Killer Year–The Class of 2007

“There’s so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?”*
June 28, 2006, 7:52 am
Filed under: Killer Year Founders, Sandra Ruttan

I do believe books can inspire violence. A badly written book will make me want to kick walls and pull my hair out, especially if people keep talking about it.

Yesterday, in Flood’s post Offense and Sensibility, she said, I started thinking about work that offended me. My friend reminded me that I felt a story I read recently was completely irresponsible in it’s message. Two children, one very young and one much older, were exploring each other through a sexual game. At the end of this short, it was implied that the youngest enjoyed the ‘abuse’. Great, thought I. Just what NAMBLA needs to further their agenda.

Flood had received an email from someone who was offended by a story Flood had written, which prompted her post. After reading her thoughts I couldn’t let the issue go. Do I have a line? Is what I think is acceptable as a reader different than the line I have for me as a writer?

If I write out a particularly specific, grisly murder and someone later kills someone in just the same way, am I responsible?

This had been on my mind, even before I read Flood’s post, because of
an article referencing police outrage at a street-racing movie they believe will inspire incidents, with youth “trying to emulate their heroes”.

Their fears aren’t completely unfounded. Even a film fan in New Dehli was injured trying to imitate an action hero from a movie.

This debate isn’t new. With increased awareness of bullying, teen murderers and school killing sprees, some people are looking for things to blame. When I interviewed Trench on my blog last month, it sparked a discussion amongst commenters about the media’s responsibility for violence in society. Disturbingly, Trench has received death threats because of the blog, yet The Trenchcoat Chronicles is about debunking myths around violence in entertainment and also giving updates on criminal prosecutions in cases related to school shootings, etc. Trench doesn’t promote violence. Trench promotes awareness and discussion of the issues.

When it comes to violence in art and violence in society, it’s no different than the “chicken or the egg” debate. I write crime because it helps me process some of my issues with the things that happen in our society. It’s my way of making statements, sometimes obvious, strong commentary, other times subtle questions lingering beneath the surface that I hope will bubble up in the reader’s mind after they’ve put the book down.

My intention isn’t to inspire violence. And I’d like to point out that television wasn’t responsible for burning witches at the stake or the invention of medieval torture devices like the rack. (And the intestinal crank referenced on the same page? I broke out in a cold sweat just reading about it.)

As a reader, violence only bothers me if I have the sense that the writer has been explicitly graphic in order to one-up another book by making this one more shocking.

Essentially, I believe individuals are responsible for their own behaviour, but we live in an era where more and more, the blame is being shifted to other things. A former Canadian soldier who served in Bosnia, who did not contest charges that he sexually assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl at knife-point, has been found not guilty, due to post traumatic stress from his SIX MONTH tour of duty, which occurred ten years ago.

Undoubtedly, if our rape victim kills a man, or maybe cuts off someone’s penis or herself sexually assaults someone, she won’t be responsible either. And so begins a cycle of violence that nobody has to answer for.

Is it any wonder with our tendency to blame video games, to blame movies, to blame our upbringing – to blame anyone but ourselves – that authors may come under increased attack for violence in books? I mean, look at the people who would ban Harry Potter for promoting sorcery.

One of the things I’ve been really impressed by, within the Killer Year group, is the level of social consciousness and concern. We’ve even already had a discussion about supporting a charity.

Still, I’m certain there will be those who accuse some of us of glorifying violence for entertainment. I had a rejection letter myself, stating they stopped reading Echoes and Dust when the man murdered the girl because they didn’t want to publish “that kind” of book.

Which, of course, had me flippantly wondering why reference to the preceding rape didn’t bother the reader. In truth, the scene is short, it certainly doesn’t depict everything that happens and leaves more to the reader’s imagination than anything, but the very nature of addressing the violence head-on drew criticism.

Suspicious Circumstances isn’t graphic, so I have some time to revisit the other book and think about lines and consequences before it’s published. My intent was to demonstrate the serious nature of the crimes being committed, and to invest the reader in seeing the guilty brought to justice. The balance of the crimes in the book happen off-camera.

No matter what my intent was, obviously one person didn’t like it. And I don’t think you can write in the crime genre today and not ask yourself these questions.

Which brings me to a wishy-washy conclusion. As a reader, I’m very forgiving, and have rarely had a problem with what I’ve read. Only once have I given up on a book I felt was glorifying violence out of dozens upon dozens of books read.

