When I started DrewChialAuthor.com my goal was to promote my horror fiction. Somewhere along the way I found writing advice pulled in more eyes than scary stories, so I adjusted the focus of the site and I saw a lot of new faces in my Twitter feed. Many of these profiles were in line with my midwestern liberal beliefs and many were hashtag-conservative. I thought it was neat that a shared passion for writing extended over ideological borders.
I figured if I stayed on topic I could make myself accessible to everyone. It didn’t matter whether readers were from a red state or a blue state, whether they were centrists or out on the fringe, all were welcome. My brand was Switzerland.
I was an advocate for storytellers: whether they were the next Marquis de Sade writing orgiastic odysseys to offend the oligarchy or the next Tom Clancy writing patriotic page turners for puritans, I didn’t care.
I was a good little brand builder. I gave advice on structure, beating writer’s block, and building an online platform. I was safe for work. I didn’t use profanity (outside of fiction) and I didn’t take politically polarizing positions. This felt suffocating when I had a strong opinion on major news events.
When states proposed bathroom bills and legislation that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers I approached those topics from obtuse angles, but most of the time I held it in. I took my criticism out on safer targets like the film industry and its creative deficit.
There were broader conversations happening around me, but I kept my head down and walked the fine line of my niche, refusing to get baited into a fight.
Sure it was self-censorship, but it wasn’t me I was representing it was my brand as an author.
If I mentioned current events I used them as examples to reenforce writing rules. I struggled to find a graceful way to let my bias slip without telling off half of my audience. So I bit my tongue and stayed in my sandbox, afraid I might offend the Tea Party Twitter followers that I never interacted with.
I was being ridiculous.
Horror Writers Should Offend
I write horror, a genre that spits gore in the faces of people’s delicate sensitivities. Why should a horror writer give a flying phantasm if he offends anyone?
Horror authors have historically used the obscene nature of the genre to launder controversial opinions into their writing. Rod Serling used The Twilight Zone to comment on the World War 2, the red scare, the civil rights movement, and American populism. Fantastical fiction has the power to make sociopolitical issues more palatable. Just look at Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror on Netflix now.
Like Serling and Brooker, I’ve buried my leanings in allegorical fiction, and kept them out of my articles. I’m not going to be doing anymore.
Apolitical is No Longer an Option
I’m not going to remain apolitical in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Let it be known I’m not comfortable with a sociopathic circus peanut occupying the highest office in the land. If that offends you just remember I’m a horror writer that’s what I’m supposed to do.
Trump founded his campaign on the promise of the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and on barring Syrian refuges from entering the country. He used fear mongering and race-bating to fire up his base.
He’s denied climate change while experts say its effects are about to become irreversible. He’s considered punishing women for having abortions. He’s preposed bringing back stop and frisk in inner cities where police distrust is at an all time high. He’s threatened to give an order to kill the families of terrorists. He’s accumulated a long list of sexual harassment allegations and bragged openly about grabbing women by the pussy.
Trump has threatened to loosen slander laws to suppress the press.
When Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, was the Governor of Indiana he signed a bill allowing business owners to cite religious beliefs as a reason to deny service to gays and lesbians. Pence has advocated using taxpayer dollars to pay for gay conversion therapy, including the use of electroshock and nausea inducing drugs.
I recognize a lot of people didn’t vote for the Trump/Pence ticket for these reasons, but despite them. They thought Tump might be good for the economy. They hated Hilary. Even still all of the above comes with those candidates.
I can’t stomach any of that shit. If you can, I won’t tell you to go away, just know I’m done softening my opinion for your benefit. If you voted for someone who violates other people’s safe spaces why should you get one from me? As issues come up I will take stands. Troll me all you like, but this will be the hill I’m going to die on.
You can either read, unfollow, or get out of the way.
Branding in a Post Election World
While everyone else in my Twitter feed is talking about the presidency a handful of self-publishers have scheduled posts with cute little quotes on writing. These planned platitudes have never felt more inappropriate than they do now. It shows just how unengaged and automated these writers are. By avoiding the discussion they’re cheapening their brand.
I can’t see myself scheduling my little #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen memes in the wake of this election. Not for a while.
I’ve advised writers against posting unrestrained anger on social media for fear that it will turn their brand toxic. I think there’s a way to express discontent without frothing at the mouth and ranting, but I could hardly blame anyone from speaking up.
These days it feels like a toxic brand is one that doesn’t acknowledge the state of discourse during this election. A toxic brand is one that tries to talk exclusively about its niche, as if everything else doesn’t impact it. A toxic brand is one that looks the other way and still tries to be all things to all people.
A lot of like-minded friends on social media are desperately searching for a bright side to this election; the magic meme that will finally put them at ease. I see a lot of folks sharing the near solid blue map of 18-25 year old voters who will make up the future electret. I don’t have the emotional flexibility to bend over backward and see that silver lining yet. Premature optimism feels inappropriate.
On the day after the election George RR Martin, author of Game of Thrones, wrote, “Over the next four years, our problems are going to get much, much worse. Winter is coming. I told you so.”
I don’t want to give into that level of despair either. I want to believe there will be a renaissance of great art protesting this administration, that people will put their creative energy to good use, that they’ll find creative ways to call the emperor out on his nudity.
You better believe this election will affect my fiction. If my characters didn’t feel the ripple effect of Trump’s America it would break my suspension of disbelief. This presidency will impact storytelling for years to come.
I consider the satirist Jonathan Swift a personal hero. He broached dangerous subjects from different angles. In his satirical essay A Modest Proposal he took on income inequality, during the Irish potato famine, by proposing the English elite eat poor Irish babies. Swift set out to offend in order to enlighten.
Right now the world needs satirists to do just that.
To quote Stephen Colbert on the night of the election, “The devil can not stand mockery,” and this devil must be mocked, right to his pompous orange face.