Bit of an odd post this time. A few days ago I ate something that disagreed with me – (no, it wasn't a critic!) – and ever since then have been living in a land of pain and toilets that no amount of imodium and erythromycin can seem to hold. And then the night before last, just as I was thinking things were finally on the mend, they instead took a sudden about turn and I became convinced somewhere in the early hours of the morning that death wasn't such a bad thing. Dying is of course a different matter! Naturally I'd feel sorrow for those I left behind. For my family. For my cat who'd have to find someone else to look down upon with disdain – though to be fair she's a cat and so has the entire world to look down upon! For the coroner who might have to wear multiple gas masks to do his work and then still be decontaminated! But really as the clock struck three in the morning and the porcelain was begging for mercy, it still didn't seem so bad.
Somewhere after that though, a strange thought took hold of me – the understanding that whatever I was suffering from couldn't be natural. It had to be new and improved. A whole new class of diarrhoea. Something that would make the medical texts. I could have a brand new disease named after me!
But then I realised there are diseases and then there are diseases. I mean who wouldn't want some cool disease named after them? Greg's Lycanthroposis for example would be quite cool. Not a bad way to be remembered. Or some sort of hyper mania perhaps. Greg died while trying to hurl a bus at police and was later found to have over four hundred bullets in him! Greg's Hyper Rage! Now that would be undeniably cool! By contrast I can only imagine that Gerhard Hansen was infinitely glad that Hansen's Disease was never popularly known by that name but rather simply as leprosy. Still even against that infamous horror Greg's Pustulating Necrosis of the Gut would be a far less welcome memoriam. And when the symptoms of GPNG are listed as the sufferer's choice of death either by his insides suddenly deciding they wanted to become his outsides or alternatively asphyxiating on his own flatulence, I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to be associated with the condition. Least of all me.
Writing I think, has a little in common with this. (There! You see? You knew there would be some return to my more normal topics at some point since no one could talk about diarrhoea forever! Not even me!)
My point is that as authors we write books that people read, and will hopefully enjoy and remember. And in a very real way some of these books may in fact become a memoriam to us. More so now in this digital age where nothing is lost unlike paper books which have vanished over the previous years and centuries.
Which leads me to the rationale behind this post. (Yes there is one!) We all talk about the need for quality in our work. For making sure that whatever we put out there is the best that we can do. That it's beta read and edited to death. And that certainly is important to us as authors; indie and trade, living and dead. But before anyone pushes that publish button it occurs to me that there's another question that we need to ask ourselves. Is this a work that I want to be forever associated with me? In five years, ten years, twenty am I still going to be proud to have published this work? Or am I going to be living down the shame of having put it out there? Is this going to be a work that will forever shine a glorious light upon me? Or will it be like those nude pictures you took as an overweight teenager which eternally follow you around from job interview to job interview? It needs to be considered.
Sure I may hate (insert name of political movement or religion here) now, but in a decade am I going to want to be remembered as the man who wrote the book accusing them of promoting indecent acts? I may despise (insert persons name here) but in twenty years time am I going to want to be known as the man who in public accused them of various crimes? Especially if they're later shown to be innocent? Yes I may support certain political ideologies but in twenty years when movements based on my writings have caused immeasurable harm to the world, will I want to be associated with them? Even recognised as their inspiration?
You think I'm joking? Perhaps driven mad by the long nights spent curled up on a toilet seat, gassing myself in the smallest room in the house? Sadly actually I'm not. Many authors have ended up regretting their works and trying to have them pulled from the shelves and for all sorts of reasons.
The list starts with Stephen King who in 1997 tried to get his 1977 book Rage pulled when a copy of it was found in the locker of a boy who went on a shooting spree in a school. His fear was that the book inspired the act.
At the more minor end of the spectrum Octavia Butler tried to have Survivor pulled for a completely different reason. Though it was well written, edited and professional and indeed readers loved the book, to her it was clichéd and trope ridden.
And of course you would have to wonder how Nietzsche would have felt had he lived to see the rise of the Nazi's. He had a vision of his ubermen as modern equivalents of ancient Greek gods striding across the world. To see instead the reality of death camps, genocide, unbridled ambition and a world in flames all inspired by his work would probably have had him spinning in his grave.
Which brings me back to my point. We live in a digital age. Whatever we publish will be with us potentially forever – or at least for the rest of our lives. And once you push that button there's no way to unpush it. So take a moment. Give it a little thought. Have a cuppa or two before doing what you can't undo. And ask yourself that vital question:
Is this going to be your hyper rage? Or your pustulating necrosis of the gut?