When words haunt you, change you
I needed to take a break from writing. I’m currently writing one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever had to write. No, wait. Not “had to”, but I’ll get back to that later. The reason I wanted to talk about this today is because–magically–events in the real world have begun to coincide with my own life. I’m of course talking about recent events stateside where a man accused of groping a woman on a plane claimed that the President said it was okay and the bombs sent to people that same President has been mocking for years. Words matter. Words have an impact. It goes without saying that the person who’s responsible for the groping, as well as the bomb-maker, are raving lunatics, most likely failing any sanity tests. They need help. While that may excuse their behavior, it does not excuse a regime hell-bent on “divide and conquering” the country they’re set to govern.
Sometimes, it takes time for the words to take hold…
Four years ago, I wrote a post about the fact that people around me, from my publisher to readers and reviewers, had begun calling me a “serial killer”, at least within my books. While hurtful even back then, it wasn’t until the last year or so that the label began to affect my writing in earnest. But unlike so many authors around me who write romance (where death is a bit of a mood killer), I write about life, reality, and in it, death is very much the ultimate consequence of life. One does not exist without the other.
It’s been four years since that blog post, and while I bit back against my friends about a year ago, telling them to give the joke a “rest”, the effects have continued to affect me, and my writing. When my mind suggests that it’s time for a character to ‘go’, I no longer let my fingers type the words. I stop. I contemplate, I rationalize, weighing pros against cons, and it usually puts a damper on my creativity.
This time it’s different
I don’t shy away from difficult topics, call them taboos, things most authors wouldn’t even contemplate to write about, child abuse, the death of children, serious illnesses etc. I write about these subject for several reasons: a) they’re on my mind as a father, a husband, a human, b) there are few/no stories for Christopher’s kind out there who tackle such topics, even though we are affected by them as much as anyone else. We deserve those stories, too. And finally, c) these big and admittedly difficult questions make for great stories to tell. It’s never enough though, and I would never tell a story just because it would make a great story. There has to be more.
When I set out to write my current fantasy series, I had no clue in what direction this would take me. The straw that had broken my camel’s back, i.e. the resistance to writing fantasy, was a radio interview on my publisher’s radio station with a reviewer. At some point, she mentioned that I’d be great at it. Now, she thinks everything I do is great, but somewhere in my subconscious, cogwheels began to churn, and a couple of months later, my resistance was broken. Yet given my writing style, I was afraid where this might lead me.
I know where this shit is coming from…
I’ve just begun writing the final book of the series. The ending of book two is a pretty heavy punch straight in the readers’ gut, yet I felt that in order to continue in the final installment, I had to up the antics. And my subconscious had the answers all ready for me. There are two characters in that book that need to go. One of them was close to it already in the second book, but I hesitated. It was too soon. I still needed her. Yesterday, this suddenly appeared on my screen:
“Jason,” he cried out of breath, “you have to come with me! It’s your mother…”
I stopped writing for the day. I couldn’t continue. Because I knew that there would be consequences if I did. Instead, I wrote it this morning, but I struggled, and I had to take several breaks. This is a serious topic. The only way this death makes sense is as a suicide. Unlike the TV show we’re watching on Netflix right now, where they killed off the President’s wife because the actress quit the show, a freak accident made absolutely no sense, and I could tell by the following episode after this mid-season cliff-hanger that they had a hard time explaining her passing. It was indeed senseless and unnecessary. I couldn’t get away with anything like that.
Yet suicide has been on my mind for some time. No, I’m not suicidal, although I’ve loosely thought about it, like most, at some point. I had the scare of my life earlier this summer when a good friend left with a “bang” and we didn’t know if he was alright for more than a day. The emotional turmoil I (and many others went through), is still lingering. And that wasn’t the first incident of mine.
In the end, I “persisted”…
So you contemplate things, you wonder: why? As an author, I’m afforded the luxury of being able to use my creativity, my storytelling to explore the depths of the human psyche. The Golden One is a young adult series. It’s targeted toward teens, which makes the topic of suicide all the more complex and sensitive. How often are the media accused of inciting people to “do it” if they openly report about a celebrity’s passing? And yes, there is research that suggests that hearing or reading about a suicide might push someone over the proverbial edge. However, if that nudge isn’t provided in today’s paper, it’ll come the next time a classmate yells “why don’t you jump off a bridge already?” or they see it on TV or what not. The problem isn’t when we talk openly about suicide, it’s the fact that we do so far too rarely, and treat it as some big taboo. Probably the biggest one of them all.
Just this morning, the same reviewer who got me to write fantasy asked for advice (retrospectively, she’d already done it) about whether to talk to children honestly about her own father’s suicide. This is a topic that needs discussing. Mental health, suicide thoughts are quite common in teens, and even more so in LGBT youth. To write these chapters, these scenes is anything but easy, and I have a hunch I’ll be spending a lot of time editing them, making sure I get it right. But I trust my subconscious to get it right, now that I’ve finally shown the “serial killer” a serious middle finger.
So why did I hesitate? And what does it mean?
Words matter. When people keep calling you that, even as a joke, and even though it may no longer hurt or sting, it still sits there, in the back of your mind, always, a reminder, nagging, eating away at your self-worth, the belief that you can pull it off, that you can write something good and powerful.
Words have a great impact, far beyond the immediate insult they may cause. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we get it wrong, be it as a misfired joke or just a thoughtless comment. Let’s not even mention social media, where leaving a snide comment is oh so very easily done… Once out there, it can’t be taken back. Once the words are said, they’re out. Forever. Yes, you may apologize and feel remorse, but the pain they cause on the receiving end won’t go away just because you did. That’ll take time.
I’m human, and like the rest of you, I know that I’ve caused pain, recklessly, with my words. This post isn’t about asking for forgiveness. I hope to have done that where and when needed. Nor am I asking for people to apologize. If anything, I’d like us all to do two things: a) be more careful in how and what we say and b) not to be so easily offended by things people say. Looking back on my post from 2014, I find the tone of the post relatively light-hearted. Back then, I didn’t take the epithet seriously. Rather, I used it to highlight my work. It was only last year when it was hurled at me repeatedly from several corners that I began to feel the effect it had on me.
Why this post?
You might wonder why I even bother to write this. Well, it’s on my mind, and writing about it helps me focus. it helps me realize where I come from and where I need to go, and why. Just going back over these paragraphs strengthens my resolve and confirms that I ultimately made the right decision. In the end, how we react to words spoken, how we allow them to unfold and take effect is entirely up to us. Yes, words are powerful and they may be hurtful, but when push comes to shove, it’s entirely up to each and every one of us to allow them to turn us into tools. Words are just that, words. Nothing else.
Returning to the examples at the beginning, dozens of millions of the President’s most ardent supporters have not taken to sending bombs to democratic opponents, despite incendiary language by 45 and his regime. They know better. But one individual allowed themself to be turned into a tool. A tool for words. How crazy is that?
As always, your insightful comments are more than welcome. And before I let you go for the day, remember that later today, October 25th, at six pm Eastern, I’ll release the YouTube trailer for my coming novel, the first book in The Golden One Series, Blooming. To learn more, click here. Join me on Facebook for further discussions about the book, or whatever else is on my mind…