Although I believe that violence in books is a reflection of society and not the catalyst for crime, as a writer I hold myself to a higher standard than I impose on others.

Yet I’ve certainly never blamed a sitcom for making people laugh in the streets. So why blame movies and books for other behaviour?

Am I a hypocrite? Am I wrong to even consider this in my writing? How about you? Have you ever felt compelled to stop reading a book, watching a movie, or to change a scene you wrote because you felt it was gratuitous and irresponsible?

And it’s Wednesday, which means it’s Cornelia’s day on Naked Authors and it’s also Dar Wednesday at Rants, Raves and Random Thoughts, when writer James Goodman posts a Darwin Award story. If this post has been too heavy for you, a healthy dose of human stupidity should lighten things up!

Sandra Ruttan
Author of Suspicious Circumstances
Coming November, 2006

THIS JUST IN! Killer Year co-founder JASON PINTER has been interviewed by author JB Thompson. Drop by and read the interview for an introduction to his Henry Parker series, and to get the inside scoop on his philosophy of marketing and more.

Quote: *Dick Cavet


34 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This reminds me of a similar conversation my writing workshop had when I was in college. I had a written a very realistic story about an abusive father and the family dynamics from it, and had ended it realistically hopeless. It was one of my earlier stories, so I hadn’t considered any social responsibilities in doing this, but my ending sparked a debate on whether as writers we have a responsibility to the readers in the sense of giving them hope. One thing my professor and mentor said that has always stuck with me since, is imagine that your reader is reading your story on the day that she’s going to kill herself. Do you really want your story to be the thing that pushes her over the edge and makes her lose hope? In this discussion the novel American Psycho (which I have not read) came up as a book my mentor thought carried no social responsiblity and he found disgusting. While I agree with Sandra, I may not hold other writers and the things I read up to the same standards and am much more forgiving, for myself I’ve decided to take on some moral and social responsibility for my stories. I Want to give my readers hope, even if perhaps I know in situations like my story there seldom is any. I guess, life’s so difficult as it is, that while I don’t mind bringing readers down pretty low during the story, I want to leave them with some sense that things could get better. That the people in the story could be okay, and in turn that the reader feels that she herself can be okay. But that’s just me, I understand that not everybody sees art in the same it. It’s probably similar to the famous athletes and celebrities who are criticized for being a bad influence to the children that look up to them, and the celebrities defend themselves with, hey, I didn’t ask to be their mentor. Well, I guess I’m asking people to read my stories and I’m asking them to attach their emotions and innards to it and I’m asking them to feel hope at the end of it. And I’m good with that.

Comment by mai wen

Wow, what a post. I read the story in question, and I was suprised to find myself a little horrified by it. Not a typical reaction for me — I can stomach a lot from a story. I even stuck with Charlie Huston when he literally had the cat kicked, which was distasteful. But the story (it’s on the Gutter, by the way) was over the top, gratuitous in it’s attempt to shock.
The question is at what point does the violence go overboard and lose it’s purpose and value.

Comment by JT Ellison

I wanted to share my train of thought when I wrote “Just what NAMBLA needs to further their agenda.”

While stories about sexual abuse aren’t new, it’s rare to include a character-as-victim that enjoys it. We know that in the confusion and deviant tricks that predators play, some kids will find themselves feeling special to be singled out in such a way.

NAMBLA’s belief is that children should be able to choose when they are ready for sex, and the rest of us think that’s too big a decision for someone young to make.

So, while it was fictional, the idea could be misused as an example of why kids should sexualized early in life. That was my concern. Does that mean it shouldn’t have been written?

Now, since someone was offended by my story (and I am flattered in a sense by that) I had to consider if I have a double standard. I depict a baby being buried alive. In my blog entry about this, I mention that I am just whistling past the graveyard and facing some of my deep fears when I write like that. But it is possible that someone can make the same case about my work as I did in the story that offended me.

What I have learned from this is I might be a hypocrite. Maybe. I am beginning to realize that reading and writing are two very different things, which is why I segregated the questions the way I did.

About JT’s question regarding value and purpose. Sometimes the purpose is just braincandy. Some things are just really fun to write and some fun to read, but not a lot comes out of it except time well spent.

Great post and I look forward to reading other’s thoughts on the subject.

