Proceed at Your Own Risk

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I was born into Generation X. Actually, there was recently a change in terminology for those, like me, born in 1976, but I don’t remember what that new term is, and I didn’t put any effort into finding it. Given how I was raised, there are times that my mindset tends to be closer to that of my Baby Boomer parents, and that may color how I look at the topic of this post, which is not about the various names for population demographics but actually trigger warnings. Trigger Warnings: those magical words that conjure up older people screaming about Millenials—who most people think range in age from newborn to whatever age the perceived offended person is—and how coddled and fragile they are. (Insert rolled eyes here.)

While I don’t agree that Millenials are what is wrong with the world today, I also don’t agree with trigger warnings when it comes to writing. “Why?” you may ask. Well, there are many reasons, and they are all wholly mine. That’s right, they’re my reasons, and you may or may not agree with them. And guess what? That’s okay. (And before I go further, let me say, I have my own mental health issues that I have to deal with. The most recent ones stem from working as a child abuse investigator.)

Publishers tend to stick to one specific genre, and if they want to publish other genres, they form imprints to focus on that. A Murder of Storytellers publishes horror and dark fiction. There are some light-hearted pieces thrown in here and there, but for the most part, you can expect murder/death/kill along with terror, blood, and horrific things that go bump in your brain. Basic internet research for any publisher or imprint will give you an idea of the types of works they publish. You owe it to yourself and to your mental health to do that research.

No one is responsible for my mental health but me. If I read—or watch, or hear—something that upsets me, it’s my responsibility to get away from it. The most recent example of this was an episode of Black Mirror. Now, I love this series. It’s sometimes way out there in terms of believability or concept. (That first episode of season one, am I right?!) However, I love the dark techno-dystopia feel of most of the episodes. The one that triggered me, though, was a little girl who wasn’t allowed to see anything upsetting or traumatizing, so she began self-harming. Well, as I mentioned above, as a child abuse investigator, I’ve seen more than my fair share of children harmed. When it was suddenly placed in front of me again, I started hyperventilating, becoming anxious, and could not turn it off fast enough. It took a while to recover, but I did.

I could have become upset that I wasn’t warned about what was going to happen, but I didn’t. It actually helped me look deeper into how the episode affected me. I already knew that I was experiencing secondary trauma related to my (thankfully) former profession, but this gave me further insight and helped me realize that I might also have PTSD because of it. The most important thing, though, is that it showed me that I had to step up and seek help for that. It’s my responsibility to take care of me. Others can help me with that process—for example, I can ask people not to recommend books that deal with children being abused—but it’s not on them to protect me. It’s on me to seek treatment and healing for myself.

If you have made it this far with me—even if you’re screaming at your monitor that I’m an idiot—I want to say one last thing. Only you know how deep and broad your trauma is. You may already be seeking treatment for it, and if you are, I’m proud of you. It’s not easy to do. I know from experience. Just remember that you are the most important person in your life, and it is up to you to protect and nurture yourself. No one else can do it as well as you can. So, do the research. Look into what you want to read before you read it.

Also, remember that the age of publishing we find ourselves in today, it is easier than ever to reach out to authors and engage them about their work. Authors love to talk about what they’ve written, and I think you’ll find most of them will be more than willing to give you brief details about a piece so that you can make an informed decision about whether it will be safe for you to read.

 Shannon Iwanski - Editor

Shannon Iwanski - Editor

Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.

Trigger Warnings

I lost my lactase enzymes—the ones responsible for breaking down milk products—when I was still in high school. It was a bumpy road figuring out what had milk in it, and what didn’t. Things with cheese and ice cream were obvious, but less obvious was where there might be butter. In restaurants, the answer was almost everything. At home, it took some time too. Eventually—probably too long after—I noticed that at the end of every list of ingredients there was a bolded sublist that had all of the potential allergens. 

  Even cheese has a warning that it contains milk.

Even cheese has a warning that it contains milk.

There’s good news: this list doesn’t affect anyone who doesn’t need it. The lactose was still there. And even better, no one was forced to read it that didn’t want to.

 I look at trigger warnings and content warnings, the same way. They should be available to those people who want or need them. The people who don’t want them can continue to ignore them, because most things already have some form of warning.

