Ann Sterzinger On Trigger Warning
Ann Sterzinger has stopped by our lovely little site to give us insight to her and Rachel Haywire's love child Trigger Warning. The online publication seeks to be infuriating, comedic, thoughtful, provoking, and every word in between those four that I just listed. Listen to the woman speak for herself regarding Trigger Warning and personal history and projects:
Hello Ann! Welcome to Brutal Resonance. Give us a little introduction to Trigger Warning and yourself.
Ann - "Hi, Brutal Resonance! Nice to meetcha, and thanks for the music recs. Oddly, I’ve always had a goth soul, and yet a punk taste in music, so I never know which aisle to shop in at Hot Topic.
I blame my Dad. He exposed me to all that delicious 60s garage stuff and the Beach Boys at a tender age.
Anyway. Trigger Warning is a platform for free speech in the age of digital fakery and angry Twitter mobs. I’m a novelist, editor, and scrivener who doesn’t know when to give up."
And how long would you say you've been writing for? I know a lot of writers state that they've been going since they were kids (such as myself), but when did you know you wanted to make writing/editing a career?
Ann - "I hate to be among the majority as much as anyone else—but this was my career before I knew what a 'career' was. I taught myself to read using comic strips before I was three, which means I was reading books before I could really formulate a clear conception of what they were. I thought they came from the sky gods or something. They were the best thing in the world.
When I finally figured out that the name below the title on the cover corresponded to a person who had made this thing, I wanted to be that person. I remember putting my foot into a swimming pool when I was very small and hearing this voice in my head say, 'She put her foot in the water.' I just made a book in my head! It was all downhill from there.
I kept it to myself for a long time, though. Christ, this is also a cliché, but I do wish some sensible adult could have read my mind and sat me down and told me what an abysmally stupid idea this was. I could have been a plumber.
Or better yet, a plumber’s wife. I’d be getting my nails done while watching an ASMR video of getting my nails done right now."
You are the co-editor of Trigger Warning, working alongside Rachel who created the website. When did you and Rachel first meet?
Ann - "We met on the Intertubes, like everyone does these days.
We were mutual fans. She flirted with writing for me when I was editing Taki’s, but we weren’t paying for unsolicited manuscripts. But we kept each other in the Rolodex. Although she’s probably too young to have ever seen a Rolodex. You know what I mean. When she was looking for a co-editor, I was looking for a project, and it was pretty clear we were on similar wavelengths. If I hadn’t been in her e-Rolodex I might be starting a music zine right now…In which case you and I would be competitors, heheh.
Anyway, meatworld meetup? We met in meat while we were working on the last issue. It was becoming unsatisfying working over Skype, particularly for me, because I’m old.
Rachel came to Chicago to work on it while I was in the middle of breaking up with my pedophile ex and trying to not get fondled by his 60-something hippie stepfather who was hanging around. Pedophiles all the way down!
So Rachel was horrified and made me go to Michigan for a while to get away from these lunatics. Great trip. Except for the monsoon rains that almost sent us hydroplaning under a semi. Now I remember why I always take Amtrak. And plan for an extra day of transit."
Were you on board with Trigger Warning from day one? Or did you discover it, did Rachel bring it up to you? And, did you get the co-editor position from the start or did you have to work for it?
Ann - "When she launched it, the site caught my eye and I think I reposted it a bunch of places. Then when she was looking for a co-editor she came to me.
If I 'worked for it' I did so via the many previous editing and reporting slogs I’ve slogged.
I’ve been in this field since about 1992, although some of the gigs in the early years were just stapling together a zine I made up at Kinko’s. I even kept writing music blurbs for the Chicago Reader when I finally went to get my degree. Although I suppose the smarter move during those years (2005-2009) would have been to start a fashion blog. (Raises middle finger to everything.)"
