On Taking Offense

As both an author and amateur stand-up comic, I, perhaps more so than most, try to keep keenly aware of what’s ‘Offensive.’ But, unlike most, I do so to push the envelope of what’s acceptable. I’m the guy standing on the railing leaning over to get a good look at how far it is to the bottom, instead of the people clinging to the wall for safety.

It’s here, toeing the line, where some of the most interesting characters, stories, and jokes are written, because it’s exactly this territory that ‘polite’ people do their best to avoid talking about. I believe that means a lot of very important things would otherwise go unsaid.

So it is from this perspective that I would like to comment on Taking Offense.

There is an assumption, common among nearly every segment of society regardless of political affiliation, that when someone, somewhere is offended by something said, written, tweeted, painted, or otherwise communicated, whether intended for public or private consumption, that the fault and responsibility for the transgression lays entirely with the person who wrote, spoke, or otherwise put the offending statement out into the universe. The intentions behind the statement are inconsequential, even if they were misinterpreted or taken out of their proper context. The expectation then is for the “Offender” to immediately apologize publicly, accept that they are a deeply flawed and/or troubled human being, and resign-to-spend-time-with-their-family, or go into some sort of counseling program to help them cast out their demons.

Where else in the social contract are a person’s intentions not part of the equation? Even if you do the worst thing imaginable and kill another human being, your intentions matter. You can see this to be true based on the fact suspects aren’t actually charged with “murder” per se. Instead, the DA in a murder case weighs things like 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, 2nd Degree Homicide, Manslaughter, Negligent Homicide, or even Justifiable Homicide.  All of these spring from the same action, one person killing another. But where they are different is the intention and mindset of the suspect. And, depending almost entirely on this mindset at the time of the killing, the suspect can face punishment ranging all the way from the death penalty, to walking away free without even being charged with a crime in the first place.

So where is this logic when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of causing offense? Certainly no one died, otherwise they wouldn’t be standing there demanding an apology in the first place. And I think we can all agree then that since causing offense isn’t as big a deal as killing someone, that perhaps we should look at metering how we dole out punishments for this transgression as well.

The other thing about the way we deal with offense that bothers me is how one-sided the baseline assumption is. How can responsibility lay entirely with the person making the statement, when ‘taking’ offense is itself an action? It simply isn’t realistic for everyone, at every moment, to be able to accurately guess how every word they utter will be interpreted or misinterpreted by anyone who may hear or read it,  especially in an age of such hyper-connectivity.

For example, I use Google Analytics to track this site’s usage. I’ve had people from as far as Singapore and Pakistan read some of the brain scrapple I’ve greased up and shot out there. There is no way, no way at all for me to understand every nuance of language and culture that might lead to someone on the other side of the country, much less the other side of the world, to find something I said offensive.

If that should happen, I’m expected to simply accept whatever the receiver’s interpretation of my words may be, and apologize, as though they are the world’s foremost expert on my inner thoughts and motivations. Well, I’ll tell you right now that should that happen, and my intentions are not taken into account, my response will not be an apology, but a hearty “Go fuck yourself,” a concept that I hope transcends any linguistic or culture divide that may separate us and successfully convey my desire that this time you really are offended.

Why? Because communication isn’t a one-way street. How the recipient chooses to interpret the content of a message is just as crucial for successful communication to take place as the sender’s intentions for it. The expectation, nay, demand that the viewpoint of the person who takes offense trumps the person who gave it is ridiculous and absolves listeners of their responsibility to the conversation. It gives them a free pass not to even try to understand, or in many cases deliberately misunderstand, what was said.

And before anyone digs out the pitchforks I’m sure many of you delicate flowers have stacked up in the basement for exactly this occasion, I’m not saying that it’s never okay to take offense. Often times, it is exactly the right thing to do, and handled properly can further along understanding and expand important conversation. However, what I AM saying is that understanding must go both ways if it’s to really take root. Consumers of media, art, literature, comedy, etc, have just as important a job in trying to see where the speakers are coming from as they do in trying to understand why your background and experiences make you feel the way you did about a book, a joke, a piece of art, what have you.

Take that responsibility seriously, and maybe you’ll find people are a lot more willing to meet you in the middle.

Five Books That Sucked Too Much To Finish

Just for a bit of fun today, I’m starting a meme. In a complete reverse of the “10 Books That Influenced You” meme making the rounds among my writer type friends, I give you What “Five Books Sucked Too Much To Finish”. I could have padded it out to ten, but I’m feeling lazy.

