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Bad Topics For Writers (or anybody else) To Talk About

October 20, 2014
When you see this look on the interviewer’s face, you might want to change the topic. (image via wikimedia)

If you see this look on the interviewer’s face, you might want to change the topic. (image via wikimedia)

When it comes to writing, the topic is everything.  I’d rather read a poorly-written piece about an interesting topic than a well-crafted selection about something boring.  I’m pretty sure most readers agree with me.  I don’t have any statistics to back me up on this, but if I repeat myself loudly enough (“Most readers agree with me!!”), my assertions will eventually become accepted as truth (except I have a quiet voice so nobody will hear me).

If an author delves into a bad topic, the author can phrase things carefully and revise heavily before publishing.  But when an author talks about a bad topic, he can get into trouble just like anybody else.

Last week, famous author John Grisham got into trouble for talking about child pornography in an interview. Child pornography is probably the worst topic ever to bring up.  I don’t know if John Grisham brought up the ch*ld p#rn#graphy himself or was asked about it, and I’m not going to read the interview to find out because that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m not going to try to figure out if John Grisham actually had a point about men “accidentally” stumbling onto ch*ld p#rn sites because it … it… it…

All I know is that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic.  It’s so bad that I want to repeat that I’m not talking about ch*ld p#rn#graphy; I’m talking about bad topics.   I don’t want readers to accuse me of hypocrisy for stating that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic but still writing about ch*ld p#rn#graphy.  I’m not.  I’m writing about bad topics.  If I become a famous writer and somebody asks me about ch*ld p#rn#graphy, I will say, “I’m not talking/writing about that.  It’s a bad topic.”

This is such a bad topic that I don’t even want to write the words.  So from now on, I’ll refer to ch*ld p#rn#graphy as THAT topic.

THAT topic is so bad that I don’t want people searching for THAT topic to accidentally find my blog.    THAT topic is so bad that even publicists who believe all publicity is good publicity will think that THAT topic is bad publicity.

THAT topic is so bad that even John Grisham would never write a thriller about it.  I’m pretty sure a novel about a guy who accidentally stumbles on a child porn site and then gets put in prison for it would never become a best-seller.  Maybe if the guy was getting framed, like he wasn’t really watching THAT kind of site, but still… I don’t know.  Maybe I’m wrong, but that seems like a bad idea for a book.  It’s such a bad idea that even I wouldn’t try to write it, and I’m a big believer in bad ideas.

When Orson Scott Card wrote about politics, a bunch of people who disagreed with his views vowed to never buy any more of his books.  When Stephen King wrote about gun control, a bunch of people who disagreed with him vowed to never buy any more of his books.  I don’t boycott authors I disagree with.  I figure I’m going to disagree with everybody about something sometime and I can’t boycott everybody.  Also, I  enjoy reading/hearing opinions I disagree with, as long as it’s not obnoxious or insulting.  I can disagree with an author or celebrity about most topics.

But THAT topic?  When an author chooses THAT topic to talk about in an interview, it at least makes me wonder.  I can’t boycott John Grisham, not because I completely oppose boycotting, but because I intentionally stopped reading his books about 15 years ago (maybe more).  After a few novels in the 1990s, his books all seemed the same to me.  That, to me, is a great reason to stop reading an author’s books.

There are a lot of bad topics to talk/write about to people you don’t know: abortion, race relations, religion.  The whole reason we have changes in the weather is so that we have something to talk about to strangers.  Weather is the universal conversation topic.  Football SHOULD be the universal conversation topic, but some people don’t like football, so the universal conversation topic has to be weather.

I’d like it if the universal conversation topic was books, but some people don’t like to read. Plus, some irresponsible authors bring up bad conversation topics like ch*ld p#rn#graphy.  Thanks, John Grisham; because of you, we have to talk about the weather.

*****

What do you think?  Are there any topics worse for a celebrity to talk about than THAT topic?  Should John Grisham books be boycotted because of THAT topic?  What other topics are you willing to boycott an author over?    If weather changes didn’t exist, what would be the universal conversation topic?

30 Comments
  1. I think writers should write/talk about what they know. Many people try to talk about subjects they aren’t familiar with and look like fools. With such a sensitive topic as child porn, you had better know wth you are talking about with an understanding of why what you say about it matters. It reminds me of the time Temple Grandin’s mother wrote an entire article about her opinion that men with aspergers were attracted to children, then couldn’t understand why everyone was being so critical.
    I don’t really feel like reading anything else she has to say.
    Is that boycotting, or merely losing respect for the writer?

