. Since it’s tied into it. So a couple things. For me, near-future, which is a sub-genre marketing term… I always call it “alt-near-future.” I’m not a futurist. I’m not a historian. I’m not an economist. I don’t think I’m predicting an exact future. When I write near-future, it’s like an alternate timeline or a pocket universe where I have picked the aspects of history that move forward versus those that don’t, in order to tell the story that I want. So it’s not an exact near future. When that happens, I think that writers can often choose either to go all in, or all out, including -isms and phobias. I think that people have differing opinions about whether they want to see those in fiction. Some people are like, “I’m tired of homophobia, you’re inventing the world, can you just not have it?” but I don’t think that you can do just one thing or another. A world with no homophobia but racism feels like a bad world to me. So I didn’t try to put any systemic or interpersonal racism into my world. I am white and fallible, so it is possible that there are aspects that leaked, but it was my goal sort of to, sort of set in a world where racism was not necessarily a founding part of society, going forward. And then I just tried to like populate the world with a well-balanced, diverse array of identities, including race. So for example, if Docile were to be made into a movie, it couldn’t be anonymously cast, so to say. For example, Elisha couldn’t be a woman, or black, or even trans. Like, the power imbalances would bring in a host of different dynamics that I did not think it was my lane to play with, or my story to tell. So I just tried to place people such that it highlighted the themes that I wanted to highlight and not to inadvertently bring up any additional negative connotations. I definitely put a lot more people of color in the Empower Maryland group though. There’s a lot of like different class stuff going on, so you know, it was all about me trying to make sure that I was highlighting the things that I wanted to highlight, without stepping out of my lane.

NKJ: Let’s segue into some of the audience questions now.

KMS: The first question from Nino Cipri (hi, Nino!) is “Please tell us about your next book.” I will do this very briefly, because we haven’t had the big cover-reveal post yet. My next book is about a guy named Meadowlark, who is raised in a cult to believe that he has magic powers, and that when he turns 25, he will go out into the world to save humanity from monsters, and that everyone outside the gates of his home is corrupt. When he is almost 25, his partner goes out into the world first, because he is older. He betrays the cult to the outsider authorities, who send in a SWAT team and break up the cult immediately, and tell them that magic is not real, monsters are not real, and everything that they learned was a lie. Meadowlark doesn’t accept this. He meets a cute, cosplaying nerd named Calvin, who desperately wants to believe that magic is real, and has a car, and the two of them go on a very gay, very kinky road trip to learn about themselves, and discover if magic is real, whether monsters are real, and, like, do it in the woods. Yeah. That’s what my next book is about. I’m very excited. [laughs]

The one after that is about vampires. My story “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” which was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula, is about a gay, trans guy who is pissing outside of a gay bar—because he’s too afraid to use the men’s room inside—when he is bitten by a vampire. His body turns differently than a cis person’s body, because it plays on the vampire tropes of like, “Oh, you become so beautiful and your body heals.” What does that mean for someone who is medically altering their body and has gender issues? But it is eight weeks later when he is back at work, and he is a real brat, and it’s very fun. I can’t wait to write that voice again.

Okay, let’s see. This next question from Nicole I’m very excited about: “I would really like to hear more about Dutch. I think the roles he played in the narrative are fascinating and dissonant, and I would love to hear more about your thought process as you constructed his arc.” This is going to have some spoilers in it. If you don’t want to hear about Dutch, then now would be the time to mute your audio. I will give a thumbs-up when I’m finished.

[Editor’s note: To avoid this spoiler section, scroll to the bolded “End Spoilers” tag]

KMS: Dutch is one of two of Alex’s best friends. He was a Docile when he was younger. He was a Bishop Labs Docile, which means that his contract is with Bishop Laboratories, not with Alex directly. Alex is also a child, and since Alex was raised in a bubble, he didn’t have this concept that this other kid wasn’t just there to play with him for fun of his own free will. So after Dutch’s term, he got a job there because everyone liked him, and that’s how nepotism and similar works. Dutch is someone who readers either vehemently hate or deeply love. I really like the juxtaposition between him and Jess. Jess is Dutch’s other best friend who was in the same situation, also raised as a Docile in Bishop Labs. She continues to work at Bishop Laboratories developing Dociline. She said she thought that it could use the point of view and influence of someone who was a Docile; she wanted somebody who had the experience to still have their hands in it. That’s her mission. But Dutch actually has been working for the activism group Empower Maryland the whole time. He does not tell Alex this—it is a secret—and he doesn’t tell Elisha either. He donates most of his salary, which is billions of dollars, to their organization and to help buying people out of debt. He is doing actual work behind the scenes that he does not tell anyone about. And as the book progresses, he helps Elisha—I mean kind of like fervently, not with a gentle hand. He’s not a nice person. In fact, he works very hard to put up an asshole-ish front, so that people will not suspect him. He has an infamous scene with Elisha where they’re at a party and he tells Elisha to suck his dick. Elisha doesn’t want him—I’m sorry this is getting so explicit, but that’s the book—he doesn’t want Dutch to cum on his face. So he’s like, “Oh my god”; he, like, backs up. Dutch scolds him and embarrasses him publicly for it. The people who won’t forgive Dutch, that’s where it is for them. They’re like “he sexually assaulted Elisha and that’s the line.” They don’t necessarily care or find him redeemable for the work that he does behind the scenes for Empower Maryland. Often the same people are just cool with Jess, who is actively making Dociline a product that is going to be given to people. I think that is so interesting, because who is helping people and who isn’t? And, you know, when you go undercover like that, what are you willing to do for the good of more debtors versus like this one person? I don’t know. I love almost everyone that I’ve created, but it’s a different sort of love, so, yeah. My editor is in the comments saying he’s the head of the Dutch-hating club. I like Dutch.

