Writing Experience

Back when I was a young lad growing up in Farmington, NM, I read a lot of books. It was a way of escaping a system that rewarded jocks for being jock assholes and didn’t care for creativity. I wasn’t a jock, although I did go out for basketball in the 6th grade (didn’t get to play in the one game we won) and track & field in High School (okay at shot put, miserable at discus). Personally, I didn’t care too much for either. I guess I’m not much of a team sports guy.

This was when Stephen King was doing his meteoric rise to, well, where he is now. I didn’t read a whole lot of horror – I was mostly into SciFi – but, of course I read King’s early works just like everyone else. It was required reading in the 80s, just like it was expected that you listened to Oingo Boingo. He did some pretty clever horror stories back in the day. Christine, Pet Sematary, Misery, It. He also did a great co-authoring work with Peter Straub called The Talisman which was pretty awesome.

I could usually be found with my nose in a book, listening to Iron Maiden or any number of 80s heavy metal bands and doing my best to avoid the multitude of bullies and assholes that thrived in an environment where athletic prowess was valued more than anything else. I also worked on the yearbook and that probably didn’t help my social standing.

Quick funny story for you: Our senior year yearbook has a strange aberration on the cover. If you look on the back there’s a piece of the wall that’s a different color from the rest. The reason that’s there is because it’s covering an anarchy symbol. We put the anarchy symbol on the cover because we thought it was cool. The school brass nearly had a heart attack over it and ordered it covered. I still think we should have kept it intact.

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ANARCHY!

Now, what’s funny is at this time, a lot of people thought Stephen King was a hack. Nowadays, he’s considered one of the greats, but in the early 80s, he didn’t have such high regard. Nevertheless, he sold books like a mad motherfucker and everyone was reading him no matter what the critics had to say.

King was making money and doing what he loved. While all the critics were going to sleep in their one-room flophouses and fighting cockroaches the size of Panzer tanks, Stephen King was sleeping on a huge pile of money, surrounded by many beautiful ladies.

He kept going and he kept doing things his way and now very few people consider him a hack. And he’s not the only one, either. Science Fiction as a genre was long considered the repository for people who couldn’t write good stories. Bradbury, Williamson, Heinlein, Asimov, and many others were looked down upon, not because of what they were writing, but because of their genres.

In Kenpo, we line up in class according to rank. During one of my first classes my teacher made an interesting point. “The difference,” he said, “between being at the front of the class and the back of the class is simply a matter of time.” If you stuck with it, you got better. It was that simple.

Writing seems to be no different in that respect. Keep practicing and you’ll get better. At least I like to think I’ve gotten better at it.

Of course, I’m still working at that “world thinks he’s a hack” level of popularity, but perhaps it will come in time. If it does, and I still get a bunch of reviews calling me a hack, hell, that’s a bunch of people that read that book and cared enough to leave a comment. I’m cool with that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if you’re struggling with something – anything, really – keep at it if you love it. Keep trying to make it better, keep trying new things, keep trying in general. There was a time when even Stephen King was an unknown tacking rejection notices to his wall.

Full-Bore Gonzo

If you’ve ever wondered how it is I come up with some of my more bonkers ideas, let me tell you a little tale.

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Back in and around the turn of the millennium, when everything was supposed to go to Hell in a hand-basket because of the Y2K bug, I was living down the street from where I am now. Truthfully, that’s not that important, except it put me in close proximity to the house of one of Diazien Hossencofft. That name, in conjunction to the time frame, should trigger alarm bells in anyone versed in Albuquerque’s strange and savage history.

Now, I have never met Hossencofft, nor have I met any of his multiple wives, but he was living a short distance from me and I didn’t even know who or what he was until I repeatedly saw news crews outside his house as I driving home.

Diazien Hossencofft and his girlfriend were convicted of murdering Hossencofft’s wife (whose body still hasn’t been found) and sentenced to whole mess of time in the big house. That, in and of itself, isn’t all that crazy. What is crazy, is there were allegations during that trial that they killed her to get ready for the mass invasion of reptilian-alien masters who already ran the US government and Hossencofft and his girlfriend may have eaten at least part of his murdered wife.

