The recent news out of Wisconsin is the sort of thing that keeps writers awake at night . . . the unhappy knowledge that once we’ve turned our fiction loose into the wild, we have absolutely no control over what other people may do with it.
Oh, we’ve got a certain limited amount of control over – or at least a fighting chance at controlling – other people’s attempts to make money from it, but the money isn’t where we get the real nightmare stuff. The nightmares come from the thought that there’s no way a writer can stop it if somebody out there decides to like their work for all the wrong reasons – like Charles Manson liked the Beatles, or like those two girls in Wisconsin liked the manufactured urban legend of the Slender Man.
Nor does it help us to resolve to be good citizens and not write the sort of stuff that might cause other people to do bad things, because there’s never any way to tell what story might or might not interact with the contents of somebody else’s head in a toxic fashion. Our cautionary dystopia may end up mirroring somebody else’s secret ideal; our careful exploration of the depths of the human psyche may end up validating somebody else’s long-suppressed and destructive rage.
And those are the cases that we know might get risky. When somebody gravely and dangerously misreads something that we intended to be a bit of entertaining fluff or an adventurous romp, it makes us wonder why on earth we picked this of all ways to pursue art and earn a living, instead of going out on a lobster boat or washing dishes in Joe’s Open-All-Night Diner.
I don’t know of a solution to this problem. All I can think of to say is, write what you want and write what you must – but be aware that you can’t always control the consequences.