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The Joy of (writing about) Trauma

May 31, 2020

When I was a kid, few books were as traumatic as Go Ask Alice. It was probably fun to write! (image via wikimedia)

Before you start reading this, I want you to know that I’ve never had eye cancer.

If I start saying that I have eye cancer, I’m just trying to get your sympathy.  Having said that, I hope I never get eye cancer because now nobody will believe me.


I’m starting to get annoyed with trauma.  I don’t like it in my personal life, and now I don’t want to see so much of it in my entertainment either.  I’m changing the channel or turning off the the television/phone when I see too much horrible stuff on the news or in movies/shows.

People screaming and crying.  Blood everywhere.  Pundits arguing about horrible stuff that’s been going on for decades.  Loud dramatic music that ramps up our emotions.  It’s gotten old.  I’ve started to just shut it down.

I’m also annoyed now when authors put too much trauma in books. I don’t like hearing about it in author interviews or memoirs.   Sometimes I think authors are lying about the terrible events in their own personal lives. 

I recently heard an author being interviewed about his/her latest book, and it’s based on horrible experiences that the author had as a kid.  And I thought, “That author is lying.”

I have no proof the author is lying.  I don’t want to say who that author is because then the issue becomes the author and not the over-saturation of trauma.  Plus, I could be wrong about the author.  But I still think there’s an 85% chance the author is lying.

Trauma is so important in entertainment that writers are willing to make up stuff just to sell books.  James Frey made up trauma to sell his fake memoir over a decade ago, but he probably had no intention of crying on Oprah.  Being seen crying on Oprah had to be more traumatizing than any fake story he had come up with for his memoir.  For the rest of his life, men will point out James Frey and laugh at him for crying on Oprah.

Author AJ Finn lied about having cancer.  Nobody likes men who lie about having cancer, but he sold a bestseller and will probably write more.  The publishing companies haven’t fired him yet.  Lying about cancer should be a fireable offense in any job, even fiction writer.  You can write about a character who lies about having cancer, but you can’t actually be the guy who lies about having cancer.

I have to admit, lying about eye cancer, that was a good one.  All that guy had to do was wear an eye patch.  He could look like a pirate and get cancer sympathy from a bunch of women.  I bet cancer sympathy is awesome.  If I ever absolutely have to scam people with a fake traumatic experience, I might go with eye cancer.  Even if it doesn’t work, the eye patch would be cool.  And it wouldn’t cost much money.

Fake trauma is a good scam for a writer.  When an author writes about personal trauma, the audience is automatically sympathetic.  It’s tough to criticize the author because if you do, you’re seen as criticizing the victim.  If you criticize victim authors, fans go ballistic and say nasty things about you on social media and try to get you fired (but that can be fun for an author if the author has already been fired).

Even if the author isn’t lying about horrible personal experiences, I don’t think it’s ethical to make money off of personal trauma.  I was taught not to get too personal with people you don’t know; you don’t want to put your demons on other people.  And once you tell everybody about your horrible life-experiences, that’s all they think about you for a while.  You’re the guy who had cancer in your eye, not the guy who’s great to be around.

Remember, I’ve never had eye cancer; that was somebody else!

Anyway, trauma can be used as manipulation.  It’s like “I endured all of this, now you should buy my book.”  That’s not fair to the reader.  I know a lot of authors will do anything to sell a book, but if you’re going to use eye cancer, sell something like a vacuum cleaner or a car.

A lot of trauma is poorly-written trauma too.  I’m tempted to review some poorly-written trauma on this blog, but there could be a trauma backlash.  Poorly-written trauma is the opposite of poorly-written sex because everybody laughs at poorly-written sex.  You can’t laugh at poorly-written trauma.  If you do, you can be interpreted as laughing at the trauma.

I’ve laughed at poorly-acted trauma at the movie theater, and I almost got punched out (I had to stand up quickly so the guy could see I was wearing an eye patch, and I told him my laughter was caused by my eye cancer treatments).  He couldn’t punch me out because of my previous trauma.

I don’t like public confrontations anyway.  They can be traumatic.

  1. I don’t think it’s unethical to try to make money off your trauma. That trauma probably made your life harder, and most likely cost you money to have it treated or managed. It’s only fair to make that trauma – literally – pay for it.

  2. Motso permalink

    I once had a colleague who lied about having cancer and wrote about it on her blog. It was a brilliant blog too. I admired the fact that she could have a session of chemotherapy and still be the first one to arrive at work the next morning, I was amazed at her ‘strength’. When it was revealed that she did not infact have cancer I was not sure whether to condemn her for what she did or admire her for writing about cancer so convincingly that she got people to donate money towards her treatment.

    • Wow, I have a bunch of questions for you, but I’ll limit myself to one.

      What happened with all that money donated for her cancer treatment?

      • Motso permalink

        She promised to repay it. But I don’t know if she did. The last I heard of her she had moved home with her mother. Since she had also lost her job (it’s never a good idea to lie about your health when you work for a public health advocacy organisation) I don’t know if she could even afford to pay all the money back. But her parents are rich so they probably came to her rescue.

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