Stylistically, your website goes against all social norms and diverts from all these sub-cultural mindsets that have sprung up with a generation focusing on online communications. What is your main goal with Trigger Warning? Do you have a sort of mission statement in mind?
Ann - "The subtitle 'Reality still hates you' sums it up. I experience the same sickening revulsion toward reality that I feel toward people who deny reality.
When people scratch their head and ask me what my politics are, I’ll tell them I’m a radical moderate. I’ve been dedicated since I was a pain-in-the-butt adolescent to revising my views whenever I get better evidence. Unfortunately, the evidence is usually piles of bodies.
When the gay marriage thing went through the other week and people were all like 'Love wins!' I couldn’t help darkly chuckling as I thought about all the people we bombed the same week, and as I idly wondered how many gay guys ISIS had thrown off a roof.
'Love wins!!!' That’s your retarded optimist for you: he sees one rainbow in a deadly hurricane and he thinks it’s all rainbows.
Worse, he thinks people who don’t see all rainbows are evil. Once in a while he’ll allow that he’s heard a bit of thunder, but he’s only acknowledging it in order to blame it on our inability to see his rainbow hallucinations. If I were king of Hell I’d make all the optimists be roommates with child molesters.
A reviewer at the Empty World blog said something about my book NVSQVAM that really perceptively sums up what a lot of my approach to comedy is about—and all of my writing is meant to be comedy, by the way, though it may be about as lol funny as a dead baby.
Anyway, they said that when you read my 'jokes,' it’s like you’re a dog and the world is the mess you made and I’m rubbing your nose in it. (http://ben-ts.net/nvsqvam-nowhere-ann-sterzinger/)
I’m my own dog, and I can’t stop shoving my own face in the mess.
Most people delude themselves to an unhealthy degree; I go the other way. My truth-seeking stopped being clean and salutary long, long ago. I can’t stop turning humanity over and peering underneath, like a rotting log whose underside I suspect of harboring fantastic insects.
As for the subcultures of the online generation, they can kiss my ass. Go back just 20 years and you couldn’t hide behind a screen name and some ridiculously flattering avatar. If you wanted to be part of a subculture because you didn’t have the nerve or imagination to think for yourself, then you got gut-booted in a mosh pit like the idiot you were.
Now everyone thinks they should be famous just for having an opinion. People think they’ve won an argument because they have the free time to continue arguing after their opponents need to leave the computer and go to work, or live. Whoever screams '-ist' first wins, and they can’t be criticized no matter how full of shit they are.
Worst of all, people think being part of a Twitter mob means they have the right opinion.
No, you don’t. The FACTS make you right, not the fucking upvotes.
Unfortunately, the facts are in the minority. This is another reason I don’t have kids: online democracy is part of the endgame of the virus of human mob stupidity.
Comments sections are the end of civilization. Anonymous commenters throwing shit from the peanut gallery like cowards now have the power to intimidate editorial staffs into changing their policies.
And 'official' writers aren’t much better—most of the Internet is now about the Internet. If your headline includes the word “Tweet” you should probably go outside for a while. A few brilliant people invent the computer and the Internet and we all glom on and think we’re clever. Myself included, I suppose.
But… nah, no buts. I could have invented a computer like I could have flapped my arms and flown out of my pile of shit hometown when I was ten.
Right now I’m reading Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday, and it’s making me want to find everyone associated with Gawker and drown them in the lake.
Although Holiday’s personal history isn’t that much better, and I’ll probably live to regret plugging him.
But at least he’s finally fessing up to his part in the wrongdoing: the economics of the Internet are based on desperation, bullshit, and fakery. We’re trying to build a little fortress of truth at Trigger Warning. And you can take your postmodern derision toward 'the truth' and shove it where the sun don’t whine."
On the website, I've read articles stemming from Child abuse, to nerds asking chicks out within issue #4. What type of content do you look to get published in the magazine?
Ann - "We’re looking for anything that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Or an angle we haven’t seen elsewhere. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t necessarily have to agree with our writers.