Comment by Flood

This debate has been going on for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, adults were concerned that their son would tie a towel around his neck and jump off a building, thinking he could fly. It was all TV’s fault.

The movie FUZZ, based on an Ed McBain book, supposedly caused people to light street bums on fire.

The truth is, people who are stupid or evil or sociopathic will act out no matter WHAT stimulates them. There’s no one to blame but the perpetrator.

Saying a book or a movie caused someone to kill is like saying a woman wearing provocative clothing causes someone to rape. It’s ridiculous.

As for people being offended by our work — let’s hope SOMEBODY is. Otherwise we’d be writing uninvolving pap.

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

Wonderful thought-provking post, Sandra. And the Cavett quote is brilliant. Were it all true, road rage would look very different. (Including red rubber noses, I guess, and a lot of giggles both ways.)

Again, super post. I’ve got much to think about. (Which is like a threat: I’ll probably think about it s’more, then come back.)

Comment by Linda L. Richards

There are two issues here.

Where makes a story “offensive” is how it fits into the society current “good taste” boundaries at this current moment. Moral indignation is an individual response and I have read stories and seen television and movies that I personally found offensive. But to my surprise, I hear critics praising this as a bold effect that provides an insider view of the dark side of society.

I have also heard interviews where the writer, when questioned about the more offensive parts of their work, claims their goal is to invoke disgust and revulsion as a call to action. For example, I remember the first time I saw starving children in Africa on TV. The images of a child with a bloated stomach, stumbling though garbage with a number of flies on the child’s face will stay with me forever. But was making it as horrific and tragic as possible necessary or was it gratuitous emotional exploitation?

Think about the number of stories and books available now that would never have found a place on a traditional bookstore or even have been published by a mainstream publisher forty years ago. The difference between reviled contemptible story and a breakthrough story that explores societal taboos is how the story “ages” over time.

The other issue is about the effect of stories on readers. Does a story motivate REASONABLE people to do things that they would not have done on their own? That is the definition we must work with.

As a example, think about the video game “Grand Theft Auto”. It is one of the most controversial mainstream games out there. Numerous people and groups claim it is causing crime and violence by people imitating the actions of the hero of the game. But let us consider that millions of people play these games and yet rarely do we see people acting out missions from the game.

Perhaps some unbalanced people will pickup the latest MacBride novel and become “inspired” to kill someone in the same way. But consider that the term copycat almost always refers to some motivated by media accounts of a crime who decides to go on a crime spree. How many foiled school killers claim they were motivated by the events in Columbine? There are so many real-life killers for these people to emulate that they don’t need to become avid readers to come up with ideas.

Comment by Kevin Einarson

Mai Wen, I’m going to play devil’s advocate with you. I appreciate where you’re coming from, but when I think of what that professor said, I think it’s an unfair burden of responsibility that goes too far. I can only say for myself that if I had to ask that question before I wrote something, then all I’d feel I was able to write would be comedy or fairy tale stories.

Speaking as someone who’s dealt with a suicidal mother, and who’s brother-in-law succeeded, I know it’s a natural human reaction to blame yourself. But I also know in my struggles to sort out issues in my own upbringing, that I’ve been drawn to the dark writers. Ian Rankin is my writing God, and his books are certainly not cheery fare. But they tell me one thing (well, more than that, but this is what I’ll focus on): I’m not alone. I am not the only one who’s gone through hell or struggled with despair. I take strength from characters that, in the end, no matter how bad things get, still believe in life.

If you did go read the latest Spinetingler issue and read my cozy noir story in it – Childhood Dreams – I’d be very interested in your opinion of it. I mean that sincerely. You strike me as someone like me, who takes things to heart and never brushes things off too quickly, which isn’t a bad thing!

JT, it’s been so interesting for me to read Flood’s thoughts on it, because that story didn’t offend me at all. Yes, it was disturbing, but if I went back and read it now, with these thoughts in mind, I wonder what I’d think this time. I never thought the girl was condoning the act, but I’ve known some abuse kids to react in that exact same manner, which is why they don’t tell.

Flood, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this here as well as on your blog. See, I think I would go with exactly how Rob puts it, in your case, about what you wrote. Sounds like splitting hairs, but I’m shocked that there are people in the world who do such horrific things, not shocked that someone has written about it. The Holocaust, other tragedies where children have been slaughtered… Do we really think something like what you depicted hasn’t happened?

