Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Warning! This Post Contains Opinions

More and more recently the term “trigger warning” has been coming up in conversations I have, articles I read, and the news. Most of these are centered on colleges petitoning for “trigger warnings” to be put on books that might potentially contain disturbing themes or ideas or situations.

Seriously? When did we decide to stop thinking for ourselves? When did we, as a culture, begin to become emotional infants? Does this mean we are going to have to put a trigger warning on Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn? And what about Moby Dick? Are we now becoming so politically correct that classic stories have to come with warnings?

The student government at the University of California in Santa Barbara seems to think so. Last year they petitioned to have trigger warnings put on books to warn of possible distressing material. A short list of books they cited as needing trigger warnings included:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare

“A draft trigger warning policy from Oberlin, quoted in Inside Higher Education, used Achebe’s acclaimed text as an example of a work which might require a warning, saying the novel was “a triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read. However, it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.” ~ Cited from www.theguardian.com. Read the full article here.

I’m sorry. The last time I looked I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand or pat my back saying ‘there there, it’s okay, it’s just a story.’ I have never needed to go talk to a therapist because Stephen King scared the crap out of me. Ok, so maybe Stephen King’s books need warnings. But, really, we all know he’s going to scare us silly so isn’t that the only warning we need?

For writers, what does this mean? Am I going to have to begin being sensitive to what I can write about because it might disturb someone? I can tell you right now that I am never going to be the kind of writer who does that. I write what is in me to write. If you can’t handle that, then don’t read my stories or poems. Put as many trigger warnings as you want to on my work but it’s not going to stop me from writing about the hard stuff, the ugly stuff, the stuff that makes you upset. I won’t apologize for it either. We are adults. We don’t need trigger warnings on books. Stand up, act like a mature adult, and use the grey matter in your head that you were born with. Because as far as I’m concerned, putting warnings on books is today’s version of book burning and book banning.

When I saw that Neil Gaiman had put together another short story collection and titled it Trigger Warning, I knew I had to read it. The one thing I love about Mr. Gaiman’s short story collections are his introductions. They are worth reading. The one in Trigger Warning is no different. I love what he has to say about ‘trigger warnings’. In short, he says “we are mature, we decide what we read or do not read.”

He goes on to explain that “what we read as adults should be read with no warnings or alerts beyond enter at your own risk.” I understand that there are people who have problems and issues and that certain things can bring on certain anxieties. But when did we have to start putting warnings on books? To me it has always been common sense. There is a title and a picture on covers of books and usually a summary on the back or on the inside flap of a book cover. That summary should be enough to tell you “hey, this contains material that might bother you.” If you choose to read the book, it is your personal responsibility for dealing with the ideas, themes, emotions that the story may reveal to you. Do we seriously have to begin putting warnings on books?

Life does not come with trigger warnings. The only way we know where our comfort zones are is by stepping out of them, by encountering situations that force us to think outside our normal parameters. The best and safest way to do this is by reading books that “might” distress us. Books that force us to deal with ugly emotions and feelings, that make us uncomfortable, help us to deal with those situations in the safety of our own homes. No one ever has to know that we had to go change our underwear because of Stephen King. And if we need therapy because of it, then that’s our little secret. You also learn that if you don’t like having the crap scared out of you then don’t read Stephen King again. No warning needed.

“There. Consider yourself warned. There are so many little triggers out there, being squeezed in the darkness…Now all we have to worry about is all the other books, and, of course, life, which is huge and complicated and will not warn you before it hurts you.” ~Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning.

Like A Box Of Chocolates

“Writing is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Yes, I totally cribbed that from Forrest Gump. Not sorry about it either. Actually, I think it’s dead accurate. I can tell you from experience that just because you sit your butt down in a chair to write on a work-in-progress, that doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to work on. Half the time I sit down I have a general idea of what I want to write about, and I end up going some place completely different. The story takes over and does what it wants, which isn’t always what I want it to be. What I have discovered when this happens is that resistance is futile. The story will fight tooth and nail until it gets its way. Characters, too. For instance, a current story idea I am working on involves a half-elf, and he won’t shut up. But when I try to sit down to work on his story, I get nothing. Stupid half-elf.

Sometimes you have to fight for every word. Like trying to pull a thin sliver of a splinter out of your hand, pulling words out of thin air can be difficult, slippery, and painful. I should know. That’s how the half-elf came into my life in the first place. I had sat down to work on an idea I’d had during an exercise in a workshop and suddenly I was fighting, almost strangling my brain, for every word. And I had worked all day on it. I even got up and walked away at one point but it didn’t help. By the time I was serving supper I’d only managed 1000 words. At the time I was managing around 2000 words a day, and that in only a few hours of working. A thousand words all day? Really? Argh!

Well, I had my supper, cleaned up, then sat my butt back down in the chair determined to hit 1500 words at least and then give up. If it wasn’t working, then it wasn’t working. I’d try my best and then let it go and work on it later. I even had a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey to fortify myself. That’s when this sarcastic British voice popped in and said “maybe you should have tried that earlier.” And then ensued a conversation in which a full-formed character introduced himself to me. Ever since that night I have been plagued/fascinated/annoyed/intrigued by this character in my head. I love him. But when it comes time to actually sit down and write about him…nothing. Jerk.

But that’s how it goes sometimes. The thing is, I ended up after the snarky comment writing about 3500 words, and I left with ideas and scenes ready to be written.

Most recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading (if by that you understand that I walk into a library with two books and come out with 25-not even kidding) and one of the books I finished last weekend was Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. I was intrigued by one of the stories in it, A Study In Emerald. Gaiman took Sherlock Holmes and put him smack dab into a Lovecraftian world. It was a very interesting story and I was hooked. I love the idea of mashing up stories and seeing what happens.