1. Atlas Shrugged: This book was an angry manifesto filled with irredeemable, geometric-point characters (one-dimensional would be giving them too much depth), overloaded with exposition, a barely discernible plot, all designed to deliver an intractably clueless ideological message with all the subtlety of the 9/11 attacks. I almost finished it twice, but by the time John Galt goes full-retard in his rant, I just, I can’t justify doing that to my brain. And I’m a Wisconsin drinker.

2. Battlefield Earth: If anything could help to redeem the abysmal failure that was Battlefield Earth: The Movie, it’s the source material. Seriously, if it’s a choice between drinking anti-freeze, (the green anti-freeze that looked like mutagen, not that eco-friendly hippie shit they’re pedaling now) and reading Battlefield Earth, call the poison control center and get ready to have your stomach pumped. You’ll thank me. I made it through maybe the first 200 pages before I had to start weighing the options.

3. Twilight: Bella isn’t a character, okay? She is a fucking chair that the real characters sit in while the story happens around her. As the father of a little girl, I HATE THESE BOOKS. All of the internet memes about how literally every other female character in the history of time have been stronger, better role models for girls don’t even scratch the surface. Hattie McDaniel’s character in “Gone with the Wind” is a better role model than Bella.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey: It is every bit as terrible as you would predict reheated Twilight fanfic leftovers would be. I would rather subject myself to all of the horrors and debasement endured by Bella… I mean Anastasia, than to be forced to read more than five consecutive lines from this blatant assault against literature and good taste. There is, and has always been, good erotica in the marketplace to fill in whatever kinks you want to explore in the bubble bath. Find it. Avoid 50 shades like you would herpes, and for the same reason. You’ll never be rid of it.

5. I don’t know, The Bible?: It’s wordy and poorly edited. Some fact-checkers wouldn’t have killed you either. I’m running out of steam here…

So there you have it. Don’t say I never gave you anything. Now go forth, draft up your own lists, and share liberally on Facebook, twitter, and anywhere else easily entertained and distractable people congregate.

Legendary ConFusion 2014

Good morning, interwebs. Just a couple bits of news today. First, I’m excited to report that my short story, “Dead Download” snagged an Honorable Mention from the judges of the Writers of the Future Contest for the third quarter. This is the second story of mine to snag the honor, although I’m still hoping to break into the finals while I still qualify as an amateur by their metrics, (although if either of the editors reviewing my first two novels are reading this, please don’t let that weigh on your conscious.)

The After the Draft series is taking a short break this month on account of the holidays, but I have a very special and exciting guest post lined up for next month. He is a rising star in the Urban Fantasy genre, and has written what I can only call a manifesto about his experience bringing his first novel to market. It’s filled with shouting and a lot of swearing. I love it and I’m sure you will too.

Finally, next month I’ll be hidden in plain sight amongst the other panelists at Legendary Confusion 2014. Last year was my first time attending this con, and while on the small side, it was heavy with writing talent from across the country and the world. I hope to see you there. You can peruse the full programing track at the link, but here is my schedule of activities:


The worst thing I ever tried to write

Cindy Spencer Pape, Cherie Priest, Seleste deLaney, Tobias Buckell, Patrick Tomlinson

6pm Friday – Erie

The trunk novel is basically something an author wrote as practice. These are generally things that are so bad that they should never see the light of day. Our honest and humble panel will discuss some of their versions on this theme to amuse and delight. Did someone try to write a zombie-dinosaur-golem love triangle? Come by and find out.

What you might want to be reading RIGHT NOW

Saladin Ahmed (M), Amy Sundberg, Merrie Haskell, Patrick Tomlinson, Peter Orullian, Gretchen Ash

11am Saturday – Erie

Writers are almost always avid readers, and being in the business sometimes allows more insight into new and exciting authors, series, or just ideas that different people are playing with. If you’ve looked around and wondered what’s good that’s out now and in the near future, this panel may give you a new slew of books to track down.

Everything I needed to know about writing I learned by reading slush

Ferrett Steinmetz, Sarah Gibbons, Elizabeth Shack, Nancy Fulda, Patrick Tomlinson, C. C. Finlay

1pm Saturday – Erie

One of the most instructive thing that an aspiring writer can do is read as wide a variety of other writing as possible. Generally this is done by voraciously consuming all the words one comes across, but there is another way. Slush readers weed out submissions for publication, and generally have a highly tuned grasp of what in writing patently DOES NOT WORK. Here are some of the lessons learned. Remember, they read them so you don’t have to.

Reading with Patrick Tomlinson and Laura Resnick

7pm Saturday – Rotunda