Before I get into it, I feel the need to start with disclaimers. Such as:
I write horror.
Yes, I write horror.
You're not obliged to read my work, let alone like it.
And I'm okay with that.
My work isn't for everyone.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
In part, what prompts this entry is that I had a friend that unfriended me recently. Not an author friend, and seemingly not a fan of the genre. This follows a conversation with then friend who was preaching with some degree of alcohol in her. In vino veritas, indeed. Observant and curious child I am, a couple of lines of the convo stuck with me, to which I said I loved them (the words) and would have to use them in a new work at some point.
Fast forward about a week or so, and I get a text from leftfield, courtesy of this friend. That if I'm going to use such dialogue in my fiction, I need to ask for permission. And that, as a result, it was 'best that we shouldn't speak anymore.' Said friend went on to say that she finds some of my work misogynistic, and asks what was I thinking, naming a novel Semen? (Okay, it's a novella, but I'm guessing that's not the point.) And then said friend goes on to mention that she doesn't like horror, refuses to read any more of it, and that I shouldn't ask her to proof any of my work. This is in spite of the fact that she's read some of my work (e.g. Curious, If Anything) and claimed to like it. Has she read Semen? Don't know, don't care.
Again, note the disclaimer: I write horror. Where bad things happen to good people. And bad people. And the people somewhere in between. Men and women alike. Young and old. Open season on all, including age, race, gender, orientation and such. Suicide. Evisceration. Dismemberment. Maiming. Burning. Etc. Some survive, some don't. Some are completely unscathed. As someone born and raised in London and proud of, I love this city. The cityscape/scenery, the diversity, the culture and cultures. Food, entertainment, news, public transport; London Underground, etc. For me, I'd be doing a disservice to the capital if I didn't bring it to life in my work like any other character.
I'm aware that people may have their triggers and therefore their boundaries. Which I accept. If they read my work, great - if they like it, even better. It's humbling and appreciated to engage the audience, let alone wow them. The bigger concern for me isn't losing a friend (not in this instance), but whether my work is in any way misogynistic. Again, I write horror. While some of the monstrous things I write aren't human in nature, some of them are. Not all of my characters, human or otherwise, are characters you'd want to spend any length of time with. Unreliable. Cowardly. Misogynistic. Short-tempered. Selfish. Reckless. Manipulative. Etc. All in varying degrees.
That said, I'm aware that I don't have an outside perspective. What to do? Speak to those closer to me; peers and friends. To have that conversation, I picked one of each. One peer first; a fellow traveller, who handles game similar to how I do. Said peer reassures they're sure that I'm not misogynistic, but that some of my work has shown characters with some degree of misogyny. Fellow traveller is also a feminist, and regardless, I value their opinion and perspective. My take was/is that I'd be remiss if didn't do a little self-examination: is my work gratuitous? Hopefully not. As a person, can I do better? As for the friend in this? Said friend poses the question 'would this person react so strongly if Semen was written by a woman?'
What I find interesting about all of this is that even the reaction to the title is strong. The original short story was called Seed (written back in 2017 as part of the A Story A Week challenge). But, for me, 'Seed' sounded tame. 'Semen' on the other hand, not so much. Certainly not a swear word, but not without connotation either. As far as Semen is concerned, that's one of the works I'm more proud of to date. Narrative and flow. A more experimental work for me, but, yeah.
Given the content, I was keen to get a number of people to beta read it - not wanting to have anything gratuitous in it (or any of my work). Note that most of those are women; some authors in their own right, some not. Aside from one peer who declined to read it (which is fine), the response has been mostly positive. Out there in the world, as it were, not everyone will like it or has liked it. But that's standard practice - it comes with the territory, and that's okay. No, Mama still doesn't want a copy, let alone read it. And to be fair, she doesn't 'read' my work. Of course, she can read, but what the words convey simply don't interest her for the story to sink in (as much as she might protest otherwise). And that's okay. That said, she likes the cover art. Go figure.
So, let's bring this full circle, as it were. There's one friend who likes the atmospheric and eerie. And is fine with a degree of violence and mayhem on humans, but not animals. There's another friend who will tell me now and again that she will have to read some of my work. Said friend isn't quick to watch Kingdom, as zombies and such aren't her bag. She, too, gets the disclaimer - as do the wider audience:
Yes, I write horror. No, it's not for everybody. Yes, you've been warned.