 For example, the Motion Picture Association of America is already in the business of providing content warnings for films. They give virtually every movie released in the U.S. a rating of G through NC-17. Since 1990 for R-rated films and since 1996 for PG and PG-13 films, the MPAA has provided a brief explanation of why the movie received that rating. The MPAA warns viewers that Get Out has “Violence, Bloody Images, and Language Including Sexual References” while Green Room has “Strong Brutal Graphic Violence, Gory Images, Language, and Some Drug Content.” It wouldn’t take much for the MPAA to piggyback warnings for common triggers into these ratings. And the people who didn’t want content warnings in the first place could continue to ignore them.

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 The Library of Congress does something similar to content warnings when it classifies books. For example, it writes that Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is about: “1. Punk rock musicians — Fiction. 2. Sound recording executives and producers — Fiction. 3.Older men — Fiction. 4. Young women— Fiction. 5. Psychological fiction.” Again, since the genre classifications are already happening, it doesn’t seem like a big ask to want publishers to include that information on the publishing information page.

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 I’ve never suffered the kind of trauma that makes me worry that something in a work of fiction might trigger me.The people who have aren’t weak and they’re not making a big request when they ask to be warned if the terrible things that happened to them are going to be portrayed in a story they’re about to consume. If my air conditioner needs a sticker that warns that its heavy and could cause serious damage if dropped, the organizations that are already telling consumers what a story is about should add warnings for the more common triggers.

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Ryan C. Bradley

Ryan C. Bradley’s work has been featured in The Missouri Review, The Rumpus, Dark Moon Digest, and in other venues. He regularly contributes to Wicked Horror. You can learn more about him at https://ryancbradleyblog.wordpress.com/

 

 

Warning: Runny Eggs

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I was going to open up this post with a story about my best friend eating over-medium eggs in a way that I hate, but as I was writing it, it felt more and more like I was belittling a very real issues. And even if I have some of the issues, it’s still not okay for me to be dismissive of them. Unless I’m also being self-deprecating and making a joke with my voice and no ability to backspace my way out of a place I didn’t mean to be in.

I guess I’ll start off with some warnings. This is a post about trigger warnings. I’m going to be discussing domestic violence.

When I was younger, my mom had a terrible boyfriend. We lived with him for a while and he checked basically every box on the Bad Stepfather Starter Sheet. I ended up with a lot of problems, a lot of therapy, and some good medication.

One time, someone shared this video with me. It’s a Whitest Kids U’ Know skit about pizza bagels. It starts like a standard TV commercial and then quickly turns into a domestic violence situation, complete with the sounds of hitting and the wife screaming off screen while the upbeat voice-over talks about Pizza Bagels.

I fell apart when I watched it. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t even move to stop the video. It was horrifying and it kind of messed up my whole day. I couldn’t get through anything without thinking about the damn Pizza Bagels. I never watched any of their other skits. I only rewatched that one today to include in this post. It still made me feel gross and bad. Like there are worms in my stomach. But I knew it was coming, so I could stop. I could close my eyes. I could deal with it in a way I couldn’t before.

I understand the purpose of trigger warnings completely. But I don’t like them. As a creator, it feels like the responsibility of who consumes my art lies on me rather than the consumer. And that causes me quite a lot of anxiety. It also feels a bit like sticking spoilery labels all over my stories. I made this art so you would feel something. I don’t want to dilute the emotion.

I also, primarily, deal in horror. It feels, to me, that putting a trigger warning on horror is like telling the consumer that scissors are sharp. That knives can cut. That wounds bleed. If you’re picking up one of my books or diving into one of my stories, it’s probably not because you heard it was happy and full of unicorns (unless they’re dead or otherwise puritanically-compromised). The trigger warning is inherent to the genre.

But, here’s the thing. I don’t like a lot of things. It’s basically my superpower. But I still understand the purpose of trigger warnings. I know how they can help. So, while I don’t like them, I will never, ever fault anyone for wanting them. Because I don’t want to be an asshole. In fact, my main goal in life to not be an asshole. And when someone tells you there’s a problem you can easily fix with minimal effort or sacrifice on your part, and you do nothing, you’re an asshole. So, I don’t like them. I don’t use them. But it doesn’t hurt me to include them or have them included.

I recently met Courtney Knight of Clean Teen Publishing (http://www.cleanteenpublishing.com/). After seeing what they’re doing over there with content warnings, we Murderers have decided to try implementing something like that for our books.

We want you to feel something, something probably not always good, when you read our books. But we also want you to come back for more.


