Yes, No, Goodbye

Much, if not all, of my fiction addresses serious issues, mostly of the personal, rather than the political variety (overtly, anyway). Mental illness, grief, disconnection/isolation from other humans and our ultimate transformation at death are themes I’ve been exploring/experiencing for many years, but Yes, No, Goodbye – one of my current works in progress – is probably the most personal I’ve ever written and is based on events that occurred this summer. The story begins with the protagonist being woken in the night by a dreadful, bloodcurdling scream that appears to have a supernatural origin. This is something I experienced a few months ago, the most frightening incident of this kind since my childhood. This is a story that may well never be read by anyone, for reading it is not its main purpose. So why write about it here? Because another reason I would be reluctant to have it read is the question of how much responsibility a writer should take as to the effect a story has on others. Not as in the general population, as it’s impossible to make something – something worth reading – inoffensive to everyone. But the backstory behind Yes, No, Goodbye is a tragic recent event that people I know are still grieving over (as am I). At the very least it’s too soon, I think, to send this story out into the world as it may well hurt people who don’t deserve to be hurt. I don’t think there should be any hard and fast rules regarding this – censorship can be very dubious and while I’m all for discussing with an artist why they’ve written or created a particular thing, I’m also aware that even the vague possibility that someone, somewhere, may be offended by something has led to an stifling degree of caution in some quarters. This brings up the question of content warnings on books, much in the same manner as films. Personally, I would hope that the ‘blurb’ on a book’s cover would give enough of an idea as to the content so as to make specific references unnecessary. The reader should be credited with enough intelligence to decide whether a story or novel will involve a subject too distressing for them. I’ve been in this situation myself, with novels and film/tv that I found offensive or that reopened old wounds. And I stopped reading/watching it. Saying that, a story of mine that was very heavy – the subject matter being self-harm and suicide – was given the title Trigger, because it was just perfect, and I did want to give a hint of the contents. That was my choice and my decision. It appeared in a journal of Thomas Ligotti inspired fiction (Vasterian), so dark subject matter was appropriate, but I noticed the story was only briefly referred to in all the reviews the journal received. Not a criticism – I have no divine right to have my work reviewed – but likely a reflection of such uncomfortable subjects. However, the most important reaction came from a US war veteran, who got in touch to say he found the story ‘reassuring’. Perhaps he felt heard by it? It was certainly a very positive, touching message. Meanwhile, Yes, No, Goodbye is coming close to completion. And its purpose? Hopefully some healing of my own.

4 thoughts on “Yes, No, Goodbye

  1. I think your attitude towards this issue is very balanced and responsible, Julie. A writer has to be authentic, inspired and honest. Many say an author should write with a particular ‘target’ reader in mind. Maybe the veteran who contacted you falls into this category. Even if they were the only one moved by your story, (I’m sure there were more,) you’ve done your job. When we write, we take risks, and expose ourselves. Sometimes we get it wrong, but not to put the words out in the first place just makes us fearful, and we have to write from a place of courage. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks, I appreciate your comments. I’ve been concerned to hear of authors bullied into taking their books off sale, for nothing more than assumptions made about what they’re writing about. Apart from anything else, artists need to have the freedom to portray characters/events that are uncomfortable or even repulsive – we do need to reflect the world as it is, as well as what we would like it to be.

  2. I concur, you’re so thoughtful about what you put out there, it’s a delicate balance to figure out what you need to express for yourself, as well. As you say, it’s impossible to be inoffensive to everybody, and to please everybody – you do such a fantastic job of being sensitive toward so many other folks out there, it’s a treat to read what you create, every time.
    Just as a small aside, I recall reading a poem that a former lover wrote that referenced me and my behavior at the time. It was just after we’d broken up, and I was very upset by the writing. I confronted them about it, and the writer was very apologetic. Now, though, looking back, they were just writing about their own experience of the event, just as I had my own, and I find it much less affecting than before. So time can also be a huge factor in how someone reads a piece.
    Happy New Year to you, may 2022 bring you healing and rest as much as you need!

    • Thanks for your kind comments. From what I can tell it’s a minefield out there for many writers, with social media (especially Twitter) full of armchair judge, jury and executioners waiting to wilfully misinterpret any novel or story that takes their fancy or state nonsense that some take seriously, ie the announcement one writer made that it wasn’t possible to set a horror story in Space. Some will go out of their way to offend, just for the sake of it, it seems, but if one pulls one’s head out of the Twitterverse it’s much easier to aim for the truth of your vision – hopefully without hurting anyone who doesn’t deserve it, although it’s not always possible. As you generously say after your experience with the poem (I would have had trouble dealing with that!), everyone has their own truth of events.

      A happy 2022 to you, too!

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