NKJ: I’m just going to poke in, though, and say that there’s a difference between what Dutch does, which is non-consensual, and what Jess does, where at least people have the ability to refuse Dociline.

KMS: Yeah, absolutely.

NKJ: So… for me, that’s the line.

KMS: Okay, sure. I think that everyone’s right to have whatever feelings they want. I know that I wrote a book that has characters who do things, so to say, and people are going to have strong opinions about them. That’s fine. You are totally allowed to have yours. The author is dead, etc.

[End spoilers.]

The next question is about Alex’s chapter being the last point of view. You know, I thought about that while I was writing it. I was like, “Do I give Alex the first point of view?” I gave Elisha the first point of view. It’s really Elisha’s actions that set the story off, right? So I gave Alex the last point of view. He makes huge changes throughout the book. I was really interested to see what his emotional resolve was there. I think we know where Elisha is. “Where’s Alex” was a check in that I wanted to have. You know, not all the answers to these questions are super deep. It’s just one of those things where it’s like, “Do you want to end a book four times in a row? Do you want an outro for what happened to every single person?” For me, it’s not important that—and this applies to other characters as well—every character needs to get their just desserts on the page. You can judge them. That’s where it stands. We live in a world where people get away with things, where the rich sue the poor, where they’re still working through their issues. I set people down in a path, I think that you have made some changes inside, and I want you to go forward from here and see what happens. You can extrapolate that. I want to give people something to think about. I’m not necessarily laying judgment on everyone. So Alex gets the last point of view, because I wanted to show the path that he had set himself on, and I think that we have seen where Elisha was going. We know he has a long ways ahead of him to heal, and Alex has a lot to make up for, not that I think he can, but you can only ever keep going forward and trying.

Another question: “Whenever a character doubted the effects of Dociline on Elisha’s mother, I kept thinking about cisgender women who take birth control hormones and how, when they say there are symptoms of taking birth control hormones, nobody believes them because of a lack of medical evidence, but who is doing the testing? Could you talk about the resonances of this between Docile and the real world?”

Sure, so I am not a cisgender woman. I have taken birth control in the past. My tie to this personally is being a trans person. You have to get through a number of gatekeepers and prove yourself. People will say: “Oh, let’s try all these other things before we decide you’re trans to see if this will, like, fix you first or whatever.” This is a gatekeeper issue, right? So Alex will say “no, she can’t possibly feel any side effects,” but that’s because he always has worked with people initially and that is more like an emotional tie to, I think, his family? It’s a threat to his family that Dociline wouldn’t work, so he’s saying “how dare you imply that what my family does is a lie?” In the real world, I think it’s different than that. But it’s also outsiders judging people who are trying to be honest about their side effects, or their emotional and physical health. It is an issue. I don’t know that I have much more to say about this, other than “listen to people when they tell you things.” I’m not a healthcare expert.

I wanted to answer this one: “Alex and Elisha’s families are… something. Can you talk a bit about the role family structures, roles, obligations play in the world of Docile?”

Yeah, so Alex’s family is a generational piece of shit. [laughs] His grandmother invented Dociline. His father perpetuates it and in fact has a very specific vision for what it should be going forward. Alex thinks he’s doing a good thing by trying to make Dociline like a new, nicer version, and his dad doesn’t even like that. So he’s very beholden to what his grandmother laid down, and his dad after her, and when you have that much influence and power, it necessarily bleeds into the interpersonal. I don’t read or watch a lot of those, but if you ever see the trope about the king and the king’s lover, there’s always a power imbalance, right? You’re never going to get out of that. I realize that that’s not an exact one-to-one with family, but his dad also has the power to take everything away, or to totally push him out, or to ruin him, or to commit him to a facility, or all kinds of things. I don’t think Alex realizes all that at first, but it does become obvious to him, just how much of himself he’s derived from the toxicity of his family line. Part of his character arc is learning to push against that.

