Friday, October 20, 2017

Trigger Warnings and Owning Recovery

If you're recovering from sexual assault, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Again. This week saw the #MeToo hashtag sweep social media. There were no trigger warnings. And yes, people were triggered - people who are in the midst of attempting to recover their sense of safety and their sense f of self. Seeing all the #MeToo hashtags brought their trauma roaring back at them. Some were women. Some were men. Some were nonbinary. It didn't matter. Their only option for protecting themselves was to swear off social media for the week and pray the rest of us moved on in that time. As we usually do. If these folks are lucky, they have someone they can trust who can tell them when it's safe to tread the social media water once more. If they aren't lucky, they have to dip a toe in the water to see if Jaws is still down there waiting to chomp bits off of them.

Bringing awareness to the depth and breadth of the sexual assault issue in this society is a worthy goal. The problem is the cost of that awareness is blood squeezed from the already broken bodies and psyches of those abused in the first place. Do I believe that those of us who've been assaulted regain our power when we can stand up and say 'hey, this is a thing?' Yes. But it isn't my call to make. I don't get to drag someone else healing in their own time, in their own way through a simple hashtag. I guess I'm saying that a few people are realizing that every female, a few males and a few nonbinary folks they know have been assaulted. Yay. More eyes on the issue. I'm also saying that maybe there should have been a trigger warning somewhere.

On the other hand.

Most of you know I've had my issues with depression - the kind of depression that bottoms out in suicidal ideation. Translated: I get depressed and stare Death in the eye. He's not a bad dude. He does promise you won't have to feel any more and that can be mighty damned attractive. However. I have a firm grip on what we say to Death. So I sought treatment. It worked. It worked well enough that I no longer require treatment.

However. I know my limits and I own them. It's on me to take care of my mental health all day every day. I do not require or ask for trigger warnings. My issues are my issues and it's on me to handle them the same way I handle food triggers for migraines. If I don't want to wind up in an ER, I read ingredients and quiz the wait staff. Peanuts anywhere near this dish? Cheese? How about wheat? No? Woot! I get to eat! Mental health gets handled the same way. Post a graphic animal or child abuse video to my social media feed and get your ass blocked. My health. My responsibility.

So. Am I going to post trigger warnings to my fiction? Probably not. Simply because there are too many triggers out there in the world and I cannot possibly encompass them all. I will always alert readers to graphic sex scenes so parents can decide who gets to read what. I will also do my damnedest in the book descriptions to make it clear EXACTLY what kind of read you're going to get. Because let's be real. If you're writing trying to purposefully ambush readers with awful, you aren't edgy. You aren't an artist. You're just an asshole.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trigger Warnings and Controversy

I tend not to write things that would warrant a trigger warning.  Yes, I have action and violence, but I tend to keep it on the literary equivalent of a PG-13 movie.   Nothing too problematic. 

But, even though I don't write anything that warrants a warning, I'm not a big believer in censoring anything that a writer thinks is the right way to tell their story.  Just because it's not what I write doesn't mean I think it shouldn't be written.

BUT, if you do write that sort of thing, then I also think it's common courtesy to give some kind of content warning.  I think that's no different from the movie rating system, and it's a generally good idea to give your audience an idea what to expect.

Now, that doesn't mean giving away your surprises.  I think every good book should have a moment or two that might just tear your reader's heart out.  I think The Imposters of Aventil does that quite nicely. 

As will Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and A Parliament of Bodies.

And the rest of what's to come.

Just a reminder, that I do have a mailing list, which I send news to about once a month.  So you can get all the news on Maradaine and everything else going on with me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trigger Warnings, i.e. DIscussing 'That' Scene from Jovienne, again

NEWS: I'm starting a newsletter soon, so if you want to be in on the updates concerning the Persephone Alcmedi series, the Immanence series, or just want to be in on the fun, check out my website today. Note: It's a double opt-in, so there'll be an email to confirm. Thank you, kindly!

HALLOWEEN is coming (squee!!!!!) so I thought I'd offer a fun drink suggestion in this week's post.