Rob, you picked an interesting example, because I’ve heard so often that scantily clad girls deserve what they get. Certainly not everyone believes it, but a lot of people do. For me, this is part of the reason I’d like to tackle sex abuse more openly in my writing, but it’s one of the hardest things to sell. I’ve heard many women say they won’t read a book with a rape in it.

But you’re dead right when you say that “people who are stupid or evil or sociopathic will act out no matter WHAT stimulates them” – yet I’m going to be a complete hypocrite (again!) and admit that if someone recreated a crime I wrote, I’d carry some guilt. I definitely wouldn’t be able to casually brush it off.

Linda, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. It’s not an easy topic.

In fact, I’ll tell you all, someone I know once wrote a story where a boy kills puppies. Shock, horror, gasp, offend readers across the globe, but if you read the story, in the context, you cried for that boy. It was a story that made me think that not everything is so black and white, not everything is so easy to label as right and wrong as we’d like to believe, but I won’t say more on it here. Anyone who would like to know the context can email me, though. I just don’t feel it’s my place to publicly disclose the entire storyline.

Kev, as you know, I considered discussing Grand Theft Auto and my amusement at the 25 To Life controversy, which only served to make you run right out and buy that game! And then tell me GTA was much better.

And you’ve shared such keen insights, I don’t have anything to add! How’s that?! Hubby gets the last word. Enjoy it while it lasts…

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

Stephen King’s novella called ‘Getting it On’ is about a kid who shoots up his classroom, but holds the kids hostage before hand. After a kid did the same thing, King had that novella removed from any future printings of any book which had previously had that novella in it.

Comment by Tracy Sharp

I think Kevin makes an excellent point about shifting social boundaries. Sometimes I don’t wonder if some people aren’t so much shocked by a particular movie, book or video game than they’re upset by the fact that more of us AREN’T shocked.

One value of “shock” is that sometimes it serves to open our eyes to something we hadn’t considered, or to challenge a cherished misconception. I haven’t read the story Flood had trouble with, but I wonder if it served in some way to illuminate the fact that young victims of sexual abuse sometimes do enjoy the experience. Doesn’t make it any less abusive, of course, and in terms of treatment it’s critical knowledge. But it’s probably a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable–the thought that a four-year-old might experience sexual gratification at the hands of a predator is damned disturbing.

Of course, maybe it was just gratuitous. And even it it’s not, how much does Kevin’s formulation regarding how REASONABLE people’s reactions play into the calculus. What’s gained and what’s lost when we push the boundaries?

Comment by Bill Cameron

Tracy, it’s interesting you reference Stephen King, because Flood references something he said in her post. The opposite sides of the equation from the same person, so I don’t feel so conflicted any more about my own duality!

Bill, I completely agree with your point about how uncomfortable it might be for some people to think that abuse victims actually enjoy their abuse. Some do. It’s like being brainwashed sometimes – you begin to believe that by being deprived of a need or the will to choose, you’re being shown love, and you revel in it. Why else do some people stay?

But it isn’t comfortable to think about. Then again, I’m not of the opinion that all fiction should be comfortable.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

Several years ago, on the 35th anniversary of The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, I reviewed the book, glowingly. I mean, it’s a classic, right? And I adore it. But one of the reasons I adore it is that it disturbs me in a very real way. There’s no gore and no physical violence that I recall. It’s not a crime novel. But it’s about a mean old woman looking back at a mean and ill-lived life and so it’s out of the norm. Which is what I said in this review. That people aren’t always comfortable with being shown less than pretty pictures. To a lot of people, art needs to be about kittens and soft touches and sunsets. They know how to process the feelings those things evoke. But when disturbed by something, they read it as something different. Not something good. And I said, “The Stone Angel is a disturbing book.”

Now, oddly, a lot of people took that to mean it’s a bad book. Which is never what I said. Disturbing and bad are in no way synonymous.

So what happened to us as a culture, that we ended up thinking that? That we need protection from that which doesn’t caress? That our children are delicate and need to be swaddled in cotton batting until the age of 15? That if we eat the right foods we’ll live forever? That all of us are so morally corrupt that we can be mortally influenced by every song we hear, every commercial we see, every story we read?

So, do I have a line? I do. But it’s got nothing to do with you (that, of course, being the societal “you”) and everything to do with me and my own very personal moral code.

