Should books for adults have content warnings?

image by digitalspy.co.uk

image by digitalspy.co.uk

I told my mother to skip reading my latest book, The Bone Wall. She’s in her 80’s, and I know for a fact that she would find it gruesome and offensive. She thought my other fantasy books were “horror” and wondered why I was so “angry.”

I’m actually a pretty happy-go-lucky person: a loyal friend, loving wife and grandmother, and active volunteer. I like babies and puppies. I’m “nice.”

image from pixshark.com

image from pixshark.com

At the same time, I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, and Anthony Ryan, to name a few. I like gritty realism in my fantasy favorites, and my writing tends to reflect my preferences. I have this “thing” about not sugarcoating brutality.

Yet, as a “nice” person, I also have an aversion to giving offense. I want to move my readers emotionally and perhaps make them ponder choices for a moment of two, but my preference isn’t to trigger outrage or upset. My books are meant to entertain.

image by kaleveradaily.com

image by kaleveradaily.com

The Bone Wall pushed my own limits. Living inside these characters’ heads took its toll. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and stressed out. My heart was forgetting to beat, and when I went to bed at night, I wasn’t convinced I’d wake up in the morning. I ended up at the cardiologist with an exacerbated heart arrhythmia.

Oddly enough, after I finished the first draft, all my symptoms vanished. I wanted to warn my readers: DON’T READ THIS! BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH!

Well, as you might guess, I didn’t put that on the cover. I wrote an Author’s Note and tried to make the blurb reflect the content. Why did I stop there? Or go that far?

image by ethicsalarms.com

image by ethicsalarms.com

As I struggled over whether to warn readers about violence, sex, profanity, and religious content, I wondered if I was over-reacting. Will some readers say, “Gosh, Diana, what’s the big deal? You are such a wimpy drama queen.”

And books are supposed to trigger our emotions to an extent, aren’t they? The struggles our character’s endure and choices they make in the face of physical, moral, or psychic danger is part of what draws us in and engrosses us in the story.

The Bone Wall is not a YA novel. As a parent, I understand the desire to monitor content. Back in the olden days, I would have appreciated a rating on the books my daughter read, if only to engage with her regarding controversial subject matter. Though many YA authors seem to agree that content warnings have a place, differences of opinion continue to exist as to what should be included.

image from blogs.kcrw.com

image from blogs.kcrw.com

Adult readers have years of experience and wisdom to draw on. Our tastes and tolerances vary greatly. My husband likes Mad Max and I like Forest Gump. We have the choice to walk out of a movie or put a book down. I’ve done it, more often because it’s boring or vapid rather than too graphic. I chalk it up in the “oh, well” column and move on.

The Bone Wall is out now. I still muse over this topic and wonder what reader/reviewer reactions will be. I’d love to hear your thoughts about content warnings on adult books. Good idea? Bad idea? What’s your experience as a writer, reader, or both?

Thank you, and hugs from the “nice” me.

The Bone Wall

image from futuretimeline.net

image from futuretimeline.net

With a few books wading through the publisher’s queue, I’ve started my next fantasy novel, titled The Bone Wall.

What possessed me (literally) to pen this dark tale is a mystery to me. I’m a nice person. A mom, granny, volunteer, and past-mental health counselor who worked with grieving children. I baby my pets, cherish my hubby, and haven’t a violent bone in my body. I get teary at the occasional TV commercial and that’s pretty darn maudlin if you ask me.

Yet as an author of works of fantasy, I travel often down the road of “what if.” Sometimes that journey is light-hearted and happily-ending, and other times, when the news of the day makes me fear for our world, the path I wander is much darker. This is one of those grim trails.

The human journey through time is sunbathed and shadowed with remarkable advancements, some clouded with secret and not-so-secret costs. What if we continue to poison our land, water and air in the name of progress and profit? What if we continue to blast our way through conflicts on a global and personal scale? What if we abandon compassion, no longer our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers? What becomes of us when righteousness is blind?

This book is a work of fantasy in a world without vision or concern for consequence. A broken world.

The Bone Wall – Prolog

My sister stands by her window in the moonlight, the only light in the stone chamber. Carved of alabaster, she’s a statue whittled by a master’s artful hand, naked skin pale, shadowed, wraithlike in its translucence. Her hair gathers moonbeams, corn-silk draped over shoulder-bones, free of the blood staining her face and hands. Gray eyes honed with steel study a landscape of gnarled trees, skeletal limbs clawing with broken fingers from a dead land. All around her the world dies. She is blind to the fragile greenness of new leaves.

Her clothes lie in a heap on the floor, the reek of battle, sweat, and blood thick in the folds, threads of terror woven into the very fabric. She will dream in blood, wear those clothes without respite, glory in the gore of shredded flesh. My sister is demon-born, exquisite in her purity, and Death’s Devil has his grips on her.

I am her twin, one and the same, and this is her story.

My tale begins in Heaven…