8 oz. blackberries
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
4 shots of rum
Splash of Sprite

1. In a small sauce pan simmer blackberries, lemons, brown sugar, and water over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes.
2. Use a colander to strain out the blackberries
3. Put juice into a metal cocktail shaker, add ice, and rum.
4. Shake for about 20 seconds
5. Pour glasses 3/4 full and then add a splash of Sprite to each drink

I know what you're thinking, "...sounds good but that's too much work for a drink." But I'll be trying it before the holiday.

On to the topic...
Trigger Warnings: When Subject Matter is Controversial

I've struggled with whether or not my latest novel, Jovienne (Immanence Series, #1) should have a trigger warning.

On one hand, there is a rape scene. Flat out, it's easy to say, yes it needs a trigger warning. I've tried to put the word out there by blogging about it, posting and tweeting.
On the other hand, before that scene arises, I established these four things in the text: 
1.) all demons needed to feed on energy soon after they arrived in this world
2.) they fed two ways:
       a.) by killing and partaking of the death energy
       b.) by a sexual exchange 

3.) if a specific type of demon physically touched a human for an extended time, they could pull images and thoughts from that person's mind
4.) those specific demons could shape shift

When I wrote the scenes for Jovienne's test, I didn't originally have a plan for getting her out of it alive. It wasn't a planned novel, but more of a short story exercise for me so I wasn't invested in making her live through it, as I was exploring what would happen if I tried to kill that character. How hard would she fight to finish her story?

I'd also established that her family was dead and that her father had been a hostile, brooding, bullying, belittling, tantrum of a man. She hated him. He gave her no kindness and allowed her no happiness. 
As an author, having her face him --or rather one of those specific shifting demon's wearing his face-- was the worst thing I could do to her. But that demon gained a position of power over her. Having the demon attempt what evil was already established as it's prerogative and do that horrific deed as her father... it certainly seemed a demonic act to me.
So yes, I pushed hard and I did so on purpose. It was not ever my intention to trigger anyone, so I have put the word out as best I know how.

I can hear you asking, "Why not cut the scene, then?"

Because her reaction and subsequent actions establish her character so strongly, so unrepentantly, that I could not do her the disservice of removing it. I accept that hers is not a journey everyone will want to read, but I must say that, for me, it has been an inspiration to write.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trigger Warnings & The Delicate Flower

Related image

Trigger warnings for controversial material in fiction, particularly genre fiction, particularly speculative fiction. Yea or nay?


Controversial material is a cornerstone of spec-fic. Good spec-fic should make you uncomfortable even as it entertains you. It should expand your horizons.

Part of the joy of reading is experiencing new things, strange things, and unpleasant things from the safety of the printed page. As a reader, if I'm freaked out by a scene, I can flip forward in the story or I can stop reading. No one is forcing me to read that book. And, if some authority was attempting to force me to read that book, my issue would be with that authority, not the book.

I write stories for mature audiences. Adults. Grown-ups. I don't include trigger warnings on my books. I don't include explicit sex warnings. I don't include graphic violence, foul language, or abundant gore warnings. My books may contain some, none, or all of the above.

There are reviewers out there who rate books on those categories. Subjective ratings. More power to them. Completely their prerogative. They are helping inform the consumer while raising awareness of the book. Awesome.

As a writer, if I'm penning a scene that I recognize as a controversial issue, then it's on me to write it as responsibly as I can. Yes, it's possible I will write scenes that do a disservice to survivors of similar real-life events. I'm fallible. There is always room for me to improve. Yes, my villains will do and think completely reprehensible things. My heroes might too. The only thing I can promise is that events happen to develop the plot and/or the character. Squick is not gratuitous. Trauma is not for titillation.

If I wrote Young Adult (or younger) stories, then okay, sure, I could understand including a caution about controversial themes. I imagine it'd be helpful for librarians and parents.

I don't support the idea of trigger warnings on adult content because we slide very quickly into the trap of thought-police, gatekeepers, and morality judges dictating what is an isn't appropriate along with what is and isn't 'responsibly' written. If the publishing house has a standard, then great, good for them. Hopefully, the author is aware of that standard before they sign the contract.

Yes, there are horrible, horrible people out there writing horrible, horrible stories about horrible, horrible acts for purely obscene pleasures that appeal the prurient interest. Want to protect yourself from those? Read the cover copy. Read the reviews. Read the opening pages. All that will tell you if you're about to stumble into a niche market that you want to avoid.

I don't write grimdark and I don't write cozy. I write second-world and urban fantasy for adults. If I do my job right, my stories should make you feel something. If I do it really well, you'll hate and love characters, laugh and cry during their struggles, all while staying up way past your bedtime to finish just one more chapter.

Delicate flowers have to be shielded. Readers, by their very nature, are running toward the storms of adventure.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trigger Warnings


Okay. Label me a heartless bastard if you must, but no, I am not a fan of trigger warnings and I don't intend to use them, with possible exceptions.

But, Jim, what about-?


Not all that long ago, and you might even remember this one, kiddies, a college campus decided to have a guest lecturer on sexual assault on campus because, sadly, that's still a thing. It happens, much as I wish it didn't. How much do I wish it didn't? Ive lost a few guy friends because they had trouble with my believe that ay man who uses his tool for violence should have it removed. yes, I mean castration. No, I don't mean with chemicals. Cut the offending member away and take the testicles while you're at it. "What if they want to have kids?" They should NEVER have kids. That's potentially more victims.

Sorry, back to my point.

Attendance at this seminar was not necessary. However, a few of the students who I am sure had the best intentions, made it so clear that the very notion of having a lecturer on the campus would trigger them and others, of having the word on paper, folks. The phrase "sexual assault" was so damaging to them, that, as adults, they would need a room provided for them where they could offer bubble blow, soft music, pillows and snacks during the time that the actual lecturer would be on campus.

The University agreed to all of this and provided a room. I am not certain if they footed the bill for the bubble blow. No clue.

I am certain, that, in my eyes, the notion was ludicrous. Not because I don't believe people suffer from trauma, but because we're talking about ADULTS here. Ten year old kids? By all means Grown adults who are going to university to ensure they will make a good living? No. Adults who can, in some cases, drink legally and vote? No.  That's what my dear old mother would have called "Molly-Coddling."

I do not believe that you help ANYONE when you offer that level of protection from the real world. What you are inviting is trauma after trauma.

I knew a man who was, to be kind, rather spoiled while he was growing up., His parents did not correct his bad actions and as a result of that he failed to have much of an edit button. Once upon a time while in a public bar, he decided to get into an exchange with someone who was just as intoxicated and not as willing to overlook nasty comments. I believe it was eighty-seven stitches to put his face back together. His lack of an edit button, or understanding that words could have consequences did him no good. Even after that he tended to fire with his mouth worry about whether or not he could back it up later

No lessons learned.

Listen. I see a ten year old picking up a few of my books. (only a few) I'll be the first to say "That's maybe not for you and we should have your mom or dad okay it first." There are a few of my books that, frankly, have dark subject matter.  I'll point to SMILE NO MORE as an example of serious, hardcore violence. I'll be the first to say that BLOOD RED deals with subject matter that might very well qualify as "Iffy" (One of the main characters is a high end call girl and has to deal with being in the sex industry and with the fact that some people are reprehensible.)  and in both cases, without a parent's okay, after I've explained the content, I simply would not allow a kid under 14 or so to buy the books and even then I'd be dubious.

Some books are simply not meant for kids.

Now, maybe I'm wrong, but after 18, you are on your own. I write Horror and I write Dark Fantasy, and I write Science Fiction that sometimes has an apocalyptic edge. My covers are not often subtle and they say a lot about the subject matter at hand without a word being spoken.  If someone wants a rating, I can follow the movie ratings guidelines with the best of them.

I don't do trigger warnings. The possible exception? Rape. Why only possible? Because while the subject has come up in my books before and might come up again, it's a subject I handle delicately. i mention an even has happened, I most assuredly do not get into graphic detail. I have never aimed to titillate with a rape sequence, because to me it's not about sex, it's about violence. And, frankly, it's a subject ai do't consider as taboo, but it's also not something I try to use as a meth0d of pushing my stories forward. I write escapist fiction. Why would  I want to add in something that I KNOW will make a good percentage of the population uncomfortable?

