Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sex? Violence? Yes, Please

By Hilary Davidson

It's hard to be a reliable judge about how explicit your own work is. When I read this week's question, my first thought was, "I don't write about sex or violence." Then I took a quick inventory of my short stories and novels. It turns out, there's some sex in there. Also, some violence. Who knew?

My first published story, "Anniversary" (which appeared in Thuglit and will soon be seen again in Feeding Kate) is a tale of stalking and sexual obsession. "Fetish," published by Beat to a Pulp, has more kinks than the proverbial garden hose. "Hedge Hog," published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, almost never saw the light of day, because some people at the magazine were concerned about its sexual content. "A Special Kind of Hell" in Beat to a Pulp: Round Two, features a couple's sado-masochistic relationship. "Necessary Evil" in Noir at the Bar 2 is about one man's torture fetish. Both "Darkness in the City of Light" (coming soon in Ellery Queen) and "The Barnacle" (coming soon in The Malfeasance Occasional) feature explicit murder scenes. "Insatiable," in Beat to a Pulp: Round One, is just sick, sick, sick.

Really, I'm a nice girl from a good family.

Here's the thing: I'm not writing about sex or violence, per se. I'm exploring what makes certain people tick, and that can require going into some very dark places. In "Anniversary," I'm exploring what goes on inside the head of a violent stalker, and how he justifies the horrifying things that he does to the woman he believes he loves. In "Fetish," what I'm concerned with is how people can manipulate a desire for love — and a fear of guilt — to make others do terrible things. "A Special Kind of Hell" is really about how love and trust can be abused. "Darkness in the City of Light" is about the dark side of a seemingly close friendship.

There's only so much space in a short story, so there are limits to what you can explore in a particular piece. There's far more room in a novel, which allows for things to be more complicated. Yes, there is some sex and violence, and plenty of ulterior motives to go with both — and that's true of characters both "good" and "bad." In The Damage Done, Lily sleeps with her former fiancĂ©, and she unwittingly becomes a participant in a scene where a person is tortured. In The Next One to Fall, Lily is abducted by a man who attempts to coerce her to have sex with him. In Evil in All Its Disguises (coming March 5th, 2013), Lily is pursued — to the point of being stalked — by a man who has a disturbing obsession with her. I don't think any of the sex or violence is graphic, but it's there, sometimes on the page but, more often, under the surface, needling and shaping the characters in the book.

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Coming soon: the trade paperback of The Next One to Fall will be released by Forge on February 12, 2013. (You can win a copy on Goodreads.) My third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, will be out from Forge on March 5, 2013. Want to win an advance copy? Sign up for my newsletter. If you're registered with NetGalley, you can download a copy right now!


Catriona McPherson said...

It's true, Hilary. If something doesn't push your buttons you don't notice it's there. I once persuaded my mum to watch Silence of the Lambs with me, assuring her it wasn't gory (because none of it reached my gore threshold). Not good. We gave up after the head in the jar and before the flaying.

Hilary Davidson said...

Catriona, that makes so much sense! (On an unrelated note, would you believe that I once convinced a friend to watch The Silence of the Lambs by making a similar claim? I swear, none of the gory parts had stuck in my brain.)

Hilary Davidson said...

Some people have commented on this post on Facebook. So far, Barry Graham's reaction is my favorite:

"Some" sex??? "Some" violence??? You're one of the sickest, most depraved writers out there, and I say that with the greatest admiration.

Thanks, Barry!