Trigger Warnings?

So, you spend months or even years laboring on your book. You fill it with observations on life that might be your own, interject ideas or themes that horrify you, and add bits and pieces of your own life that are precious and sacred to you. You mine current events, overheard antidotes, dreams, fears, and slices of your own experiences in order to craft something new and speak to something you think no one else has said. It's not an accident when a writer refers to his or her work as their "baby," and like a proud parent, a writer imagines and hopes for their creation's future.

And then, you put it out there... your defenseless, raw, unsure toddler created wholesale from ideas, making it available to anyone who comes across it.

I think there is an assumption a lot of writers make about their own work and it is that people like them are going to be their readers. Only individuals with their same thoughts and beliefs will get lost in the words and pages of their work. And, because those readers are like the writer who created the work, there will never be any misunderstandings or questioning of motives or ideas or themes. The readers will understand what it all means, because of course they will. Right?

Maybe not.

Leech has only been out for a little over a month and that collision between the turning pages of the book and the expectations and experiences of its readers has been affirming, interesting, and profoundly terrifying all at once.

Leech is about a lot of things. It's about relationships, the power we exchange with those who are close to us, the dividing of love and infatuation, humanity, and morality. At least, those are the things I think I put in there. Other people are seeing those issues and adding some of their own. Given the sexual undertones to the vampire myth in general it’s no wonder that readers are finding scenes that push other ideas such as consent and the broader issues of rape culture to the forefront. Still others just read Leech as a dark kind of adventure tale with nothing at all bubbling beneath its surface beyond what is on the eInk page. defines "subtext" as: 1. the underlying or implicit meaning, as of a literary work.

I think the sticking point in that definition is the word "implicit." That sticking point becomes even more sticky given that Leech is a horror novel. It has some pretty terrible things in it and some scenes that might be especially troubling for some readers. There were scenes that were troubling for me to write and while I'm still not sure of what to think of this movement of "trigger warnings," I can see places in Leech that might be triggering for some.

The part that I'm grappling with is the idea that I have no control over that. It's out there. Leech is out of my control, and like that metaphoric child, has to make it on its own. If it affects someone in a positive way or offends them, it does it on its own, and I can't do anything about it. It has to stand on its own merits (or lack of them), treading in uneasy areas, without me there to explain or answer for it.

Maybe that's a good thing. I wanted Leech to be open-ended in some respects and allow for the reader to bring some of themselves to it. How a person reacts to something in Leech or in their lives is out of my control anyway, but I worry about Leech causing someone anxiety, or at least, the wrong kind of anxiety.

So, what do you think? Are trigger warnings useful? Are they silly? Are they needed for a genre like horror where the goal is to be frightened or disgusted? I've read a few essays that discuss the pros and cons to the idea of providing a trigger warning for content that is objectionable, but I wonder/worry if they also minimize explorations of themes or experiences to a series of "dangerous" buzz words. Do trigger warnings close off some audiences while also providing convenient spotlights for those who search out troublesome content? Is the whole idea censorship as it is often called? I'd appreciate your thoughts!