I’m sorry (not really) but my job as a writer does not include making sure no one is either offended or distressed. (In fact, that sounds like a surefire recipe for making pabulum, does it not?) And it has nothing to do with writing crime novels, but writing in general.

I think about my social responsibilities. I recycle. I don’t steal stuff and I don’t kill anyone. But I don’t think social responsibility has a place in fiction. When it does, fiction becomes something else. You lose the art, somehow. It makes your work a billboard or a poster for whatever current message society feels you need to convey.

Fiction doesn’t create violence any more, as you’ve pointed out, than it creates comedy or even love. If it did, wouldn’t all those romance novels have solved all the problems in the world by now?

Comment by Linda L. Richards

I actually have a lot of knowledge in child sexual abuse since the topic was my research focus in college for my psychology degree. I have not read the story that we are discussing, but I can say that it is common and natural for children to be “sexually” aroused by the abuse because it is their bodies that are stimulated… not necessarily their minds or hearts, and they can’t help how their bodies react. I think it is dangerous to imply that a child emotionally enjoyed it, because even if the child enjoyed the attention, that is not the same as enjoying the violation. But I guess there is always that theory that, well, if a guy was going to molest a child, he would have anyways whether or not he read it in a story. Most people won’t read anything about molesting a child and then do it, having never considered it seriously before. But what about the issue of society’s perception and sympathy for the victim? In the very same way the perception of rape victims “asking for it” by the way they dress or how movies often protray women enjoying “rough” sex, that Does affect how women are treated and how our society treats rape victims (I volunteer for a Rape Crisis Center). Think of all the public rape trials (Kobe Bryant, etc.) and how the victim is always made out to be a slut, when that essentially has Nothing to do with the rape. I do think it’s a fine line and that literature definitely can affect how people think of and see certain situations that they have very little personal experience with.

Sandra, as for your comments playing devil’s advocate (which I love, it’s always fun to be challenged to think of things in a different way), what I took from my mentor wasn’t that the story had to be posh and nice the whole way through, but that it shouldn’t end in devastation. That, while you’re right, it wouldn’t be “my fault” if somebody committed suicide after reading my story because there would be obvious issues having nothing to do with my story (as powerful as I would want to think my writing is) that would drive the person to that, however, I guess it’s between making the choice between being that little nugget of hope or pushing them over the edge. I write about harsh topics, sexual abuse, dysfunctional families, homelessness, dead marriages, etc. and I do not shy away from writing the darker sides of these topics, but I always keep in mind that I want to end with hope, even if it’s just the tiniest bit of hope. My stories don’t all end with a nice bow tied around it, no, but maybe the character relizes her abuse isn’t her fault, or she sees beauty in a stranger when she had hated everyone for years, etc. You mention how Ian Rankin’s stories end with the characters who’d been through hell still believing in life… that’s the hope I’m talking about! That’s what I believe my mentor meant and what I meant to convey, appologies if I was unclear! If all his characters had just offed themselves at the end, would you feel the same way about the books, or would it have deepened your despair?

Comment by mai wen

I had a deep thought somewhere else today.

Art is supposed to move people and nowhere in the rules does it say that it’s supposed to make anyone feel good.

Comment by Flood

I agree with that. I don’t write noir to necessarily make people happy, you know?
The story didn’t offend me. It just freaked me out. Enough that I shared my feelings about it with Hubby last week. So it succeeded, in a way, as far as it made me pay attention. But it creeped me out, big time.
The beauty of all this still resides in the fact that reading is subjective, and what turns one crank will turn off another. Not a good or bad, right or wrong scenario.

Comment by JT Ellison

Linda, wow. You should have written the original post… The Stone Angel is a brilliant book, it is disturbing, it is a classic. I’m a fan of Margaret Laurence’s work, The Fire-Dwellers, A Jest of God, This Side Jordan. None of her work is what I’d call comfortable.

You make such critical points. Thanks for sharing them.

Mai Wen, thank you for further clarifying, and I’m glad we agree about tiny rays of hope. Sometimes, I think the hope is in nothing more than that people face such despair, and still go on. Like real people, they have good moments and bad. This has been a great discussion, though – I’m keen to read your work.

Flood, well said!

