Monday, February 25, 2013

Off Limits?



By Reece Hirsch

What's off-limits to me in my writing?  I like to think that nothing is really off-limits but, like most writers, there are places that I choose not to go.

My thrillers are meant to be entertainments.  They're sometimes bloody and violent, but I hope that they are also fun.  There are some subjects that just don't fit with my idea of reader entertainment, such as child predators, and I also don't particularly like reading or writing about serial killers.  I'm not saying that I might not one day find a story that I felt compelled to write involving one of those subjects.  I'm also not saying that great and worthy books can't be built from that material (Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs is one of the best thrillers ever written.)  There are just certain areas that I will probably always steer clear of in my writing.

Both of my first two books touch upon terrorism of one sort or another, and some writers and readers might consider that subject distasteful.  I suppose every writer has their tolerances, and if they're lucky they find a readership that shares those tolerances.  Sometimes a writer's work evolves in ways that tests the tolerances of their original readers, but that's a subject that deserves a post of its own.

As for last week's topic, I tend to write stories that draw from the worlds of technology, privacy and data security, so I'm always wondering whether I'm drawing too close to current events.  I think my first book, THE INSIDER, avoided that trap because I started with a bit of recent history (the National Security Agency's Clipper Chip program from the mid-1990s) and developed a little alternate-history theory that brought that event to bear on then-current concerns about government domestic surveillance programs in the wake of 9-11.

My next book is drawn from some fairly recent events and a widely held theory as to what lay behind those events.  Sorry if I'm being cryptic, but I don't want to give away my premise just yet.  As luck would have it, that theory was confirmed as accurate in national news stories just as I was finishing my manuscript.  With a little polishing, that gave my new book a very "ripped from the headlines" feel.  Of course, we all know what happens to yesterday's newspaper after you've ripped out those headlines, so topicality can be a double-edged sword.  A timely angle can provide a hook for your story, but it will only get you so far.

Sorry for being all over the place in this week's post, but I also wanted to mention that I'm currently reading and enjoying (despite myself) Ian McEwen's Sweet Tooth, his take on a 1970s le Carre-esque spy story.  However, I think I see where McEwen is going, and his new book seems to be as much about writing and storytelling as it is about espionage.  As a thriller writer who relies heavily upon story and who does not dwell in the house of literary fiction, I'm starting to feel like I'm being very cleverly and entertainingly insulted by McEwen's book.  But more on that later ....

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