Lately, more than usual, it has seemed impossible to escape the darker areas of society. One hideous, heart-wrenching event comes after the last hasn't had time to leave the news cycle. Violence seems to be erupting more often and more brutally everywhere. And the upcoming Presidential election in the U.S. is not anywhere near as funny as it used to be.
I'm not going to impose my politics on you, but to me the choice seems embarrassingly clear. And that's all I'll say.
People complain that there's "too much bad news." That's largely because bad things tend to happen and they are reported upon. If you want more good news, get out there and make some.
For a crime fiction writer, there's a debilitating effect from all the sadness, rage and carnage in the streets. You start to wonder if what you're doing is actually contributing to the societal mayhem.
Particularly in my end of the pool, where the murder in the mystery is meant to be "fun," a moral question arises: Am I desensitizing a (very small) segment of the population to the horror of violence? Does my insistence on writing entertainment that revolves around the ultimate personal crime mean I'm adding to the problem instead of working to reduce it?
That's probably an example of a writer assuming more importance and influence than he's entitled to feel. The 8,820 people who have, to this date, bought GHOST IN THE WIND (oh yes, I get to check the numbers) have, I'm willing to wager, not killed anyone since buying and (hopefully) reading it. I don't think the cause-and-effect idea is that literal. But it does make one wonder whether the cumulative effect is more subtle, but just as insidious.
Writers are just like everyone else. Wait. Writers are a lot like everyone else. Okay, writers are the same species as everyone else and that means we do see the news and we are affected emotionally as is the bulk of the population. How can you view people being shot, assaulted, blown up and run over and not feel anything? So when it comes the part of the day when it's necessary to sit down and concoct tales of shootings, stabbings, poisonings and assorted mayhem, is it possible to disconnect and simply serve the story?
Sadly, yes. I write that 1,000 words every day no matter what the news has been personally or around the world. I wrote the day my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and the day we found out it was Stage 1 and she'd be fine after treatment. I wrote the day my dog died. I wrote the day doctors told me I had lymphoma (they were wrong). I've written in hospital waiting rooms, mechanics' waiting rooms, on airplanes, in hotel rooms, from sickbeds and trains. I have written at conventions like Bouchercon and Malice Domestic. I have written while tending to sick children, on the day I moved each of them into and out of college dorms.
I wrote on 9/11.
I'm not proud of all those facts, but I'm a writer. It's my job and it's what I do. But does what I'm writing help, hurt or have no effect whatsoever?
For the record, I've decided the answer is no. I respect my readers enough to assume they know the difference between reality and the fiction I pull out of my twisted brain. As for the tone the stories take, it's true that I try to make my readers laugh. Enough are buying the books that I can say with some certainty that I'm successful at least sometimes. Does that make the death and violence more "fun"?
I don't write "funny" murders. I'm not looking for quirky methods of bumping off characters. The comedy, hopefully, comes in the reactions to the crime rather than the event itself.
And I do not glamorize weapons. When a gun is pulled in one of my books it's seen as a scary, dangerous object. Because that is how I see guns. Your mileage may vary.
So no, I don't think I'm damaging anyone's mind. Maybe that's a way to make myself feel better, but if so, it works. I rail against real violence; I decry the awful events that seem to permeate our news feeds on a daily, if not hourly, basis. I am not in favor of private citizens owning AR-15 assault rifles. That's me. My fiction is a character in a situation. Each one will react based on his/her personality. Yeah, they come from my mind, but they're not all me. I'll write characters I disagree with if it works for them.
The ultimate judgment, I have to say, probably rests with the reader. I've gotten emails from people who said they were helped by the diversion my book provided while they were going through a rough time. If I have written in hospitals, they have read my books in hospitals. I've heard from others who read the book at home while trying to deal with a new diagnosis of autism. Those, too, have been very touching to read, because people usually don't email an author if the book has had no impact on them at all. The ones who get in touch when they're angry usually just didn't like the book.
From my point of view, the writing will go on. It hasn't been a small consideration that over the past few weeks when things have seemed especially awful I've been working on a novel in which nobody gets killed. My first, and I'm happy about it. (Thanks, Terri!)
Do crime fiction novels (especially cozies) take violence to a place where it's unthreatening and "fun"? I leave that to sociologists and critics. If I felt that I was a bigger part of the problem than most, I would have to find another way to make a living, and this is the only thing I'm good at.
Here's my only piece of advice to anyone who's as horrified and upset as I am about what's been going on: Try to see the other person's side of the argument. Is that justification for violence? Absolutely not. But maybe if we understand WHY the person feels that way, we can start to work toward making fewer people feel that way. That's all I've got.
And don't vote for Trump. Sorry. It slipped out.