That’s bonkers, even in New Mexico where alien abduction is a perfectly valid excuse for being late for work.

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Remember, this is a state that gave the world the Roswell Incident and all the allegations about a secret base in Dulce, NM run by aliens and former Nazis who are trying to create alien/human hybrids. (Admit it, you thought I was making all that up in Arise, didn’t you?) Even here in the Land of Enchantment, the story of Diazien Hossencofft is outlandish.

And this guy was living a stone’s throw from me.

All those ideas that seem so far-fetched – aliens, secret bases, alien/human hybrids, Satanic plots – are pretty run-of-the-mill in New Mexico. We were telling those stories long before Scully and Mulder showed up on the scene; I just took those tales and used them as plot points in fiction.

When it comes to high weirdness, we’re experts, so it shouldn’t be surprising that magical realism is a common theme here. We made international news in 1947 and have been riding high on it ever since. The first atomic bombs were detonated here in New Mexico. We’re used to this kind of thing. If that makes us weird, then so be it. As the master of Gonzo himself said,

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

They say when it comes to writing, write what you know. And I know weird.

More on the murder of Girly Chew Hossencofft

140 Characters of Madness

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Twitter, in addition to being the US President’s defacto choice of late-night communication, is rife with all manner of interesting information. Once you scrape past the people that all repost the exact same click-bait news stories (5 reasons why this post is awesome, you’ll never believe number 3!) and ass-random posts about how terrible the last Ghostbusters movie was, you’ll find a vibrant writing community.

I’m sure this is probably true of everything from programming to HR, but it’s the writers I tend to look to. In particular, I’ve started playing some of the Twitter writing games. There are scads of them out there, but I only follow a few of them because I like to at least attempt to do them justice.

Writing on Twitter isn’t always about getting the snappiest line together – although, choose a good one – it’s more about seeing what other people are writing. Each day I take a bit of time to find a few lines from whatever I’m writing and post it. Of course, lots of other people are doing the same thing, so it gives me a chance to see how other writers are putting things together. Think of it as an amuse-bouche for words.

Anyway, if you’d like to join up, it’s as simple as posting something with the appropriate hashtag and reading what others are doing. Beyond that, there aren’t any requirements. Other than don’t be a dick, but that kind of goes without saying.

Don’t expect a lot of feedback, but do expect to find some interesting new writers and see what they’re up to. Here’s my daily routine:

Sunday

Monday

  • #MuseMon – Theme-based and hosted by Claribel Ortega.
  • #MartialMonday – Theme-based, usually revolves around fights. Hosted by Ellis Logan

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

  • #FictFri – Optional themed, hosted by Gracie Mae DeLunac
  • #FriDare – Usually themed, often involves captioning pictures or similar. This one is pretty fun. Hosted by Mica Scotti Kole

Saturday

Go forth and check these out; there are good times ahead and you’re likely to meet someone interesting. To play, all you have to do is either write something up or pull something from your work in progress, tweet it, and make sure to add the appropriate hashtag for the day. Then, kick back and see what everyone else has written. It’s great fun and it exposes you to writers you might not have come across before.

Got any other games you like? Leave ’em in the comments!

 

We Are The World Blogfest

There’s a huge amount of crap floating around the Internet these days: fake news, random outrage, and general malaise seem to be the orders of the day. Every morning, I get up, read the news, and choke down the madness with my morning cup(s) of coffee. In an attempt to combat this without being a jerk, I joined up with a group of like-minded bloggers who aim to produce one positive story a month. It’s supposed to drop on the last Friday of each month. If you’d like to get involved and jab a sharp stick in the eye of hatred, drop a note in the comments or follow the instructions below. The world ain’t as bad as we like to make it out, we just need to shine the light of justice on the unjust and kick over a few rocks to see what’s lurking under them.


