Trigger Warnings and Not Getting It

Thanks to that college professor who didn’t want to warn students- one of whom was a victim of rape- about a graphic rape scene in a movie he was showing his class, some have taken “Trigger Warnings” to be a sign of “political correctness,” when they exist as a courtesy to those among us who experience PTSD as a result of physical or emotional traumas, whether they experienced it on the battlefield, or through physical or emotional abuse. May you never feel the need to be warned. But don’t mock those who do.

Gaiman absolutely does not get it, by appropriating this term to say “well, life is dangerous” to sell his collection of horror stories. I like his work and he seemed nice enough when I saw him read at FDU last year, but this was a bad choice, and his explanation is incredibly narcissistic, and comparing a Trigger Warning to an R-rating on a movie or a “For Mature Audience” label is beyond condescending. This isn’t a matter of squeamishness or immaturity. When 25% of women will be sexually assaulted, and 10% of men, when we have sent thousands to battlefields, it simple courtesy that acknowledges these people as existing; it is not marking violence as an incorrect thought, or horrifying fiction as somehow suspect and unseemly, on the first step toward censorship.

If you choose to write about violence, especially sexual violence, hopefully you’ve researched it beyond watching your share of movies. If you’ve experienced it, as victim or witness, or even the perpetrator, you’ll know it stays with you. Trauma leaves impressions on the brain. When writing about it, what responsibilities do we have? Some will say none, that freedom comes with zero responsibilities—and certainly, a law enforcing those responsibilities would have a chilling effect, so let’s make sure we never pass one—but I find that courtesy is free and the only thing irking me about putting a “trigger warning” before sharing a particular graphic news story or publishing a piece of fiction that draws from the pit of darkness left by trauma, is the immature response against being “told” what to do.

But we’re not telling anyone what to do. We’re asking politely, Mr. Gaiman. And naming a book this way comes off as mockery. I hope it gets you all the sales you hoped for.

For my friend Elizabeth’s take on it—the post that inspired me to dust off this one, which I had decided not to publish a month ago—check out her website, Amber Unmasked.

Make good art

No matter what, make good art.
Fake it until you make it.
Don’t worry.
Enjoy life, especially the success.
You’ll do well if you are pleasant to work with, good at what you do, and submit your work on time. And you’ll likely do fine if you only do two of those.
Make up your own rules. The rules are changing; no one can predict them. So go do amazing things, successes and mistakes, and make your own rules.

 © 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Chuck Wendig slays the Duke of Doubt

Kung Fu Master Pen Monkey Chuck Wendig likes issuing flash fiction challenges. A while back he asked for a three sentence story, and I condensed a revenge tale of mine called “Two to Tango” into three brutal lines for him. He liked it so much he sent me a copy of his e-book 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, a compendium of his hilarious and incredibly helpful advice for writers. Go get it now, really. Okay, if Lawrence Block is reading this, he doesn’t have to listen. Or Neil Gaiman, he’s exempt. But the rest of you, including Philip Roth, should pick up a copy (it’s okay, Phil, it’s not a novel) and enjoy the hot knowledge injection to your pineal gland.

But I forgot that Chuck also said he’d send me a postcard, and it arrived last night. And let me tell you, it made my night. And my day. And my next night, and my next day. It’s like cocaine. Only better.

See, as a writer, I am plagued with Doubt. The Duke of Doubt from the ’80s Burger King commercials, he hovers over my shoulder and tells me things like, “just because readers like your stories doesn’t mean you can tackle a big ol’ novel. So what if you’re 42,000 words in and closing fast on the brutal climax (ed. a great name for a rock band -Dave Barry) and you’ve finally gotten to the really fun parts where all three storylines converge and you realize, childhood, prison and a revenge spree have a disturbing amount in common? You should stop writing it, and go write a story, because that’s EASY. You know you can write one of those.”

And that’s when Chuck Wendig’s postcard flew out of my mailbox and severed the Duke of Doubt’s pharynx like a pen monkey shuriken laced with special sauce. Repeat after me:

I am the Commander of these words.
I am the King of this story.
I am the God of this place.
I am a Writer, and I will Finish the Shit that I Started.

It was like that kung fu flick Circle of Iron where the dude fights for this secret book that shows the secrets of mastering his art, and he opens it, and there’s a mirror. He also wrote some cute ‘n cuddly stuff on the other side that you will not be privy to. Let’s just say we’re both married men with wild thatchy beards and do a web search on “hot bear man love,” and you’ll figure it out. And because there’s nothing wrong with that, I am very proud to be Chuck’s special bear buddy.
(This is how I check to see who reads the whole blog post).

But seriously folks, to name my favorite Joe Walsh album, Chuck gave me the boost I needed. And he has a couple books coming out soon that will kick your ass. One’s called Double Dead and is about a vampire- not one of them pussy vampires either- vs. a horde of zombies. But even better, he has an e-book series about a bullied high school girl named Atlanta Burns who racks the slide and serves up an Elvis-size portion of SHOTGUN GRAVY. I got my copy, now go get yours. His kind words about my writing would only mean so much if he weren’t a mad-killer wordslinger himself. Quit denying yourself the pleasure like a tantric sex weirdo, and go get some.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck