When you were a kid, did you get your feelings hurt a lot, like when the other kids called you “booger-face,” or “toofus?” And when it happened did you run to your mom and tell her about it, hoping she’d draw you to her and hug away the pain, all the while bathing you in her distinctive scent which, although she never baked anything in her life, always smelled like blueberry muffins? And did you find yourself shocked, when instead she turned to you and said, “Oh my God, Scott. Grow a pair!”… ?
Wow, that got oddly specific. And silly obviously, but I opened with that flourish of Fragonard for a reason. [Ed. Note: Dammit, Craig! He’s tossing in art history references again. I thought you talked to him about this!]
The purpose of the silliness was to illustrate that I was a sensitive kid. Perhaps, at least in my mom’s opinion, overly so. Which was easy for her to say, not having be branded “booger-face.” But as I got a little older I realized that she was probably right.
Here’s the deal though: everybody probably has something they don’t really like to talk about. They have an issue from their past, perhaps significant only to them, perhaps horribly universal, which when discussed within their sphere of perception, triggers an emotion. Again, perhaps it’s nothing more than a feeling of annoyance. On the other hand it could be a crippling memory of a time in their life when they were powerless and badly hurt.
And sometimes writers write about that shit.
With the proliferation of independently published works, there are, last time I counted, about twenty gazillion books floating around the known universe, (which in literary terms is only a little bigger than your local Barnes & Nobel as far as we can say with evidence to back us up. I am waiting for an inter-library loan from the CNPL (Crab Nebula Public Library) to see if there are any good books out there we should be reading). Okay, probably less than twenty gazillion. But there are a lot. And, for the most part, they are being written by fine people who have a story to tell. They are motivated by a desire to share the magic that happens in their head when they sit down to write. Some, I suppose, are written by horrible people with much darker motivations. I once read this book called Mein Kampf, written by an unknown veteran of the Great War who was in a German jail when he wrote it. It gave me the heebie-jeebies. I wonder whatever happened to that guy.
But to get to my real point, some of those books written in good faith by good people contain something – maybe a character, maybe a story line, maybe the pivotal, mindset forming moment from a character’s backstory… that some reader, who bought the book in good faith, hoping to be entertained, finds… I shudder to type the word… offensive.
A while back, during the glory days of the Games and Writers Show, Craig and I dug deeply into the topic of a new trend in writing and publishing – the genesis of the “sensitivity reader.” This is a person who reads an advance copy of a book to determine if it contains anything that a reader might find offensive.
First, let me just say this is not a job I would want, because you’re never going to get a day off. Here is the dirty secret, which is really no secret at all since I’ve been saying it from the beginning of this post: Every book has the potential to mess with somebody. And I’m probably not woke enough anyway. (Don’t get me started… don’t even get me started).
We live in a world where things happen as a matter of course that most people would probably never be able to imagine in the deepest pit of their most horrific nightmares. And because there is no limit, it would seem, to the depravity of which mankind is capable, it is almost impossible not to offend someone, especially if what you are writing deals frankly with a topic that may come from that dark nether place where demons prey upon angels.
As an overly sensitive kid who grew up (hopefully) to be one of those writers who is working to tell the best story he can as well as he can, I get all of the feelings and I see valid points on both of the sides.
In the sixth episode of Good Sentences, Craig and I give you our take on the issue, which as you’ll learn when you listen, ends up being a rather personal one.
Craig, once again, did a great job in editing the episode together the the old GAWS acetate discs, thought to be lost these many years, and I think you will perhaps gain some new perspective on this far-reaching topic. This one should appeal to readers every bit as much as to writers, though not so much, I think to people who do neither of these things. Just a theory.
And after you listen, why not tell us what you think? You can leave a comment here on the blog, or on our Facebook Page (both of which you’re encourage to follow!)