How dark is too dark for you (as reader, viewer or writer)?
When people hear what I write, some will say: I never read books about children in jeopardy. I never read about sexual assaults. I never read about people killing their families.
Seems like a lot of people have "nevers" in their rules for reading. I respect and understand that. But aren't the greatest, most lasting stories those that successfully break the rules of "decent" behavior?
A married man lusts after a young girl, goes to her in disguise, and rapes her....
A wife, desperately in love with her husband, kills and dismembers her own brother for him, then when her husband betrays her, kills their sons.
The above examples break these "never" rules--and they're some of the most widely read and told stories in history: Abraham and Isaac, Leta and Zeus, Medea...
As both a writer and a reader, I like to be challenged. I don't believe in rules--why limit yourself? Why not first try the thing that you have pre-judged, then decide?
I like light and fluffy and I like dark and twisted. And a lot in between. Usually I enjoy my fiction grounded in reality, but then I'll fall in love with something like Mark Helprin's Winter Tale and be totally transported into an impossible never-land of magic.
So why bother with rules?
I'm not talking gratuitous violence or sex--but gratuitous is in the mind of beholder. First, the author who creates the story and then, their audience.
In my own books there are often children in jeopardy--as a pediatric ER doc, how could I not offer justice to some of the victims I worked with for seventeen years?
I also won't shy away from including crimes against women. Not to be salacious, but to illuminate a significant problem that our society often forces into shadows.
I strive for emotional honesty, keeping it as real as possible and still be entertaining. I try to respect my audience--after all, they're paying for the privilege of reading my books.
As a reader, there are definitely some excellent authors whose books I will no longer read--because to this audience member their writing is too over the top, without giving me a payoff that ties the violence and gore to the main characters, leaving me feeling used, abused, and manipulated.
I don't read a book to see how much pain or angst the author can wring from me. I read to be enlightened, inspired, to laugh, to feel good about myself and the world around me, to immerse myself in a new world with new ideas and new people to learn from.
So, yes, there are Brussels sprouts and cauliflower mixed in with the prawns and Belgian chocolate on that smorgasbord of stories, and I might taste them and never go back for seconds.
But that's okay. Because the next dish down is a new delight to try....
So where's the line for you as a reader? What makes a book a "fling against the wall", never to trust that author again? What kind of stories make you come back for more?
Thanks for reading!
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."
The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, is due out October, 2009. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net