Elisha’s family—also not great. His sister is great. I like his sister. His dad and mom are not legally married. The family structure is such that when you get married, your debt gets tied to that other person legally, so a lot of people who have a lot of debt are not getting married, because then you pass both parents’ debt down to your kids. His dad is kind of a mess. His wife/Elisha’s mother, Abigail, served a term as a Docile and it affected her such that she acts like a Docile still: taking instructions, repeatedly doing things over and over again. The dad is grappling with this specific loss: There’s just sort of an echo of his wife there, and there’s no sense that this will ever be fixed—or that there will be some kind of medical breakthrough to help people who’ve been on Dociline—rather than fix, I don’t really like that word. He is grieving. He considers sending out Elisha’s sister in the beginning. That’s why Elisha goes himself, because he’s like “she is not going, not my little sister.” So he carries this weight of expectation from his family, that he will perform being a Docile in a certain way. He gets to go home to visit—that’s sort of like Docile rights—and so when he goes home sometimes, his father—sorry, this is a mild spoiler—his dad, you know, sees that Elisha doesn’t hate everything and isn’t mad and actually seems to like his patron, and that is unacceptable. Instead of treating that with the care of noticing that this is how someone is suffering by having incorporated the training so much that they’re brainwashed. And so instead of handling that with care, his father is outraged and can’t handle it. He can’t handle more people that are becoming Docile all the time around him. Everyone’s families mostly suck, except for Abby, who is Elisha’s sister. There’s a wonderful scene with her and Alex, but I will not spoil it. I’ll just say that it happens. And I will leave that question there.

NKJ: Let me just point out that we’re at time.

KMS: Yes, we’re at time. So the new top question became “Can you talk some about how Dutch and Opal, because they’re hiding their identities and intentions, have sex/assault Elisha under false terms. Elisha thinks he’s having sex with a Docile, but that’s not the case. When I read it, they seemed relatively unapologetic about it, and I’d like to hear your thoughts about the writing of the situation.”

I think that this asker means Dutch and Onyx, but Opal is also a character. So there’s Dutch, Onyx, and Opal, and they are… There’s no way that this is not a spoiler. This is a spoiler. It says in the chat it’s a spoiler. I don’t know how to answer this without giving a spoiler. So, they are not on Dociline. Dutch, who is working with Empower Maryland, is basically also in a relationship, a poly relationship, with Opal and Onyx separately. The three of them live together. And no, none of them are on Dociline. They basically are undercover to get information about trillionaires and about Dociline and to help Empower Maryland for their cause. So, at one of the parties—there used to be so many party scenes, my agent and editor were like, maybe not five, maybe just one and a half?—so at one of the party scenes, I already mentioned earlier how Alex is like “Go suck Dutch’s dick,” which is quite a diction thing to say. Afterwards, they’re like “Go play with the other Dociles” and Elisha has a moment where he’s like “I’m gonna have sex, I think, with one of these Dociles, who is on Dociline, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Like, am I better than the trillionaires who are doing the same thing to me? And do I have a choice?” It’s one of those impossible situations that you put people in. No, those are not their real names. They’re fake names, because all the Dociles except Elisha have goofy names, like Billiard and Fluffy and stuff like that. So Elisha does sort of start like—when I say have sex, I mean engages in sexual activity, whatever your thought about the word is. So they do that. And he feels angst about it. Because he is a good person, or trying to be one, and doesn’t think that he should be having sex with someone who’s under the influence of a drug. But of course he sort of slips deeper and deeper under the thrall of Alex’s training and that becomes subsumed in him and later—still a spoiler!—later, when he has escaped off to Empower Maryland, he sees Dutch and Onyx and is like, “Wait, you’re not on Dociline.” And they’re like, “No.” And Onyx is unapologetic about this. I think he says something like “I’m sorry that I had to do that to you specifically, but I’m not like, but I—” I can’t remember exactly what happens, I just edited a whole different book! Something like, “But I am not sorry for going undercover into this space where I am doing things like this.” You know, I wanted to show varying takes. I don’t think that characters just make the right choices all the time, for whatever that means to you. Elisha is really put off by this. They eventually like have sort of a friendship, and—still a spoiler!—they actually do eventually sort of negotiate Elisha’s first like crack at consensual sex. So I think I hit most of it. He is sort of unapologetic. And Dutch is like “I’m doing this,” sort of like YOLO’ing through this. He gives up some stuff during a deposition later on, and they have their eyes on the prize. And sometimes people do shitty things. Yeah, I mean, there’s not a lot of people making wholesome choices in this book.

So yes, we are over time, I hope that I’ve scratched the surface. I wanted to write a book that raises a lot of questions.  I don’t think that I’ve written an open and close on things. I think that I am sort of providing a vehicle for discussion, so it’s good to think whether certain characters are good or bad or whether you would do the same thing and the extremes of people are willing to go to. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that everyone makes the right and righteous choices all the time, so it was really important for me to populate the world with people like that. And also, for example, when you think about stories where like a very rich person is like, “I’ll just give up everything to be with you,” to their new lover, I’m like, “Would you though?”

NKJ: [laughs]

KMS: I try to be really honest with myself about a lot of this stuff. You know, like if someone said to me, “You need to give all your money to x because of y reason,” I’d be like, “Okay, but, like, I don’t know what to…”—all my money, like in figure quotes, I don’t have trillions of dollars. But you know, it’s one of those things. Leaving your family behind is very hard. Even if you think that they’re wrong. Leaving the comfort of everything you’ve known growing up is very hard. I don’t think these are steps that people take lightly. And that’s sort of why questions go unanswered in the book, because this stuff takes more time than 143,000 words. So, yeah. Not everything is fully processed or worked out to a total ending. But that is on purpose, because I don’t think it can be.

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