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Social media and news in recent times has been filled with hate and negativity. Just as you cannot fight darkness, only light lamps, Hate and Negativity cannot be fought. You need to bring Love and Positivity forward instead.
I bring to you the We Are the World Blogfest, along with these fabulous co-hosts:

Belinda Witzenhausen, Carol Walsh,Chrissie Parker, Damyanti Biswas, Emerald Barnes, Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Kate Powell, Lynn Hallbrooks, Mary Giese, Michelle Wallace, Peter Nena, Roshan Radhakrishnan, Simon Falk, Susan Scott, Sylvia Stein, Sylvia McGrath

“We Are the World Blogfest” seeks to promote positive news. There are many cases of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world.
We will link to charities supported by the co-hosts, and you could choose to donate to some of them or add links to local charities you support, so we could all chip in to a good cause if we like.
Let us flood social media with peace and love, and “In Darkness, Be Light.” The first post for We Are The World Blogfest is on the 31st March 2017. Hope you will join us!

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Something like this news, about a man who only fosters terminally ill children.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

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Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Reality vs Fantasy

rant

One of the best parts of writing, of course, is getting to create the story from scratch. It’s an awful lot like playing pretend when you’re a kid and you get to make up all sorts of fantastical things. The kid stuff doesn’t have to follow any set of logic or rules. When you’re a kid, you can have the biggest weapon and be unbeatable by any foe. You’ll also be smart and handsome and generally the best player in the game.

While that’s all fun when you’re tootling around the playground with your buds pretending to fight the forces of darkness and winning handily, it doesn’t make for good grown-up stories because beating the bad guys senseless without any real stress doesn’t create our good friend dramatic tension.

“Yep, whooped up on the bad guys and went home to XBox and the best Cheetos and chocolate milk money can buy. Didn’t get a scratch on me.”

Fun. Not exciting, though.

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Teeming with dramatic tension

One thing kids do have that adults seem to lack is a lot of imagination. In a kid’s world, fantasy and reality combine to make a kind of surreality soup that tastes great with Cheetos and chocolate milk. The fantastic can be incredibly fantastic and the realistic can also be incredibly fantastic because kids don’t see the world through the same jaded eyes adults do.

In the adult story world, things need to make a least a modicum of sense or, at the very least, be very truthy. Even the fantastical stuff needs to have an air of rules and some grounding in reality or it starts to smack of deus ex machina solutions and over-the-top fantasy where a girl falls in love with a billionaire and changes him for the better. No one will ever fall for that.

Wait. Scratch that. It’s a common trope these days.

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A show chock full of realism.

Anyway, even if the fantasy world filled with magic and dragons, there still needs to be some limit on just how far things go. The hero – who is righteous and brilliant and handsome – can’t change the rules at the last minute because the story got to a point where there was no reasonable way out.

The inherent perfection of the characters is also something that can kill the tension. Heroes don’t necessarily need to be dashing or beautiful any more than villains need to twirl mustaches and tie damsels to train tracks. Realistic heroes can be monsters (literal or figurative) and villains can be people doing the wrong things for all the right reasons.

I’ve been working on my first fantasy novel, Greetings From Sunny Aluna. I promise, it won’t be a traditional fantasy novel. There will be dragons and magic, but there’s also crime, drugs, fighting, and drinking. In order to keep things at least borderline realistic in a world where there are two suns, two moons, magic is real (and used to power lights, among other things), and humans and dragons fought a nasty war at some point in the past, I’ve been digging into a lot of Chinese mythology and trying to reconcile it with the rules of the world. Sure, there are dragons, and, yes, they are magical creatures. But they’re also unrepentant apex predators with gigantic egos. There’s magic, but very few people completely understand it and even though it’s everywhere, most people are content to power their lights and ovens with it.

These are the things that help ground the story and, in my opinion, make it fun. That little hint that this could be real, no matter how bonkers the rest of the story may be. Too much fantasy and you lose the human element of the story. Too much humanity and you might as well be rewriting Beaches or The Piano because you’ve lost the fantastical element in the story. Figure out just what humans are good at (being lazy and finding the easiest way out of working) and wrap that with a magical world and you’ve got the makings of a good story.

