In my debut novel Blackbird Fly, the main character Apple Yengko is voted the third-ugliest girl in school. There’s a rumor that she eats dog for dinner. The boys bark at her when she walks down the hall.
In Hello, Universe, Virgil Salinas — a boy in the special-needs class — is called “the R-word” by his neighborhood bully.
I received an email from an adult reader who had lovely things to say about the book, but wanted to know why I used the “R-word.” I thanked her (genuinely) for her feedback, and said I used the R-word because that’s the word Chet Bullens — the boy who bullies Virgil — would say IRL. She agreed, but said she still wished I hadn’t used it.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” she said.
I understand. Believe me. The word makes me uncomfortable, too. That’s why I never use it. That’s also why we have to write it.
When I’m working on a book, honesty is the most important thing to me.
I wish people would quit using “retard” as a way to cut someone else down. I wish we didn’t use “ugly” as a weapon against girls. I wish we all treated each other with kindness and respect. I wish life was never uncomfortable. (Then again, Virgil’s Lola says bad things have to happen. ‘If you don’t have bad things, you wouldn’t have good things. They would all just be things.’) But until then, I make this promise to my readers:
I will strive to use words that are realistic, even when those words are ugly. We need them exposed to the light so they can wither.
I will write scenes that are realistic (to the best of my ability), even when they’re uncomfortable. Because life is uncomfortable sometimes. Unfortunately for many, it’s uncomfortable most of the time. And those stories have a place.
I will aim to write with honesty. I will aim to see you. Truth is empowering, and we all have a right to share ours. Click To Tweet