Thursday, November 12, 2009


The other Scott (Bailey, that is) wrote an excellent post over at The Literary Lab called: Inappropriate Subject Matter. You know the drill: click, read, and hop back here. Oh, and make sure to read the comments section, because that's where a ton of great discussion happened.

The basics of his post can be summed up in this question: have any of you awakened to the reality that you're writing a book about things you would normally never even consider reading about?

His post went more in depth than the question might imply.

The comments between Scott and I are as follows:

Me - In answer to your question - no, well, at least not yet. I have explored dark subjects - abusive relationships, well, the aftermath and recovery. No, I'm not, nor was I in, an abusive relationship. The situation just fit for the character, and hopefully I'm portraying the emotions correctly. I've also written about the aftermath of rape, but didn't show the actual act other than in very brief, very non explicit, snippets. I'm like you - don't want to read the explicit stuff, and I'm not going to write the explicit stuff.

As for adequate standing . . . do any of us truly, unless we're writing a semi-autobiographical book cloaked under the pseudonym of fiction, have adequate standing?

I mean, I write about women . . . but I'm not a woman. I write about heterosexuals . . . but I'm not a heterosexual. I've written about people who have done horrible things . . . but I haven't done those things.

I truly think we can only do the best we can, based on our experience and research. We can only write the best novel we are capable of writing, and perhaps still strive to write something better.

Obviously, the characters and situations you are writing about were something, on some level, you wanted (maybe needed) to write about. I mean why, if there wasn't something you wanted (needed?) to explore, would the idea have come to you in the first place, and why would you have pursued the idea to Chapter 4? Was it maybe to understand the characters and situations a bit better? Pure curiosity? Instinct?

Sorry about the long comment. The words just flow sometimes and I can't stop myself. The post definitely gave me plenty of thought material. My brain isn't happy about synapsing this late in the afternoon.

Scott - "I mean why, if there wasn't something you wanted (needed?) to explore, would the idea have come to you in the first place, and why would you have pursued the idea to Chapter 4?"

You know, it all comes down to story. The story doesn't work without the characters I'm gathering together. There isn't anything I'm trying to figure out or explore in my writing; there is only the story. Possibly I'm just having doubts about my ability to do these characters justice, more than doubts about the characters' "appropriateness". The writing is going well, but each subsequent chapter is forcing me to write in new ways. I have a gay protagonist and I very shamefully worry about the marketplace. And yes, there's a lot of violence in this book and, while I plan to show the inner strength of our species, I intend to do that by contrasting it against our baser brothers and sisters.

ME - Scott - gay men read, and avidly, almost as much as women. There is a sad lack of good fiction with gay protagonists. So, there is an audience. In addition, as my best friend will tell you, the majority of women will read gay fiction as well. Now, she might be a bit biased . . . no, she's not. She tells it like it is, no holds barred.

I struggled with the same issue - gay protagonists - with the project I hope to query in the next few months. Was there a big enough audience? Would people want to read? Well, I hope so. I've poured a good part of myself into the project.

You, it seems, are pouring a good part of yourself into your project.

Personally, I admire you for daring to write such a book, with a gay protagonist. Best of luck!

Scott - It's not just the gay protagonist; there are also a number of murders and, more to the point, some scenes of race hatred that unnerve me and I haven't even written them yet. I don't know. The writing is going well, I say. I love this book, but it makes me uncomfortable in any number of ways.

Okay, all of this commenting back and forth made me realize the following: do we write about inappropriate subject matter, things we wouldn't read about, in order to confront our feelings about those subject matters?

Now, I'm not talking about explicit sex here. I'm talking about violence, murder, rape, abusive relationships, and . . . whatever. I'm talking about the things that make us cringe, that make us mad when we hear about them, and the things that might actually make us physically ill.

The other day I was watching Tabitha Takes Over on BRAVO. Basically, this witch of a hair dresser - very forward, very take charge, and very witchy goes to various hair salons, figures out what's wrong, and puts them right on track again. Yes, there's drama - this is a so called reality show after all. So, I'm watching . . . and I'm turning my head away so I don't have to watch the drama unfolding on screen. I'm uncomfortable with her tactics, her approach, and also the reactions of the people she is trying to whip into shape.

As uncomfortable as I was, I didn't turn the television off. Why? Because I think I needed to figure out why I was uncomfortable. What about the situation, her directness, was making me uncomfortable?

I think the same thing goes when we we write about inappropriate subject matter - I think we are trying to gain a deeper understanding of the events we are writing about, even if it is rape, murder, violence of any type, or whatever.

I also think that when we challenge ourselves by writing something that, as the other Scott put it, makes me uncomfortable in so many ways we are truly challenging ourselves as writers. We are going beneath the surface of our own emotions, our own feelings of outrage, to write about something that makes us uncomfortable. We, as writers, are viewing the event from every angle: the attacker, the victim, the friends of the victim, and other people. The event becomes so much more, and I think we delve deep into our own feelings as we explore the myriad emotions connected to the event, and resulting from the event, as we try to gain a better understanding of why whatever happened, and why it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Now, I could also be totally wrong about this. This is just my opinion, for whatever that is worth.

Now, as with any blog post, I must end with pretty much the same question as the other Scott: have any of you awakened to the reality that you're writing a book about things you would normally never even consider reading about?



Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

YES!!! And in my case, 'inappropriateness' could very well be an issue, because I'm writing for an upper middle-grade audience. Child abuse, racial hatred--both factor into my book (though behind the scenes and in the past), but I keep wondering... What right do I have, as a white woman, young enough to have never seen segregation, to write about racism. Or child abuse, for that matter, having never experienced it (thanks Mom & Dad) firsthand. Do I know enough? Am I protraying it correctly? *Do I have the right?* And is this all too much for the 12-14 set? I continue to worry, 33,000 words into the book. And I still don't know.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Nope, writing what I'd love to read.

Thanks for kind comments at Rachelle Gardner's blog today on my guest post!

Robyn Campbell said...

Scott, This is a very good post. And one that I've thought about. The book I'm writing now is one that I wouldn't normally read. Does that mean that I have to find books like this and read them? To get a feel for mine?

I probably won't. Not now at least. Love the conversation between you and the other Scott. Sorry I missed this post due to the bad junk. :(