There are rules on Aluna, and an awful lot of broken people doing awful things in the name of good. It’s still fantasy, but it’s not high fantasy. Think of Greetings From Sunny Aluna as down in the gutter fantasy. It’s going to be fantasy merged with the mean, gritty realism you only get when you’re knife-fighting behind a 7-11 at 2am. It’s just that the 7-11 will serve fried tarantulas and the knife fights will be epic.

greetingsfromsunnyalunatwitterprecover

 

Common Sense Says A Lot Of Things. Oh, Yeah.

rant

I was picking up my son from summer camp last year when I saw a woman in Tesla Model S talking on her phone. Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Elon Musk’s auto of the future, but the car is so advanced you could probably remote control the ISS from it. With that kind of capabilities, you’d think it was common sense that the native radio in a Model S would have a Bluetooth connection. It should also be common sense that you’d want to have a hands-free device while you’re driving a car in a crowded parking lot with a lot of kids around.

I keep hearing people say, “Common sense isn’t that common.” It’s a great rhetorical argument that doesn’t hold a whole lot of water because common sense is a constantly shifting thing; it’s become nothing more than an argumentative tactic that means about as much as velvet painting of a naked Elvis hanging in the family room.

“Let’s create a common sense plan to do x.” Where x is pretty much anything from fishing for compliments on the Internet to banning Muslims while not banning Muslims.

We tend to think of common sense as innate knowledge – that there are things that are so rational they can’t be assailed logically – but that’s not really accurate. I think the problem is we’ve – as a society – forgotten exactly what common sense even means. The baseline definition of common sense (from Dictionary.com) is:

“Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”

Wikipedia expands on this (as it is wont to do), by defining common sense as:

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things that are shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without need for debate.”

I’m just gonna toss this out here and say Wiki’s definition is better. But, for the sake of argument, let’s take both of them apart and see what’s inside. Dictionary.com’s definition sounds an awful lot like how people see common sense these days. Unfortunately, it’s not really common sense; it’s more akin to making a snap judgement without drilling down into the situation and that takes us from the realm of common sense into the realm of bumper sticker logic.

From there, madness follows.

Look out a window. Any window will do. Unless you’re working in a basement hammering out nuclear missile code, there should be a window handy. What do you see? Trees, birds, mermaids. Does it look flat? Flat-ish? Common sense, according to snap judgement will tell you the planet is flat. I can’t see any curvature, so it’s a sound and prudent judgment that the Earth is flat.

I’ve even got empirical evidence to back it up. I mean, just look outside. It’s obviously flat.

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The problem is, the planet doesn’t actually look like this even though there’s a bunch of allegorical data to back it up.

Taking a simple presentation of the situation or the facts is the antithesis of making sound or prudent judgments. It’s roughly analogous to judging a book by its cover or voting for a president because he’s really, really rich.

Wiki’s definition hews closer to a useful definition. Even though most people who will tell you to use common sense are referring to Dictionary.com’s definition, Wiki’s definition is what they’re implying – the idea that something is inherently reasonable to a group of people. Unfortunately, one of the reasons Wiki’s definition is better is because it’s narrower; it implies common sense only applies to things that are common to a group of people and not really open to debate.

  • “We need clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.”
  • “The pointy part goes in the enemy.”
  • “Firefly was the greatest show ever made. Seriously, like EVER!”
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Common sense would dictate he’s using the right port-a-potty. See, because it’s on the right. Never mind.

The problem is all of those are open to debate. Except the Firefly one. Plenty of people will tell you clean air and water are overrated, especially where profits are concerned. There are swords that slash rather than stab. In the right collective – specifically rapiers and such – yes, the pointy part goes in the enemy, but in other collectives like scimitars, the best use is for slashing.

Almost every example you can think of where someone refers to something as common sense actually indicates a learned response to something. Even something as simple as “fire burns” had to be learned somewhere. You put your finger on the candle and – holy cow! – that doesn’t feel good. To put it bluntly, there’s no such thing as innate knowledge.

And that right there is the problem with referring to anything as common sense. In the right group, it’s just common sense that we ban all the Muslims (I don’t fall into that group, by the way). There’s not necessarily a solid rhyme or reason behind this, it just seems truthy. It ignores a huge amount of data, though.

Even some generally accepted truisms fall apart under scrutiny:

  • If you work hard you’ll be rewarded
  • You can be anything you want to be
  • Your vote counts

More often than not, hard workers are exploited by people who are better at working the system. I’m still not Batman. Tell three million people their vote counts when gerrymandering can change the results or the Electoral College can appoint a president who lost the popular vote.

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Common sense says you don’t wear a bunny suit to the lake. That’s a bear suit place. Duh. No wonder you’re all alone. Loser.

All too often calling something common sense is shorthand for saying, “Why can’t you understand this? Everyone else gets it, dumb ass.” Common sense has a very narrow definition and using it outside of its intended place cheapens the argument to the point that it’s little better than slinging insults at your enemies.

To go back the lady in the Tesla talking on her phone without using Bluetooth, well, apparently the Model S had some issues connecting iPhones with Bluetooth. A software patch fixed that. The bottom line is, I assumed it was common sense to use a hands-free device – it is the law, after all – but it may not have been working at the time. It’s still not the brightest idea in the world to roll around a crowded parking lot with kids everywhere, but that’s a different debate and her experience may have taught her she was safe doing it.

The next time someone tells you something is common sense, stop and think about it for a moment. Common sense to who? And why should it be considered common sense? If it’s just bumper sticker logic, nod, smile, and do whatever you were going to do anyway.

After all, it’s just common sense.

Got any examples, bones to pick, general rants of your own? Leave ’em in the comments. I love comments and usually respond to them.

PMRC And Writing

Back in 1985, a group known as The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) dropped a bomb on musicians. That bomb was set off (or so the story goes) when Tipper Gore walked in on her daughter listening to W.A.S.P. album and the detonation is still felt today, albeit less seismically than back in 1985.

The bomb was the idea that some music (namely W.A.S.P. albums) needed some kind of mechanism to inform parents that the albums they were buying for their kids might be less than vanilla. As if any parent picking up Inside The Electric Circus would think they were getting savory easy listening.

After months of Senate hearings and Dee Snyder folding like an amateur poker player at pro night, a mighty black and white sticker started appearing on music deemed inappropriate for kids. You still it sometimes today, for those of you that actually look at CDs rather than ripping them to MP3 and tossing the disc.

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The sticker that guaranteed a good album

Now, the funny thing about all this – at least in hindsight – was all the hysteria on both sides. Tipper Gore and her Washington Wives Club were absolutely terrified that heavy metal music would turn kids into Satanists, which was largely unfounded. Sure Blackie Lawless is on the cover of a W.A.S.P. album wearing nothing but body paint and fake nails, but the album itself wasn’t bad. Especially once you got the image of Blackie Lawless wearing nothing but body paint and fake nails out of your head.

On the other side of the spectrum, artists were apoplectic that they were being censored and, like many other things, the move would destroy freedom of expression. Again, this was largely unfounded. Although, to be fair, after the PMRC bombshell, W.A.S.P.’s next album – The Headless Children – was surprisingly tame. Whether that was due to the efforts of the PMRC or the band simply got older and ran out of alcohol and floozies is a question for the ages.

But remember, this was all going on in 1985. It was in 1986 that the Beastie Boys taught us how to party with License to Ill, 1989 saw 2 Live Crew releasing As Nasty As They Wanna Be, and Body Count dropped Cop Killer on us in 1992. Any one of those would likely have caused Tipper & crew to seize and shake violently.

Music went on. It’s still going on. In the end, all the PMRC did was give a bunch of bands free advertising and cost record labels extra money.

So, what does all this have to do with writing?

Well, I was reading blogs this morning and came across an interesting entry by A.A. Frias titled “Should Books Come With Content Warnings?” My first, immediate reaction was “Not only no, but hell no.” Fortunately, I’ve been living up to a promise to myself to listen not only to what people have to say, but why they’re saying it, so I read the whole piece with an open mind. Or at least a mostly open mind. It was early and I hadn’t finished my coffee.

Especially after I read the whole post and realized she wasn’t advocating content warnings, just trigger warnings.

She makes some interesting points and does a great job of differentiating between Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings, and establishes a case for why trigger labels could come in handy for some people. It’s a thought-out post and I suggest you read it, especially if you don’t really get the difference between content that offends and content that can trigger.

Now, her post was on the net benefit of trigger warnings and I’m not in any position to debate that. She also doesn’t agree with content warnings on books. So, essentially, we’re on the same page.

But it got me thinking. We have warnings on all sorts of media. Movies get MPAA ratings. TV shows get ratings and warnings. Music has warnings. Guess what doesn’t have warnings?

I will pretty much guarantee there is someone out there right now, sick to death of seeing 50 Shades of Grey at Target and wondering what can be done about this awful, awful thing. To some people, that book is the literary equivalent of walking in on your child listening to W.A.S.P. So, the question of the day is, should there be, or will there be content warnings on books? After all, it happened in music, movies, and TV, what makes us think it can’t happen in books, too?

I’m pretty dismissive of the idea of warning labels ever showing up on books. Frankly, I’m dismissive of warning labels in general. But remember Rule 34: if it exists, there’s porn of it. The explosion of erotica might just be what’s needed to jump-start someone’s campaign and once that happens, it’s a forgone conclusion that we’ll all (well, at least me) be putting warning labels on our books.

Did you know there’s Trump/Putin erotica out there? I’d heard the rumors and, yes, they are true. No, I haven’t read any, but I can imagine coming across the following line when it wasn’t expected (consider yourself warned):

“His tiny hands searched in the darkness, desperately seeking a way to make his own perestroika from a tower of glasnost.”

Go ahead, get that one out of your head. I dare you. I double dog dare you. BTW, I totally made that up.

Also by the way, the cover of that book should be content warning enough for anyone. Yeesh.

So, would I freak the heck out if I read that line? Not gonna lie here,  I’d probably laugh my ass off. But, yeah, it’d be unpleasant and leave me wondering what kind of book I picked up and how to get my money back.

But does it warrant a warning label on the book? No, not really. After reading the blurb, and the title, and looking at the cover I really should expect lines like that and know to leave that book alone. If, perchance, you happen to have written that book, you’re welcome for the free publicity.

Because of all that, and the fact that the PMRC’s warning labels accomplished diddly squat, I don’t think we really need content labels. Just like Blackie Lawless on the cover of Inside the Electric Circus (and song titles like “95-N.A.S.T.Y.” and “King of Sodom and Gammorah”) gave listeners a pretty good idea of what to expect, a book cover and blurb should give readers a pretty good idea of what to expect.

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This looks like wholesome, family music. Besides, wasps are neat bugs.

A title like Putin on the Trump: A Vladimir Putin Donald Trump erotic journey helps give the reader insight into what they’re in for, too. And let me just say, um, yuck.

But just because I don’t think we need content warning labels on books doesn’t mean someone out there isn’t looking to kick start their career by going after books they don’t like. We’ve seen plenty of times where books were burned (by the way, never burn a Kindle, the smoke is lethal), so it’s not too much of a stretch that we’ll see warnings at some point in the future.

Should it happen, should the stark fist of government intervention find its way into the literary world, there will likely be much wailing and gnashing of teeth along with wails of 1st Amendment violations and stifling of creativity. But I have a feeling the literary world would soldier on just like the musicians of the 1980s. We’ll just have warning stickers on our book covers and, just like the music warning stickers, they’ll guarantee a good time.

What do you think? Are warning labels a good idea or a bad idea? Do you think we’ll see a time when they’re mandated? I’m not in any way, shape, or form informed enough to debate trigger warnings, but feel free to weigh in on those, too.