That said, I am a HUGE proponent of the First Amendment of these United States. freedom of speech. I believe that the only censorship should come from the author and then the author can deal with the consequences of their wordly actions.

If I'm writing a story about werewolves, it's likely to get gory. If I'm writing about seductive vampires, there might be a sex scene, however brief. If I have a character who works as a high end hooker, she might have to deal with attempted rape or physical abuse. these things are, unfortunately, a part of an industry that is not monitored well in this country and one where the lack of regulations means that those trading in the business often deal with the darker aspects of their chosen field. All of that said, I write dark stuff.

Clive Barker once said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Horror is the last bastion of the taboo in fiction. It's where chauvinists still exist and the politically correct is seldom seen. It's the place where women can still be victims." I would only correct that to say it's where PEOPLE are victims. It comes with the territory. As I have said before and likely will again, I am an equal opportunity destroyer. I have no problem killing anyone or anything in my works. Because, as I have also said, I believe the best place for violence is in a book or in a movie. I'd rather it never show up in the real world.

And I believe that as a result of what I write, people should expect triggers. If they can't handle them, don't buy my work ad stay away from the horror genre entirely.

Put another way: I know a LOT of people are terrified of clowns. Can't stand them. Yet, here I go, writing several books and short stories revolving around Rufo the Clown, who happens to be a dead, psychotic monster. MENTION clowns to a few people I know and you can watch them start trying to find the escape hatch. SHOW them a clown and you can see the fear in their eyes.  Here's the cover to my next book. It has a clown on the cover. There are clowns in two of the stories. The cover is your only warning.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Trigger Warnings - Do We Need Them?

The first SFWA Fantasy Story Bundle has been selling like hotcakes! DO hotcakes sell, anyway? Maybe fast before they cool off too much. But these stories will keep. For only $5 you get four full-length novels and for $15 total, you can get all twelve. Keep them forever and read at your leisure! A great way to discover new-to-you authors while supporting both those authors and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, who does so much to advocate for the genre and the profession. The first book in my Sorcerous Moons fantasy romance series, Lonen's War, is a part of the bundle.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is Trigger Warnings: When Subject Matter is Controversial.

This topic itself has become somewhat controversial in recent years, almost worthy of a trigger warning right there. The thing is, "controversial" doesn't equate to an actual trigger. The term comes from mental health circles, where "triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk." (Reference) Thus a "trigger warning" is intended to advise people with mental health issues of this variety that they may want to steer clear of the content. For example, a fictional rape scene might come with a trigger warning to advise victims of rape that reading could adversely affect them.

However, the term - as can be witnessed by the wording of our topic - has come to be associated with anything controversial in any way. The term "triggering" has become part of the modern lexicon for any topic that elicits a strong reaction. Or even a response that's out of the ordinary.

The thing is... art SHOULD elicit a reaction. Certainly out of the ordinary. Hopefully a strong one.

Otherwise, what's the point?

Sure, a lot of our entertainment is designed to be soothing, to lull us back into a level of numbness where we don't have to think or feel. With that sort of thing, mild is best. TV sitcoms strive to be amusing without being controversial in any way. The edgier comedies have more divided audiences, with equal numbers hating the show as love it.

Genre fiction is often escapist, yes - but I think the best kind also stirs grand emotions and ideas in us. That's what I love best, when a book moves me and makes me think about things I normally don't. But that's not being triggered.

I'm blessed enough to be more or less trigger-free. I have my hot button, sure, but I know what most of them are and I'm able to manage my responses for the most part. For people with actual triggers, I do try to be aware of what those might be and warning people appropriately. That's the compassionate thing to do.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

How Do You Find the Measure of an Arc?

Purchased from DepositPhoto
Considering I’m just now writing book #1 of what I plan to be a series with an overarching arc, I don’t have much to add to this discussion  - sorry.