 Adrean Messmer Editor-in-Cheif

Adrean Messmer Editor-in-Cheif

Terror, blood, and awful things happening to normal people are her favorite things. If you want to know more, you can find her over at Splatterhouse 5, where she sporadically blogs about whatever nonsense strikes her fancy and judges other people's writing. Or on Twitter.

July's Topic: Content Warnings

Content warnings and trigger warnings are all over Facebook and Tumblr. Stories abound across the conservosphere about college students demand trigger warnings before reading Huck Finn.

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Our movies, television shows, and even video games come with ratings about violence, language, and mature themes.

Should books have the same treatment?

Do you need a warning that there might be a monster in the latest Stephen King?

That there might be profanity or sex in a thriller?  Violence in your military fiction?

A Murder of Storytellers will be blogging all month on our takes on content warnings.

The Ultimate Diversity is Casual, but Getting There is Anything But

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I grew up on the United States-Mexico border, so I had seen as many shades of brown as there are grains of sand in the Chihuahuan Desert by the time I could speak. And when I learned to do that, I learned not just my “first” language, English, but also Spanish from my friends at school, who often spoke it exclusively at home and mixed it in on the playground. My own cultural upbringing was a combination of my maternal grandmother’s Mexican and my maternal grandfather’s “American.” For the most part, this blend of untameable tongues and the cultures they represented were simply aspects of my identity that I was proud to inherit but also not necessarily anything that set me apart in any special way. It was all I knew: people who happened to be Mexican (and lots of other things) going about their daily lives, all with our own hopes and dreams, fears and problems.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. It should be, but as it turns out diversity has different levels, including the “casual diversity” that graced the first 21 years of my life before I moved to Boston. My own role in it is further complicated by my mixed ethnicities as well as the various forms of privileges and marginalizations I happen to have been born with and acquired. Thanks to my grandfather, I can pass for white, especially after five New England winters. Thanks to my mom I received a great education, a solid roof, an always-full belly, and lots of love. Thanks to my dad, I’ve travelled the world and know how to interact with a variety of people. My fiance was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, so thanks to him I am learning and embracing a third language and culture; when we have one, our child will be able to speak at least four languages between us. I might be a nearsighted Latina woman with anxiety who has struggled with depression, but I’m also cisgender, heterosexual, and am able to (begrudgingly) pay for healthcare in a state with a world renowned healthcare infrastructure, even though I only work part time. I was born in a country that grants me the right to add “begrudgingly” as a qualifier of protest with little consequence, at least while the Constitution holds.

These are all important for me (and anyone trying to incorporate or advocate for diversity in their community) to hold when writing because while I do write about race, gender, class, and other “issues,” that my characters and I sometimes struggle with, that’s not the only thing I want to portray. Vulnerable groups aren’t just their vulnerabilities and because I have the authority to speak as a member of only some of those groups, I have the obligation to take extra care when I bring a character who is different than me to life, or even try to portray my own background. In other words, when someone reads one of my stories, even one that is explicitly about a Chicanx experience, I don’t want it to be exemplary of what that means for all Chicanx people (another very historied word for folks who specifically identify as Mexican-American), or as the case sometimes is all Latinx people at once (as in using Mexico as synonymous with all Central and South America). After all, no one watches a show like Friends, and thinks “Gee, every New Yorker must have a giant apartment like that, how cool!” or even more exaggeratedly “Wow! American people are so funny!” And yet, sometimes that’s what ends up happening with shows in particular, but in any media that have casts that are partly or entirely people of color: if the creators aren’t careful in the portrayal of the characters, they’ll end up getting lost in the stereotypes or reduced to their struggles. The idea of casual diversity, which makes it perhaps the ultimate form of diversity, is that it becomes another piece of the wide, varied normal. We need casual diversity in every kind of media because it helps viewers of every identity imagine a world that is accessible and possible for everyone, but the creation and process by which we achieve it must be anything but casual.

Zyanya Avila Louis received her MFA in Fiction from Emerson College and now teaches in their First Year Writing Program. In her time working with students at Emerson, she as developed a passion for working with international students, multilingual students, and other diverse student populations, which is born from being bilingual herself. She loves writing and reading fiction and non-fiction, and occasionally enjoys poetry. Zyanya was born and raised in El Paso, TX and now lives in Quincy, MA with her fiance and her growing library of books.

  Zyanya Avila Louis

Zyanya Avila Louis