    • So you’re saying the John Grisham watches ch#ld p#rn?

      • no. I didn’t. I haven’t any idea what he doers in his spare time.

      • this is what I said
        “I think writers should write/talk about what they know. Many people try to talk about subjects they aren’t familiar with and look like fools. With such a sensitive topic as child porn, you had better know wth you are talking about with an understanding of why what you say about it matters. It reminds me of the time Temple Grandin’s mother wrote an entire article about her opinion that men with aspergers were attracted to children, then couldn’t understand why everyone was being so critical.
        I don’t really feel like reading anything else she has to say.
        Is that boycotting, or merely losing respect for the writer?”

        I meant exactly what I said, and no more, All inferences you make of that are on you dude.

  2. Good points! I hate the weather small talk/boring/stab my own eyes out universally painful topic. I wish our universal topic could be at least enjoyable like, “what’s your passion right now?” But then some idiot may say THAT topic and well, that won’t go over well at all.
    I agree, the THAT topic shouldn’t be discussed by celebraties, etc. unless they’re fighting against it. Either way, it’ll be odd to google “John Grisham” and get the THAT topic search result. But short of him fessin’ up to some heinous act, no, I wouldn’t boycott his books because of the topic and no, I didn’t read the interview.

  3. A pro-slavery stance might be a comparably bad topic. Or… Holocaust naysayers. That’s probably the trifecta of straight up universally offensive bad topics.

  4. I think there’s a difference between a boring topic and an uncomfortable one, although that doesn’t mean I want to read a really well-written pro-child pornography novel. Lolita got uncomfortable enough in parts. I saw that report about John Grisham and felt a bit bad for him, since it seemed like he had accidentally dug himself into a hole. So, yes I agree, never bring up some topics in an interview.

  5. John Grisham knows enough that he is completely wrong on child porn. Anyone alive knows he is wrong. One thing you are completely correct about is why you stopped reading John Grisham: “all his books seemed the same to me.”

  6. No, I don’t think that there are any topics so evil that they cannot be discussed. I don’t think that silence does any good, and fear of reaction shouldn’t keep us from talking about the very real problems that face the world today.

  7. I think a bigger mistake than a writer making a valid point about a subject, and doing it badly, is a writer writing about something they admit to having never actually read, as you did here. I had not heard of Grisham’s remarks. I followed the link you provided, which was more hearsay, and went to their link to what appears to be the original interview. That interview was poorly written and not a verbatim (or close to it) rendering of “the interviewer said” and “the interviewee replied.”

    Grisham was making a point about the American justice system. He also mentioned the high number of black youths incarcerated for trumped up drug charges. He mentioned Martha Stewart. He mentioned men wandering into child porn sites. He specifically stated he’s against child pornographers and child abuse.

    He made his statements clumsily, but again it was not clear what the interviewer was saying.

    I would take your post more seriously if you were speaking from first hand knowledge of reading what you are writing about.

    As to the questions: I don’t believe in censorship. I think it is foolish to boycott someone over a TOPIC. I may choose to stop buying something based on someone’s opinions or their actions. That’s a far cry from broadly denouncing a topic.

  8. I love that you removed the ability to search for That Topic by mixing the letters. Awesome idea. Who knows what kind of traffic that would bring to your street!?

    On the topic of bad topics, I agree (somewhat) that you should write what you know. And then I totally disagree. Who knew about fairies and R2D2 and The Swamp of Sadness before they were created? Sometimes we have to take what we know and create something new. (My plug for imagination).

    Should Grisham be shunned? Well, if you attack him, you may want to head over to the writing room for Law and Order, Special Victims Unit next. Those people are crazy!
    Thanks for sharing,
    Savannah Smiles

    • “I love that you removed the ability to search for That Topic by mixing the letters. Awesome idea. Who knows what kind of traffic that would bring to your street!?”

      Yeah, I’d really like to increase my blog traffic, but there are certain kinds of audiences I don’t want.

  9. There’s no topic that SHOULDN’T be discussed, but if you choose to delve into a sensitive topic, be prepared to defend and explain your stance to all who don’t agree with you. I agree with a previous poster that silence does no one any good, but handling a subject badly will affect you adversely. If you’re not prepared for the back lash, then keep quiet. And people/media will take things out of context and spin the way they choose, so you may not even be in control of how your words will be used.