JT, interesting, because Kevin read the story too and we discussed it. So yes, the writer succeeded in making people think about it, and making people talk about it.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

Linda asked (perhaps rhetorically), “So what happened to us as a culture, that we ended up thinking that?”

Media happened. Globalization. Power was taken out of the hands of the local village and transmuted across states and countries and the individual, more and more, feels out of control. They cannot stop basic atrocities, and — here’s what’s probably as important — they know much more about them now, due to media / internet / widely available reading material / movies, etc. People (most) basically want to do good. They don’t want children hurt, for example, and when art confronts them and reminds them this is currently happening, they feel a sense of failure. Maybe it’s only as a culture, a society, but a lot of people — particularly those who care enough to participate in the arts (and readers are participants) — care deeply about people, about the human experience, so to be confronted with an atrocity is upsetting to them. It means they have to think about it, live with it in their minds for a while, in their hearts, wonder if they can do anything and… if they decide they can’t… feel like a failure at something important.

However, that said, I think art has to constantly challenge and remind us to keep us from being homogenized and lulled into a sense that all is right with the world when clearly, it is not. I haven’t read the short story in question, but I know enough about the subject matter to post this point: it’s important to illuminate the fact that sometimes a kid is aroused by the abuse because they often feel guilt over it, they feel like they “asked” for it because their body responded to it, and it destroys something in them that can’t be gotten back… because it makes them feel like a participant, and it’s much harder for them to place the blame (and therefore, start to heal). I think when we see something in art that is disturbing as this point is, it’s going to make people feel uncomfortable, but if a story shows a child who cannot make that sort of choice feeling aroused… then it opens the door for the writer to make the point that the arousal is another facet of the abuse, and something outside of the child’s control. As a society, we need to understand that some abuse victims are fighting this battle and losing because they don’t feel like they deserve the help available to them.

The thing about art is that it’s a verb. Art *arts* — if you’ll pardon the Heidegger reference. It takes both the creator and the receiver of the material to have a meaning, and that meaning is an evolution in thought / emotion within the individual. Art, therefore, creates within… whether it’s just a perception or an arousal. Art creates culture. I think we’re all pretty comfortable with that. If a society is more accepting of violence as a visual form of entertainment, what does that do to culture? It’s not an easy question, and I am certainly not advocating — not for one second — that anyone censor themselves. But I don’t think we can say that art is art, that it does what it does, without being cognizant that it changes and affects the world around us. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t have any value or use. However, no individual piece of art works solely on its own. It’s a gestalt — everything in a culture works to affect and perpetuate and recreate that culture. And art does not take away any human’s ability to perceive right from wrong, nor does it take away their free will — also critical facilities common in our global culture.

Art *arts*. But it does not assimilate the person and render that person without free will or consciousness of right and wrong. Art illuminates, influences, peddles, browbeats, etc., and ultimately, makes a difference.

Comment by toni mcgee causey

P.S. I did read “Childhood Dreams” and found it a very chilling and dark story about how a father guilted his daughter into thinking that people would blame her for her mother’s “leaving” them (when she actually died), and so manipulated his daughter into playing “games” with him, the “games” left to the reader’s imagination, but most definitely something horrible. I really liked the story because it was a dark story that showed a girl who lost her mother and had a father who didn’t take care of her as he should, take care of herself by protecting herself. I think that the horrors that her father was doing to her propelled her to feel at the very least relief by his death, but possible even some happiness (her lips curling up into a smile). I also really liked the creepy play on how she wanted for Christmas for her parents to be together, and since I didn’t know her mother was dead until the end, it took on a whole different meaning. While this story is dark and has a very dark side of human nature threaded through out it in each of its characters (even the judgmental church ladies), it showed inner strength and sense of survival in Polly that I really respected and admired, even if that too was dark.

If you would like to read some of my stories I have some (sigh) unpublished stories that I’ve been sending out, circulating, to some lit mags I could email you that fit this subject matter and theme.

Just let me know!

Comment by mai wen

Very powerful post. Disturbing, yet once you have time to digest the info, it’s sadly not as suprising as one would hope.

Comment by James Goodman

Toni, that was a wonderful post!

Comment by Bill Cameron

Wow Toni. What more do I need to say?

James, do you struggle with this line in your own writing?

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

A timeless debate that I somewhat addressed in my debut novel where someone was using my protagonist’s crime novels as blueprints for murder.

