I’m usually not a fan of content warnings. Don’t get me wrong, I find rating useful. If I can see the R rating on a movie, and I see the warnings for things like violence and excessive language, I can make a more informed choice. I would LOVE to see the same sort of thing for books.
However, trigger warnings are not the same thing. Most of the time they are harmless. Sometimes they are irritating, especially if they are written by an author who feels like they need to walk on eggshells to avoid being utterly destroyed by the public for some small oversight. Most of the time, for me at least, they reek of fear. Authors who fear their readers. And that is not the way to write a book.
I feel like a book that needs “trigger warnings” is usually one that is not clearly branded. Malfunction, for instance, has a skull on the cover. It’s described as a “dystopian” and a “Cyberpunk” and “Biopunk” in genre. When I compare it to other books, I’m talking about Red Rising and Wool. Both books that are rather gritty and dark. If that doesn’t give you enough warning, reading the blurb and the reviews should give you a pretty good idea of what you are getting into.
Basically, I figure that, while it’s wise to be considerate of other people, some things speak for themselves. Most people are intelligent enough to read the signs.
All that being said, I wrote a content warning for Disintegration. Why?
Let me tell you a story about that.
Menrva was a character that I really struggled with. Both Cowl and Bas changed a lot from their original concepts but Menrva was the biggest struggle. Part of it is just because I have a hard time with a female character. Most of it was finding a character who could have motivation to get involved in the wild ride that is the trilogy.
Cowl and Bas were already 100% involved and there was no changing that. Making Bas the “mcguffin” (writer-talk for the object of desire for both the protagonist and the antagonist) made that easy enough.
Menrva, however, needed to not only be backed into a corner, but also have a reason to get fully invested. And it would be all the better if it was all of her own free will. More than that, I needed her, as a character, to support my over all theme.
Nothing was working, until I hit on something deeply personal: motherhood. Specifically, lost motherhood.
It was poetic too. Just as Bas was denied his family by the society they were in, Menrva was denied hers. Though in very different ways. Suddenly, this little piece of me that I gifted to her brought everything together and Menrva emerged. Menrva, named for the Etruscan goddess of wisdom, war, and art. A woman who might be a bit judgmental and cold at times, but has a mother’s heart for all humanity and my sister’s love for justice. She’s as tough as nails, despite being tiny, highly intelligent, though she still makes a lot of mistakes, and very feminine, though she could kick your butt.
Some of the best...and worst...pieces of me.
Malfunction is dedicated to “my lost boys”. There is a deeply personal reason for this. I, like many women, have struggled with infertility. What makes it a bit different, though, is that I’ve always had a heart first and foremost for adoption. It’s always been the first thing I think about when I dream about growing my family.
Right after I first got engaged to my husband, as we spoke one day, he told me that he’d lost two children to abortion. It was a very painful thing for me to hear, and not just because I was hurting for him.
That night, I had trouble sleeping. When I finally did fall asleep I had one of my strange waking dreams. (I have multiple sleep disorders and most of them are really weird). In my dream, two little boys came to my room. They were about the same age as my youngest brother (the age my husband’s children would have been, one being six months younger than the other). We sat on the bed and talked for a lot time. I can’t remember what we said but I know we talked about family, loss, and that they called me “mom”.
I cried when I realized they weren’t there.
While I was writing Malfunction I was in a really dark place in my life. I won’t go into details, but lets suffice it to say that things were not going the way that a woman dreams about when she thinks about marriage and adult life.
I ran across a song called “Lost Boy”, by Ruth B. and I felt as if it was about these two children, my stepchildren, who I had gained and lost in the same moment. I started dreaming about them again. About what life would have looked like if they had been alive. Would I even have had the chance to be their mother? Would they have called me mom, or would they have hated me? Would they have liked my cooking? Maybe we would have had the same movie tastes. Snuggled on the couch with popcorn and Indiana Jones on a cold night by a Christmas tree. It would have been hard to say goodbye to them when they went to their mom's, and the house would have felt empty. But not as empty as it was without them ever having had a chance.
The week I wrote the chapter where Menrva’s backstory comes out, I cried a lot. My heart broke for my lost boys. For the children I loved, even if they never got to be mine. It turns out, my husband had been really struggling with it that week too. We held each other and cried, and talked about what we had lost.
Lost motherhood is a central theme in Menrva’s character. And, as with every good story, it had to be brought out, and showed as the open wound it was, before it could be addressed. And thus Redemption was born.
Redemption was Menrva’s second loss, though I won’t explain how. But I poured my broken heart into it. My dreams of what life could have looked like, with my stepchildren. With the dreams I’ve had of all the children I could have had. The ones I’ve had to mourn with each passing year. With my greatest fear that I might actually get pregnant and loose one...or that I might already have.
And this is a pain that is shared by many women. Lost motherhood, lost fatherhood. It’s real.
So when I wrote those chapters, and a few others that are dark and painful and feed into this central piece of Menrva, I knew I had to be careful with the hearts of other women that were broken like mine.
And thus, I wrote a content warning. For other reasons, yes. This book does go into some dark places. I tried to do only what I needed to, and to be respectful. I hope I didn’t fail at that. But mostly for Menrva’s lost motherhood, and my own, and all the loss in the world around me.