So, after reading on into the book I realized my attention kept wandering because I was engrossed in coming up with ideas for this story that had taken hold of my mind. Combined with a poem I wrote called Femme Fatale (posted a few weeks ago) and my love of gothic horror stories, the ideas finally forced me to sit down and write a flash fiction piece based on Jack the Ripper. It is completely out of my normal writing genre (fantasy, romance, poetry) and it was fun and fantastic, and I am completely excited about it. It has what I hope are some very cool twists, and I am considering extending it into a short story. Partly because I have a deadline to meet by August and I am trying to come up with some ideas, but mostly I think it would be a great story. And sometimes, it goes that way, too.

What about you? Have you ever sat down and realized that what you thought you were going to write isn’t what you are writing? How did that affect your story? Did you end up writing a scene completely different, or did you begin a whole new story?

By the way, want a snarky half-elf? He’s driving me up a wall lately.


How To Tell If You Are A Writer The Twisted Writer Way

There is this line I love from the move Sister Act 2. Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Sister Mary Clarence, is talking to Lauryn Hill’s character, Rita, about whether or not she should become a singer. She says, “If you wake up in the morning, and you can’t think of anything but singing, then you should be a singer, girl.”

There was a time, back in the Dark Ages, when all I could think about was writing. I’d wake up and want to write. I’d stay up late because I had to write. I’d had a bad day and needed to write about it to get it to go away. Who needs a therapist? Writing is great therapy! But I didn’t think of myself as a writer. Not until my dad died and I realized, that’s what I wanted to be. Only, isn’t that what I had been all along?

So, I thought I’d give you a list of symptoms ways to tell if you are a writer in the style of a Twisted Writer.

1. If you hear voices in your head and you talk to them, you might be a writer. Or crazy. Possibly both.

2. If the voices talk back to you and have long conversations and you type those conversations down, you might be a writer trying to prove you aren’t crazy.

3. If you have ever been told that you live in a fantasy world and you smile and tell them “I know, I created it, wanna come play in it too?”, you might be a writer.

4. If you see the word “writing prompt” and your heart starts to beat faster, you might be a writer. If it doesn’t, what the heck is wrong with you??? How can that NOT make your pulse race? Word prompts are sexy beasts!

5. If you joined a group that hears voices too and call themselves a “writing critique group”, congratulations! You have found your “tribe.” You might be a writer, or living in an asylum. Look out your window. Are there bars across it?

6. If you have ever thought about writing someone who’s ticked you off into a story and then offing them in some sick and twisted way, you might be a retaliating writer.

7. If you walk into a store (perhaps Wal-mart) and thought “that was a nightmare,” you might consider writing a horror story.

8. If you REALLY love anything geeky, trendy, or weird and you write a story about it, you might be writing fanfic. (Please take ten steps back and away from the keyboard. No! Don’t grab that pen and paper! Put it down right now! Don’t you write another sentence! Crap. Another 50 Tones of That Somber Color book just hit the shelves.)

9. If you see incorrect spelling, punctuation and/or grammar in a book and you want to correct it, you might a be Grammar Nazi. You should think about being a copy-editor.

10. If you have ever read a horrible book and thought “I can write better than that,” you might be a new writer. Go find your tribe and bleed ink.

11. If you see something really funny and say, “that’d make a great story,” you should sit your butt down at a keyboard (or use paper and pen if you’re a traditionalist) and start writing.

12. If you sit down to write at your computer for an hour and find yourself wasting 45 minutes on social media and 15 minutes actually writing, you are definitely a writer. And procrastinating. Stop and get back to writing or I’ll send AJ over to hurt you. She may be little, but she is fierce. (Why yes, that is cribbed Shakespeare.)

13. If you have ever written a scene where the character is having a drink and thought “that sounds good” then stopped writing to fix yourself one, you might be a writer. (And on your way to becoming an alcoholic-remember, writing while drinking is NOT a good habit-funny as hell the next day, but it does not help your writing.)

14. If you have a cat that laid on your keyboard and deleted your entire story, you might want to back up the story in a lot of different places. You’ll thank me later. And if you kept the cat, you might be a cat-loving writer.

15. If you have ever put your character in time out, you might be writing angry. You might need to take a time-out, too.

16. If you keep an online journal and make it public, you are a blogger. Claim it, own it, wear your colors proudly. Tell a saucy tale, make a little stir, customers appreciate a bon-viveur…(sorry, couldn’t help the Les Mis outburst.)

17. If you go to a movie and spot the plot holes, you might be a writer. If you write about it, you’re a movie critic, and I have a few words for you about a certain movie you didn’t like.

18. If you wake up in the middle of the night and find your spouse at their laptop typing madly while talking to themselves with a wild look in their eyes and hair all a-mess, you might be married to a writer with a deadline.

19. If the sight of a blank page makes your fingers itch and a nerve over your eye begin to twitch, you might be a writer. You might also be freaking out. Breathe. A blank page is easily fixed.

And finally,

20. If you wake up in the morning and all you can think about it is writing, you’re supposed to be a writer.

Neil Gaiman, in an interview while filming the BBC television version for Neverwhere, said that he was the only one who could tell the stories he had to tell. In the introduction to his short story compilation Fragile Things, he said:

“Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds’ eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas-abstract, invisible, gone once they’ve been spoken-and what could be more frail than that?”

To be a writer is to have people and worlds and conversations living in your brain that only you know. And you are the only one who can tell them and tell them as only you can. If you don’t write them, no one else will, because no one else is you. When you are gone, your stories are gone as well. Don’t let your stories go unheard.

You are a writer; tell your stories.

Write them into life.