I never really thought it pertained to me until a reporter asked me that question–have I ever thought that someone would recreate my fictional crimes? My answer: no, I never thought about it until she brought it up.

As a mom, I look at violence on television and in the movies, but I don’t see my kids acting more violently. I DO see them repeating words they hear on television (like stupid, idiot, etc) but I don’t see them pretending to kill each other even though some of the cartoons and even the kids shows can be violent.

Comment by Allison Brennan

Bill & Sandra, thank you!

Allison, I was very much wondering what you would post about this, since you delve into it so very well in The Prey — a really excellent book.

Comment by toni mcgee causey

I don’t believe books, tv, computer games or movies “cause” people to do something. But it may give them the idea for that particular act at that moment. But these people are, I believe, people who would have committed stupid and/or atrocious acts no matter what. It’s time we started accepting responsability for our actions instead of trying to blame tv, books, movies, someone else etc.

As for the computer games if grown adults are playing them then they are responsible for their actions…stop blaming the games. If kids are playing these games then all I have to say is where are their parents?

There is a new game coming out and I have to wonder about it. What were the creators thinking? It’s called Bully and in it you get to bully other kids. Who are they marketing this game too? I do think we need to take some responabilitey in the marketing of movies and games and books and make sure they are marketed to the appropriate audience. It’s like when the cigarette companies marketed to kids…like Camel…that was wrong. But marketing to adults…adults have to make their own decisions and in the end our actions are our choice not the fault of the tv or movie or whatever.

As for what I read and watch yes I do have limits. With TV and movies I have a very hard time watching stories about the killing/abuse of children and I think that’s because I have two small children of my own. I was devastated watching two episodes of Cold Case because they dealt with the killing of children and I used a whole lot of kleenex. Had I known what they were about I probably wouldn’t have watched them. With books I can tolerate a lot but exteme graphic detail is a turn off. By that I mean a blow by blow description of killing and torture. Give me the basics but I don’t need every detail. But at the same time I don’t expect books to be happy happy joy joy either. That would just be boring. And yes sometimes the disturbing books are thought provoking and that’s ok. I guess it comes down to how the book is perceived and what it’s trying to say. A book about the torture and death occuring in Africa might have a lot of graphic detail to get across the fact that the atrocities are just that atrocious. But in a novel that’s just trying to tell a good story you don’t need all that graphic detail. Just my 2 cents. Or maybe just 1 1/2 cents. 🙂

Comment by Andrea Maloney

Mai Wen, sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I was rushing out for my nephew’s first birthday party, but I would like to read some of your work. It might be a few days, even weeks, but my email is

Andrea, considering the status of the American dollar, I suppose it’s 1.78 cents. (Ducks). Very keen insights – really, everyone has brought a lot to this discussion and given me a lot more to think about!

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

I think Flood might have been talking about my story Game published in Flashing in the Gutters. I’ve written her an email clarifying because I don’t want to be presumptuous but until then I wanted to get in on the debate.

Game is based on one of my own experiences of being molested as a child. The molester flattered me into feeling special and wanting the attention.

As a five year old I didn’t know what was being done was wrong and actually looked forward to visiting again. The molester was only following the example of his father who sexually abused his sister so he was blameless in this himself.

I wrote this story with the intention of exploring this aspect of child abuse that most people wish to disregard. Which is that children are made to feel they are culpable in the abuse.

Most people imagine that abuse is based on the stranger danger theory. It is actually much more insidious than that. There are people who are predators, pick their victims and groom them.

While thankfully I wasn’t subjected to anything of that nature, this moment in time effectively shattered my sexual innocence.

It’s been quite mind-blowing to hear the ways people reacted to this story and the way that it’s been interpreted. I didn’t see any of these connotations because of my personal experience of abuse and that of other people around me.

I’m really freaked about this. It’s hard to imagine the ways that people can interpret your story when you write because everyone comes to it and sees it based on their own world view.

While I think that writers should not write anything gratuitous just for the sake of it now that someone thinks that my story is gratuitous when I felt like I was writing a story that raised questions I’m wondering if the definition of gratititous violence is like the definition between erotic and porn. Everyone draws the line differently. Yet every single person thinks that the line is obvious and based on common sense.

I hope I’m not coming across as a fucktard and that this post is about someone else completely. Actually I hope I’m coming across as a fucktard and it is about someone else. I’m feeling icky if it’s about me.