I always have to be mindful of my Muse’s peculiarity that if I think about a story too much before writing it, then I won’t ever write it, because it feels ‘done’ to me. So in trying to figure out the long term arc of this scifi romance series, I had to be very careful or all the momentum would die ded. We’ll see how I do.

In other news, Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 has had a great release week, sales/ranking/review-wise and I’m really happy readers seem to like my rock star romance in the anthology.

Here was one review (if you don’t mind me squeeing just a bit). Heather's well known in SFR circles so her opinion carries weight with me and she got what I was going for:

Blurb for Star Cruise: Songbird:
Grant Barton, a Security Officer on the Nebula Zephyr, is less than thrilled with his current assignment to guard an Interstellar singing sensation while she’s on board the ship. It doesn’t help that he and his military war bird Valkyr are dealing with their recent separation from the Sectors Special Forces and uncertainty over their future, with their own planet in ruins.

Karissa Dawnstar is on top of the charts and seemingly has it all – talent, fame, fortune and devoted fans, but behind her brave smile and upbeat lyrics she hides an aching heart. When a publicity stunt goes wrong, Karissa finds herself in the arms of the security officer assigned to protect her – and discovers a mutual attraction she can’t ignore.

Trouble continues to plague the pair, driving a wedge between them and leaving Grant certain that Karissa is in more danger than she realizes, from overzealous fans and her own management. Grant is determined to protect Karissa whether she wants his help or not. Can he discover the truth behind what’s going on before he loses Karissa or is there someone else plotting to keep them apart – permanently?

Blurb for Embrace the Romance: Pets In Space 2:
The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first month’s profits go to Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

Buy Links: Amazon   iBooks   Kobo   B&N 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Twists, Turns, Dangling Threads

Y'all. I'm phoning this in. Straight up. Dangling threads. Long series. Plot arcs. Right now, the dangling thread is an apartment so empty it echoes. The overarching plot is the work of getting my folks and their cat out of Washington State and down here with us. This series has been airing daily now for MONTHS with new twists and turns every damn day. 

Today's twist - the moving truck was delivered to the storage unit I had to find on short notice. Tomorrow at a time when most people are still asleep, a bunch of strangers I hired will show up to throw everything off the truck into the storage unit. Mind you. It took four people 10 days to load that truck. I fear for my life and for my breakables.

The OTHER twist is that someone has to fly Nicadeimos (Mom's cat) to Florida. Either I have to hop a plane to Seattle and collect Mr. Tuxedo, or one of my folks has to fly down and bring him to me and then fly back so they can finish up the house sale and then drive across country (to SEE things, they say) in freaking November.

Do you know how I handle all of these details and dangling threads? With a Bullet Journal. And in fiction, each book in a series has a notebook. This notebook is spiral bound and gets filled with notes about eye colors, names, places, things, editorial notes, scene notes - just everything. But after the book is done, while the novel is out for edits, my notes get munged into a spreadsheet for the series. Every ship name. Every planet. Every single detail that matters end up in that spreadsheet. Behold: The Series Bible.

Authors are weird. I cop to that. And we all have our bugaboos. Continuity is mine. Would anyone else notice it if I screwed up a detail? Probably. But unless it was major, I could probably count the number of people who noticed on one hand. BUT I WOULD NOTICE AND I WOULD NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. 

So I keep track. Am I organized? No. Am I thorough? Oh, yes. Oh very much yes. Because the sanity at stake is my own. And that's already only so/so. 

For my series to work or me, they have to follow a set order of precedence. Series arc rules everything. Each novel must serve the series arc while containing it's own arc. Each character must have an arc within each novel in which they appear and all of those arcs must serve the series arc in some way. 

Strangely enough, I find it doesn't matter where I start in the process of figuring out arcs. It's very chicken and egg. All that matters is that I start somewhere figuring out arcs and the rest emerge. Easy to say. Harder to do. Each book and each character likes to escape control just little bit. So it doesn't always go as planned.

And now, I'm taking this weary author off to sleep so she can face a day of schlepping boxes and heavy things without ending the day either in the emergency room or in prison.

Keep reading.