I don’t even WANT to agree with our writers, at least not coming out of the gate.
Convince me. Or at least convince me that your point of view is backed by some evidence that I should actually think about. It doesn’t have to be ostentatiously 'balls to the wall.' We’d rather leave tough-guy posing to the moustache crew that’s taken over VICE.
I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember whether it was Sarah Perry and/or Chip Smith that coined this phrase, but it neatly sums up what I’m looking for:
Insight porn is, in short, writing that stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain by giving it a new way of looking at the world.
If you can send us some good insight porn we’ll probably publish it.
We’re looking to get the steady funding together to publish daily, and most of the time it will be a mix of topics. But we’ll still do the occasional theme issue, because theme issues are immense fun. Human creativity is always stimulated by limits, so we like to throw our writers stiff parameters and see what they do within them.
The issue that is hard upon us will be the dystopian fiction issue—it’s slated to come out the 20th of July. So get us your submissions pronto—hello, you out there! If you have dystopian short stories you’d like us to consider, send ’em to email@example.com and use the subject line 'Orson Welles did not write 1984.'"
Are there any subjects or topics that are really taboo on the website? Or is it a sort of "everything goes" attitude?
Ann - "Nope and yup. We do have taboos of a sort, but they are more logical and aesthetic than subject-matter-related:
We don’t want to publish stuff that’s no fun to read.
We don’t want to publish stuff that doesn’t make sense.
Even if your whole red or blue team agrees with you, waving their checkered blue and red flags at your back, we don’t want it if it don’t hold water."
Trigger Warning seems like the type of publication that would really offend a number of people out there. Have you or any of the other writers for Trigger Warning received any complaints regarding the content you put out?
Ann - "We’ve had people ask if we’re retarded. The answer to that is, absolutely, YES."
Speaking of which, how many contributors to the website do you have and who are they, if you don't mind listing them.
Ann - "I’m hoping this will be out of date by the time you publish: so far we’ve printed stuff by Sarah Perry, James LaFond, Natasha Marie Phoenix, Roxxi Wallace, James Miller, JM Dunkelheit, Arin Laurie, Eian Orange, Andrea Castillo, Pax Dickinson, Mark Dyal, Hannah Haddix… and we’ve solicited contributions from some terrrrrribly interesting names for our upcoming dystopia issue.
And soon we hope to have weekly book review videos by the Naked Cowboy."
And, onto bigger news, you are seeking to make the website much more professional through your current IndieGoGo campaign. You are looking for professional writers and editors, publicity and marketing and the like. What made you guys decide that you wanted to transform Trigger Warning from just a regular online publication to something bigger than that?
Ann - "Well, my personal blog is about all the goofing-around nonsense I have time for. I’m a professional writer and editor; I’ve spent my life perfecting the written word, and I no longer have much patience for people who aren’t dedicated on that level. I guess that’s my 'personal brand' (continues flipping everything the bird).
The Internet democracy is a tragedy. It didn’t kill cronyism and nepotism: it just made them more illiterate, smug, and irresponsible.
Insisting upon writers and editors who are of the caliber that they can command some sort of payment—from the likes of us, not from the likes of Gawker—is our way of fighting back against an LCD bar that just keeps dropping.
Let’s bring back elitism.
Everyone with a Twitter account is not goddamned equal. We are fighting for quality control over crowdsourcing. We would rather have the best of the underground than beg for free labor from any attention addict with a following.
This is why we don’t enable comments. If you want to refute us, start your own site.
That being said, we’re fighting against the economics of the Internet. We refuse to publish stupid mass-pander-tastic clickbait, and yet we want writers who are good enough to demand to be paid.
You see our dilemma. Getting impressions is easier if you’re willing to wave that little checkered flag. People don’t want to share your articles if they aren’t sure you’re rooting for the correct team. 'The truth is not a team!' Fine, then, I won’t play team sports.