  10. I haven’t seen or heard what Grisham actually said, I’ve only heard about it. I’m hoping this is an example of the media blowing something up out of proportion or not contextualizing it properly, because I like John Grisham.

  11. I read a post by another other on this very topic, they were very angry with him. I agree with you, it is not a topic for interviews. I am not sure what John Grisham was trying to advocate. I didn’t read the actual article so I can’t say. It is just yikes. The consequences some people get when touching on things others don’t or won’t consider.

  12. I think a blanket ban on non-universal topic will be going overboard. But deciding for yourself to not talk about a topic is fine. If everyone else also stopped talking about it, there would be no one left to talk against it either 🙂 If I were a celebrity, I would be doubly careful of course and when in doubt will resort to “no comments”!

  13. What should I think in reply? At the end of the day, it is the weather that defines nighttime. Keep the levity and lightness, my friend.

  14. I’m not scared of anything! I’m planning to write a 200,000 word epic about mouldy cheese. Oh yeah. I’m going there.

  15. Reblogged this on We Thinks and commented:
    We completely agree with your assessment of THAT…

  16. heatherglomb permalink

    Grisham actually brought up a valid point in this interview that I don’t think was such a bad thing, it just wasn’t perfectly worded. I will agree with the OP that it’s really a dangerous move to discuss controversial topics, and that goes for anyone. Be gentle and informed before you speak.

  17. itsdennian permalink

    Your blog is good, but I want you to improve the appearance of it a bit. Especially the font isn’t very catchy. You can have something which has more space between the characters and also plz increase the font size, it looks more attractive.
    Maybe you don’t really care about stuffs like this but trust me it creates a first impression when someone visits your blog if the fonts are small or if its not very distinguished. I found it very repelling as I am very careful about stuffs like this. Hope you understand

  18. itsdennian permalink

    Reblogged this on Confessions of a rebel and commented:
    Humorous

  19. It I made a topic too taboo to write about, I’d have no career at all.

  20. stevenottway permalink

    Reblogged this on Writers Fizz.

  21. Child pornography is right up there with human trafficking and animal cruelty. They’re really bad (and very tricky) topics to discuss. I’m not sure if I’d boycott an author because of any of the three though. I guess it will depend on the way he/ she treads on the subjects.

  22. Twice in the last month I’ve seen comments on Bloggers sites that were basically “defenses of rape”, and neither of those flew much better than a lead balloon. That topic might make your top three.

  23. markrickerby permalink

    Interesting article. This is a tough one. Do we stay with the safe topics and ignore the topics that are dividing people the most and causing the greatest problems in the world? Do we allow the fear of our work being boycotted (which is essentially the fear of fascism) silence us when our voice is needed? Silence equals consent, as they say. We all want to be liked, followed, etc., so the way of the modern world is increasingly becoming staying safe, keeping our opinions on the most important subjects to ourselves, and staying on safe subjects. The result is bland, watered-down, frightened writing, and letting the fascists who would silence dissenting opinions win. The question at the end of the day is, are we going to stand up for what we believe in or not? Anything else is living a life that is not true to ourselves.

  24. markrickerby permalink

    Reblogged this on Creative Writing, Humor, Story Poems, Nostalgia and Weekly Episodes of God's Sitcom, Messin' with Mark and commented:
    This is a tough one. As writers, do we stay with the safe topics and ignore the ones that are dividing people the most and causing the greatest problems in the world? Do we allow the fear of our work being boycotted (which is essentially the fear of fascism) silence us when our voice is needed? Silence equals consent, as they say. We all want to be liked, followed, etc., so the way of the modern world, or at least the blogging world, is increasingly becoming staying safe, keeping our opinions on the most important subjects to ourselves, and staying on safe subjects. Establishing a niche and never straying from it, no matter how much we are bothered by something we see in the world around us. The end result is bland, watered-down, frightened writing, and letting the fascists who would silence dissenting opinions win. The question is, are we going to stand up for what we believe in or not? Anything else is living a life that is not true to ourselves. I’m just as guilty as anyone.

    You won’t find a lot of political opinions on this blog, for the same reason the author of this article cites – it’s not what his blog is about, and nobody really cares anyway. My ultimate goal is to entertain, tell stories, help people feel better about life, forget their troubles for a few minutes, etc. I stay away from dark subjects for my own good as much as any reader who might stumble across my blog. But now and then, something needs to be said, for our good, and for society’s. As Paul Simon wrote, “Silence, like a cancer, grows.” What do you think?

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