Staff Chat: Neil Gaiman and His Trigger Warnings

Article by liz

The Chatters: Liz Wright (Bookseller and Newsletter Lord) and Annalia Linnan (Bookseller and Off-Site Captain)

The Book: TRIGGER WARNING, a collection of “disturbances” by Neil Gaiman

The Context: This collection--including poems, fairy tales, and meditations on legends--is the newest from Gaiman, master of the fantastic, following his novel THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE (and, of course, his shepherding of Indies First)

The Plot: TRIGGER WARNING has surreal encounters with imagined former lovers, click-clacking rattling bones, and every kind of disturbance you can imagine: in “Orange,” a young girl gradually transforms into a super-being, while Gaiman’s newest work, “Black Dog,” expands on the world he created in AMERICAN GODS


Liz: It’s the Liz and Annalia Power Hour!

Annalia: Talking about Neil Gaiman’s new book of short fiction, TRIGGER WARNING.

Liz: Well, some of it’s short! Some of it’s longer--the longest ones are probably the new one, “Black Dog,” and then “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” which was first published elsewhere. A lot of the collection was first published elsewhere, right?

Annalia: Everything, actually, except “Black Dog.” Which is great, because “Black Dog” is a spinoff from AMERICAN GODS, so it’s a treat for Gaiman veterans. But let’s start at the beginning: what did you think about the title?

Liz: I will admit to being weirded out by the title. Because I have clinical anxiety--I’m a person who does actually need trigger warnings for certain things. That’s one of the parts of the introduction, discussing the concept of a trigger warning, and Gaiman’s belief that we need to be able to confront things that scare us--and I totally agree. But a trigger isn’t just something that just makes you feel bad; it’s a PTSD term for something that can trigger a panic attack or something equally devastating. So I was a little wary. What about you?

Annalia: I guess I didn’t really think about it, just picking up the book? But then reading Gaiman’s introduction, in which he explains triggers and warns that the book might contain them for certain people--I think that’s a risky thing to do, for sure.

Liz: And I mean, it’s good. We should be able to say, “Here’s something that scares us, let’s put it in fiction so we learn how to deal with it,” you know? It’s comforting, knowing the events are all fiction...but there’s some messed-up stuff in this collection.

Annalia: Yeah. This is not one of those books that you sit down and read it in an afternoon. A lot of the stories are heavy things you think on for a while--especially “Black Dog.” And maybe that’s a good place to tie everything together, because triggers and stigma are such a big part of that story.

Liz: Yeah, you can safely say some bad things happen in "Black Dog.” There’s self-harm, there’s...well, animal stuff really affects me. I don’t know whether it’s a spoiler to say “there’s a mummified cat in one scene and it’s disturbing.”

Annalia: That’s one thing. [laughs]

LIz: It is the subtitle of the book: “Short Fictions and Disturbances.”

Annalia: One of the things that stuck out to me in the introduction was that he tells you up-front that every story ends badly for at least one character. For some of them, it’s just that what they wanted didn’t work out. And in others, it’s like--

Liz: “You’re dead, bro.” It’s not consistent. In the introduction, Gaiman mentions that short fiction collections should be cohesive, and apologizes because this book is not.

Annalia: No, it isn’t--neither in form, nor in content. I was very surprised that there’s a poem as the first “story.” What does that mean, if poetry can now be called short fiction?

Liz: Well, it’s not necessarily; it can be a “disturbance.” But one of my favorite stories was actually “Orange”--the story in the form of answers to a questionnaire.

Annalia: That one took me the longest to read, because you only get the answers, not the questions, and I spent a long time trying to piece it together.

Liz: And there were a couple non sequiturs, probably--and you’ll never know, which is another pretty common theme in these stories: you will never know at least half of what’s going on. Which is part of Gaiman’s style--there are never concrete answers to anything. This collection reminds me of SANDMAN [Gaiman’s award-winning comic series] in that way. It’s that same kind of shifting dreamscape, alternating viewpoints and weirdness. And "Black Dog" was just so good. You haven’t read AMERICAN GODS, though, right?

Annalia: No. Besides this collection, I’ve only read THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE and CORALINE. I mostly follow Neil as a public figure, so I was kind of blind going into this--but in a good way! I wanted TRIGGER WARNING to surprise me, and I think it did. I’m glad that a writer who is so established still tries to challenge himself.

Liz: A quote I remember from the introduction to one volume of SANDMAN is that Gaiman has a mind like a Sunday Times crossword, which is exactly true. His work so full of references, and one of the things I like about him is the way he dialogues with folklore, and things that have become cultural folklore, like Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes.

Annalia: I liked that too, because it means you don’t have to be Team Gaiman to enjoy this collection, you know? I would easily recommend TRIGGER WARNING to people who are interested in new things that are happening with short fiction. It is disturbing, but never in a way that feels manipulative. It raises questions more than tries to teach you lessons, and I appreciate that. What do you think?

Liz: I think it’s a great collection. It’s a Gaiman anthology: bits that he wrote for Doctor Who, for Ray Bradbury, for other collections and anthologies--it’s a good broad sampler. But even if you’re coming to it with none of that context, I'd say, “Here’s some creepy stuff. Enjoy.”

Annalia: And because Gaiman is so indirect and subtle, it's refreshing. Because the general trend right now seems to be, “as punchy and raw as possible,” and it’s nice to just read something where the language holds up well, too.

Liz: And it doesn’t need to be punchy and raw to give you chills.

Annalia: No. It’s really artful.

Liz: Classic, old-fashioned storytelling. Campfire-like. “Gather ‘round. I’ll tell you some creepy stories you’ll be thinking about in your sleeping bag.”

Annalia: While the bears are outside.

Liz: And the wolves howl.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances By Neil Gaiman Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062330260
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: William Morrow - February 3rd, 2015

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