Thus, the fundraiser. We haven’t had the sort of fortune it takes to seed something this idiosyncratic fall into our laps à la Dave Eggers, and since corporate jobs want 60 hours a week out of the lowliest proofreader, funding projects by having that sort of day job has gone out the window as well.
So we need to crowdsource from assorted freaks who share our vision. Ten bucks from everyone can get this sort of Frankenstein’s media monster up and running.
(Our Frankenstein’s monster has a heart of gold, we promise. We took it out of a dead hooker ourselves!)"
If you get popular enough, do you think you would ever switch to a physical magazine? Maybe even some kind of subscription service?
Ann - "We’re setting up a subscription service soon, but only for specific perks. Like extra Naked Cowboy, for instance, and a members-only message board. As for a physical magazine, that dream is a certain distance down the road. There’s not a lot of newsstand acreage left. So as lovely as a glossy print product feels in your hand, it’s now the cherry on top of a publishing empire, as opposed to the bread and butter it used to be.
Which makes me sick and sad, but unfortunately I can’t destroy the Internet all on my own. I can only chip away at the crappier aspects of its culture."
What kind of perks are being offered through the campaign? Are there any that you think fans of the site would really enjoy?
Ann - "At a relatively low level, you can order us to write you an insulting limerick. At a higher level, you can get Rachel to give you a tour of 'politically incorrect L.A.,' which, dear Lord, I’ve never been to L.A. but I’m sure it’s deliciously ghastly.
For a thousand-dollar pledge, you can get us to write your life story—which means, if we have any luck at all, you’ll eventually be part of literary history.
You can also get autographed books; for a larger donation you can even get one of the handful of copies that remain on my bookshelf of the first Nine-Banded Books edition of my novel NVSQVAM. It’s otherwise sold out, so this is a thing you can’t buy. Well, maybe one of the bastard reviewers we sent it to early on is still trying to sell UNCRACKED copies for $80 on ebay. Fuck you, Onion. You have lost your soul."
And, so far, how is the campaign going? Do you think you'll be able to reach your goal? And, if not, do you have a back-up plan in case all goes awry?
Ann - "We are 25 percent through the funding period and 25 percent of the way to our goal, so it’s looking pretty good. If it all goes awry we’ll just kidnap Lena Dunham.
Yes, yes, we’re well aware that no one will give us any money for her. We’re just looking for an excuse to tie her up somewhere and not have our way with her. After three or four days with no attention she’ll probably turn into a cockroach. I think it’s a fine backup plan, myself. My cats love Kafka."
Aside from these plans with Trigger Warning, do you have anything else planned for the website?
Ann - "We want to be daily, and we want to get and keep the best writers who aren’t full of it. I’m really looking forward to cultivating a fiction section.
However, most of our writers are going to concentrate on philosophy, history, and current events, and yes, we will wind up doing some of the inevitable meta-reporting on the Internet, because it’s unfortunately where writers live now…
But we want to do it with a critical eye. Please send us angry emails if we forget to do that. The best laid plans of mice and Ann…"
Now, on a more personal note, I know that you have put out a few novels yourself. What are they and where are they available?
They’re all on Amazon! Most of them can also be had directly through my publisher, Nine-Banded Books.
NVSQVAM, my best novel—a tender and tragic and funny cup of middle-class white male tears—is available on Kindle only for the moment, as the first press run has sold out.
But Chip Smith of Nine-Banded Books and I are fervently working on the second edition. Meanwhile, you can grab the Kindle version here:
My latest release is actually a translation, also through Chip and Nine-Banded; I didn’t write the original text, obviously, and yet I’m inordinately proud of it.
The source text was Dans le ciel—a title which very neatly translated to In the Sky, no tricky word play there—a forgotten, forlorn gem from Octave Mirbeau.
Mirbeau was a 19th-century French anarchist and Dreyfusard who was better known as the author of Diary of a Chambermaid. He was a big deal back in the day. But this book got lost in the shuffle and was never translated into English, till Bob Helms and Pierre Michel set me on the task lo these 15 years ago. (It’s a long story; buy a copy and maybe I’ll tell ya!)
Chip said he expected the translation to sound like me, but instead it sounds like an English version of Mirbeau, which I think is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.
My third novel, The Talkative Corpse, is, like NVSQVAM, a dark comedy, set in turn-of-the-decade (shit, it really was that long ago!) Chicago.
The Dactyl Review called it 'a compelling, quick, and page-flipping read, with deep insights into the mind of a kind of character most often forgotten, or tripped over, in our bling-worshipping society.'
My first book, Girl Detectives, is still available for Kindle and also hardcover but it’s ah, as one reviewer, Matt Forney, put it, an 'entertaining misfire.' Thank god no one knew about me then, I was just apprenticing.
Do you have anything currently in the works? Or even any ideas that you are currently prepping to put into a full length novel?
Ann - "I’m on the final chapters now of LYFE, the science fiction novel I’ve been working on in the background since about 2003.
Writing science fiction well is not an easy thing, so I wrote some more realistic (I call them 'point and shoot') novels in the intervening years to get all of the mere mortal fiction-writing skills together before I tried to create a world. One of those warm-up novels—NVSQVAM again—turned out to be my favorite thing I’ve ever written. I’m hoping it won’t stay that way.
Once I’m done with LYFE I have a couple of ideas for satires. I’m mostly gravitating toward finally using the material gleaned from an absolute hot mess of a roommate I had about 20 years ago. He used a stapler to put his head back together after someone threw him out of a plate glass window, a tossing he no doubt richly merited.
It’s taken me that long—and enough intervening, somewhat similar idiots to draw from—to process him into something I think can be horribly funny but also reasonably sympathetic.
Although I’ve been told none of my characters are sympathetic.
I dunno, I think they resemble real people, as I’ve experienced them. Humanity doesn’t much care for looking in the mirror, though. Not without an effects filter. They want 'honesty,' not honesty. 'Makeup-free!' but with some beauty balm. Someday I’ll figure out how to do that without throwing up for long enough to get a payday."
17. If you could choose any three works, be them movies or books or songs, that have really influenced you, what would they be?
Ann - "Vanity Fair—the book by William Makepeace Thackeray, not the travesty of a Reese Witherspoon movie—is the only book I’ve read three times as an adult. It’s the pinnacle of satire with a heart. Absolutely scathing and yet utterly moving. The entire works of Kingsley Amis had more of an influence on me as a whole, but that single book changed a lot of my goals as a writer.
As for songs? I think the piece that changed my life was the Dies Irae in Mozart’s Requiem. I recall blurting out in an interview that it kinda turned me on to punk rock. Upon later examination of that statement and my wretched soul I found it to be completely true. Blame it on Mozart, not my dad.
Poetry? Finding the first satire of Juvenal in a used bookstore inspired me to quit the Chicago Reader and go to college at 30 and study Classics, so I guess you could call that a hefty influence. It changed the course of my entire life.
The Reader was about to lay everybody off at that point anyway, the newspaper industry was dying; so I would have quit anyway—but to wait tables, not to go into debt studying Greek.
Hm… fuck you, Juvenal; you ruined my life!"
And, is there anything else you wish to mention that I may not have covered?
Ann - "My favorite dinosaur is the Brontosaurus."
Lastly, I wish you much luck in your future, and hope the best for Trigger Warning; it is a terrific platform.
Ann - "Thank you!"
I've been writing for Brutal Resonance since November of 2012 and now serve as the editor-in-chief. I love the dark electronic underground and usually have too much to listen to at once but I love it. I am also an editor at Aggressive Deprivation, a digital/physical magazine since March of 2016. I support the scene as much as I can from my humble laptop.
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