Comment by Amra Pajalic

Good news: I’m not a fucktard. It is my story people were talking about.

Bad news: Fuck it’s me everyone is talking about.

Okay, deep breaths, deep breaths.

I’m glad it’s led to such a wonderful and varied discussion. I hope that the story worked for some people. I know that you can’t please everyone and we all have different tastes. I’m still a bit freaked, but shit happens.

Comment by Amra Pajalic

Amra, don’t freak. Please!
Of course you’re not a fucktard. Your story got people talking, and if it made a few of us uncomfortable, all the better. I wrote a story for Demolition and got some seriously weird mail afterward. The story is about a stalker and is in his POV. I freaked out just about everyone who knows me. It happens.
It was an effective piece. I’ll always remember it.

Comment by JT Ellison

It was an effective piece. I’ll always remember it.

I was talking about YOUR story, not mine. It didn’t look right when I proofed (after I submitted, of course) just wanted to clarify.:)

Comment by JT Ellison

Thanks JT. I’m starting to feel better. It was just a shock to the system and I went into system overload. Putting it into perspective now. I guess it’s good to be memorable. Lol.

Comment by Amra Pajalic

Amra, I’d like to add to what JT said. I never felt that the story was in bad taste myself. I know a lot of people who were abused as kids, I have my own story that I’m not sure I’ve ever told and also a cousin who was sexually abused quite young, and I got it. Why is it some kids don’t tell when they’re being abused? Why do some abuse victims grow up to be abusers? This isn’t true of everyone who hasn’t experienced that, but there are some people who never really get that what happened to them is wrong.

Take heart, Amra. It was a strong piece that had an impact, that has been memorable. Stories slip and slide through the brain and we forget them, often, when they are short and sweet especially, but yours made people think, for one thing. Fortunately, because of this situation, you were able to share insights on it, which I hope haven’t been too painful for you. And maybe as a result some people understand more about the complex psychology that can factor in when children are abused.

Thank you for being willing to share your experience and perspective, and a powerful piece of your work.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

Not really, Sandra. I guess I’m must be not straying far away enough from the norm to ruffle anyone’s sense of sensibilities. All things in time I suppose… 😀

Comment by James Goodman


I’ve learned anytime you write about sexual abuse it is a fine line to walk for keeping your readers comfortable, but I’m not so sure you should try to keep them comfortable. There are two sides to the arguement. For example, I had a story that was very graphic about sexual abuse, having studied it extensively and having had personal experiences with it as well, I was attempting to be real and harsh about the abuse. I wrote about how the daughter being abused by her father would hide in her parents’ closet while they were having sex and would be jealous and angry at her mother. I wrote about how she some what looked forward to the abuse because it made her feel special but at the same time she hated herself and felt like a bad person, and she felt powerless. It was a graphic story, with some specific, graphic details about the abuse, but having been through it, I didn’t think I went overboard at all. I submitted the story to my creative writing class for workshop and the reaction was very extreme. Many said they couldn’t even finish the story, they were so disturbed by the story and the abuse in the story. People thought it was so graphic and disturbing that they couldn’t handle it. In contrast, I wrote a Very subtle story about sexual abuse and submitted it to my creative writing class, and they loved it. They felt impacted by it, they got the point even though the sexual abuse was never explicitly stated, they understood the dynamic and emotions that went with the abuse. I guess my point is, while it’s important to be truthful and real about topics like this, there is always a risk of losing readership by being too graphic about the abuse. Like I said, it’s a fine line and I’m not sure what’s the right answer with this one, to say screw it, people Need to be disturbed about this (which people do!) or to say, let’s not scare people off so they can still get the point of the story.

Either way, I’d be thrilled to have caused this much of a stir, that means your story impacted and touched people and made them think on Many different levels, not just on sexual abuse but art and where we as writers want to draw our lines in our own art. Good job!

Comment by mai wen

Thanks Sandra. I appreciate the feedback and support.

Mai Wen-that’s so interesting about your writing class. I do agree that what’s left unsaid is more scary because people put their own imagination in it. When I watch a movie or read a book where the violence and horror is subtle and psychological I get more creeped out. Something to keep in mind for the future.

Comment by Amra Pajalic

Very amazing site! I wish I could do something as nice as you did…mary

Comment by Economy news and blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: