Tag Archive: taboo


The Shock Factor!

Nudity. Graphic violence. Rape. Sex. Mass killings. Pedophilia. Extremely harsh language. Dark humor.

No, this isn’t a list of my favorite things, just a few examples of what we see in movies, read in books and hear in music. It’s an undeniable fact that the shock factor is a good way to get butts in seats, books off of shelves and music churning through headphones. It’s certainly not unusual to be shocked, appalled, disgusted, and mad as hell at an author, or rather at what an author writes.

But how far is too far?

How much is too much?

And are writers allowed a “get out of jail free” card for the actions of their characters? After all, if their main character is a murderer, the reader shouldn’t be surprised when that character slams a dull pencil into his disabled mother’s eye…right? If one of the characters in a book is a drug addict, then the reader has no right to be upset with that character is willing to give up their body to everyone they pass in a dirty alley in exchange for drugs…right? Neither does the reader have a right to be upset if the author chooses to go into great detail when describing how that character earns their drugs.

Where is the dividing line between sensationalism and true art when it comes to writing? There’s always been a debate about whether or not paintings of nude people is art or pornography, but I want to put the focus on writing.

I remember back in ’09 that I read a book by Samuel R. Delany called “Hogg.” If you know anything about the book, then you know it’s become extremely well known for its depictions of gay sex, incest, murder, and a full laundry list of taboo subjects. I honestly couldn’t make it through the book. It really wasn’t that I couldn’t stomach the content, just that I couldn’t grasp the story. It might be one of those books you have to stick with in order to fully enjoy, but to me it simply got too repetitive. So did Mr. Delany write “Hogg” because he truly had a story in his head, or did he write it to give people and critics something to talk about? Were his book sales dipping and he needed a way to inject some adrenaline back into his career using any unsavory means necessary?

I can’t help but wonder if I were to write the next “50 Shades of Grey” if that would get publishers and agents interested in me. Interested not because of the story, but because of the subject matter and the potential dollar signs. We all know that the publishing industry is a business, and just like any other business money is most often the biggest factor when deciding whether to go left, right or stay in the same position.

I realize that I’ve posed several questions here and I have yet to provide you with a concrete answer as to whether or not I think the shock factor should be justified or vilified. In some cases, I think going for the reader’s throat is a good way to make them aware, get them talking about things that they’d much rather sweep under their tidy societal rug. I also think going after the reader’s throat can at times be a cheap and lazy trick to keep them interested, to move the story along when you’ve run out of ideas. Cheap and lazy, but still effective.

It’s also quite possible that the author had no idea that they were writing material that might be considered shocking. What makes you uncomfortable might not even make them bat an eye, and what they find disgusting you might call everyday life. So it’s only really shocking if you aren’t familiar with it.

What’s the most shocking thing that you’ve ever read and why was it so jarring to you?

Next post: Writing for fans you don’t yet have. Good idea, or waste of time? 

Origin Story

I guess now is a good time to expose my roots and tell you how I discovered that I wanted to be a writer.

I’d first have to thank my Aunt Ann. Without her love for reading, I don’t think mine would’ve been so strong. I remember sitting with her at my grandma’s house reading a book. That little seed would only grow and flourish as the years went on and I started to grow up. I mostly read fantasy novels, anything that was imaginative and took me away from the “real world.”

When I was…about 14 or 15, I decided that I wanted to be a photojournalist. I think it was a combination of watching Spider-Man and The Secret World of Alex Mack (anyone remember that show?). I never actually went out and bought a fancy camera, but I do remember taking lots of pictures for a short period of time. Then somehow I stumbled on fan fiction! For the uninitiated, fan fiction is where you write your own stories for TV shows, adding your own twist to them. It was like being pushed into an ocean with no idea of how to swim. But I was more intrigued than anything else. I had discovered an underground dimension, a galaxy of parallel universes.

So I started writing fan fiction. My first was a Power Rangers fan fiction. Yep, Power Rangers. I was a HUGE fan when I was young. So I guess I have them to thank too for helping me discover my passion for writing. While attempting to come up with ideas for my storyline, I was still under the impression that I wanted to be a photojournalist, even though ideas for original stories were constantly pouring into my head.

I remember one story was about a group of teenagers who were mystical ninjas with elemental based powers who had to travel to a different dimension and battle their evil twins. Another was about two sorceresses, a vampire/werewolf hybrid and a seer who were part of an evil group called The Deranteke who were attempting to bring back their dark lord…all while staving off the attempts of other baddies who wanted to curry favor with said dark lord. Sounds like bestselling material, eh?

This is where I began my dalliance with exploring the “bad guys.”

I believe I finally decided I wanted to become a writer when I started writing the Bo Quintin series. Bo was a feral (a werewolf who doesn’t transform) and bounty hunter who received his assignments from an unknown divine source. I remember how much enjoyment it brought me to sit at the keyboard fleshing out this supernatural world and coming up with ideas. I even had a playlist for when I was writing fight scenes, and to this day writing a good fight scene is one of my absolute favorite things to do when writing. I was writing the Bo Quintin series when Angel and Buffy were on, and I was most definitely influenced by the Whedon world. I even had a spin-off series for one of my characters much like Angel was a spin-off of Buffy.

This is also where I developed the habit of jumping from project to project and starting things and not finishing them.

Next I visited my good friend Noel  in Kansas where I saw the movie Sin City.

This is where I was introduced to my good friend noir.

I was immediately held in thrall by this film. The colors, the music, the dialogue, the lighting, the story. It felt like a dark angel had descended from the corners of heaven, kissed me on the lips, blew out my soul like a jittering old car engine and gave me wings of my own. I remember going back to her apartment after the movie and starting my own noir story, one about an assassin and a vigilante named Vigil and Whisper. They were both gay and lived in a world where there were no women, save one, and they only operated at night. “Sons of Entropy”, as I called it, was some of my absolute finest work up until that point. I had cowboys, clones, a femme fatal, swords, strippers, courtesans, a gritty romance, drugs and the classic twisted noir ending.

I think I need to pull that story out and take a look at it. Who knows, could get it published after I polish it!

After “Sons of Entropy” came “SanGuine” and various other short stories, some of which I tried to get published and received my first rejection letters. I’m not sure when I got the idea for my first novel, “Fury Us,” but I do remember that it was originally ” X-Treme Quarantine.” I started writing it when I realized that there was much more to the story, and that I had to go back before writing about the XQtioners.

Presently, I’ve written an ish-ton of short stories, some finished, some not, one novel, some scripts, several poems and I’ve got about three chapters to finish on my second novel. I’ve come a long way, and I know that I have even further to go. I’m glad that I decided to share this, even the part about writing Power Ranger fan fiction, which I was apprehensive about. I guess you never know where “that moment” will come from. It’s always nice to go back and retrieve wisdom, passion and smiles that you’ve experienced on a personal journey.

Now, back to working on my latest short story!

Take care out there.

Mum’s the Word

Controversy.

It’s a word that sends images and words hurtling through our minds. It seems as if we can’t go a single day without experiencing, reading or hearing about some sort of controversy. We may lock ourselves in our homes, cut off the TV, take a hiatus from Facebook and Twitter and escape to the fantasy world of a book. Only to find that our escape isn’t an escape at all, but another quagmire of controversy.

As writers, we may not want to upset or alienate our readers. They give us their time, money, attention and hopefully their praise. We don’t want to dissolve that tenuous tether of trust by having our characters deal with something like abortion, race issues, homosexuality, rape or anything else that the public feels strongly about. Even if we don’t outright announce our stance on the issue, we don’t want to run the risk of scaring off potential readers by bringing in real-world politics or have a character who is thinking about having an abortion.

I often find one of the best ways to unravel my emotions and thoughts is to write them down, put my characters in a similar position and allow them to show me the way. Sometimes I’m shocked at how intelligent my characters are, just as I’m stunned by how cruel they might be. Even though it’s me writing the story, I’m not the one telling that story. I write about characters who share my personal views and beliefs, and I also write characters whose beliefs I don’t agree with. And sometimes it’s the characters whose views aren’t my own who are the most enjoyable to write.

Imagine that.

Controversy is something that I feel cannot and should not be ignored. Writers are nudists. We show our naked flesh on the page, the ink becomes our scars, moles and stretch marks, the creases in the book are the creases in our skins. We offer ourselves up to our audience and hope that they will be gentle. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. All of that being said, what’s the true risk in including an inter-racial couple, gay couple or a noble cheating spouse in your work? Not every reader will like what you write, even if they are fans of your genre. You have to ask yourself, are you writing to get your ideas out into the world, or are you writing to get a paycheck in your hand? Usually the answer is both, and it’s entirely possible to do both and still remain true to who we are, all with a little ingenuity.

As a gay African-American author, I know that there will be times when I’ll have to decide how much or how little of certain…possibly controversial subject matter I wish to put on the page, something that I’ve encountered already with writing my first novel. I’ve decided to not shy away from it, but also not to take it to the extremes. I enjoy creativity, and I want to not just put my own beliefs and views on the page, but do it in a creative way.

Creativity. Controversy. Creative controversy. Controversial creativity.

Blending them together gives them a totally different meaning, don’t you think?

Take care out there.