• The Write Way

How to write controversial subjects

This guest post is part of the Byran Alaspa blog tour and written by Bryan Alaspa.

My latest novel Storyland is one I am pretty proud of. I felt it came together in such a way that readers would be as satisfied with it as I was writing it. Of course, writing is an isolated kind of profession and you can never be sure how people are going to react. If you’re a stand-up comic, you can go out and do your act and if people laugh, you know you did it well, if not, then you need a little work. Same if you are a singer or stage performer. With writing, we have Beta readers and get feedback, but you just never know.

I was so sure of this novel, I sent it out to literary agents and publishers. Given the popularity of other psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train and some others, I figured it would be a sure thing. I was surprised…

Too dark, too controversial

I had submitted to agents and publishers before. I recently sold a straight-up horror novel to a publisher, for example, but have never been able to do anything but send literary agents running in the opposite direction. The horror of that process, the soul-crushing aspect of it, is that it takes months for agents and publishers to tell you no.

That didn’t happen with Storyland.

I started to get floods of rejections right away. Immediate. The general theme of each and every one of them was: this is a good story, but man, is it dark and that ending is very controversial. It’s just not for us.

I was surprised. I knew it was ‘dark.” I write dark things. I have written about monsters from other dimensions. I have written about fictional monsters and real-life killers. I have destroyed entire cities in my fiction. If authors were to be arrested for killing off their fictional characters, I would be a mass murderer on an epic scale. However, I was shocked by this one.

What is Storyland about?

I cannot give away much here because the ending is a surprise and just telling you that much might need a giant SPOILER ALERT before it. However, Storyland is a deep exploration of repressed memories. It’s about a man who wakes up one morning and finds out the man who was his best friend when he was a child has brutally murdered four people using a machete while they were camping in the woods.

For reasons even he is not sure of, he feels compelled to head back to his hometown and find out what happened and why his friend did this. Working with a psychiatrist he delves into his friend’s past, but also into memories he had long buried in his own psyche. He begins to look into an unsolved disappearance of a young boy from back when he and his friend were children and begins to wonder if there’s some kind of connection. Is his friend being set up and has he been set up by the people who did that crime way back then?

So – what’s controversial?
Well, it must be the ending, which I cannot tell you. Children who die and vanish is a disturbing thing, of course. However, the things our lead character uncovers are disturbing. They are, perhaps, even scarier than monsters in the closet because this is something which could happen.

As a writer, do we avoid these things? I say, no. Just because something is scary, controversial, horrifying or truly disturbing doesn’t mean we should avoid them. I believe the story should tell itself and we should be the scribe. Because of all of the ways we have to publish, we should do it and put it out there even when the literary agents and publisher say it’s too dark, too controversial. Let the readers decide.

Storyland is a terrifying thriller available now in Kindle and print formats at Amazon.

You can reach out to Bryan via his website, or Twitter.


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