Friday, October 17, 2014
Is Anything Off Limits?
By Art Taylor
This week's question—"Is there a type of crime you won't write about?"—prompted two immediate answers: sexual violence and the abduction/abuse of children. Along the same lines as Meredith earlier in the week, the issue of child abuse in fiction became particularly troubling after my wife, Tara, and I had a son of our own. Soon after he was born, I read a couple of stories that centered around the abduction and/or abuse of a child, and it was simply too much for me to take in, emotionally overloading and exhausting. And both with that topic and with sexual violence, there's such a risk of handling the material poorly: the potential for it to appear exploitative, missteps into insensitivity, the challenge to offer deeper insight emotionally or otherwise.
All that said, I think I'd generally shy away from making either of those topics the central focus of any of my works, at least now.
However, even as I write that, I realize that I've incorporated each of those issues in smaller ways into recent stories. Earlier this year, I finished a story in which two young boys are caught in the center of trouble as the father of one of the boys threatens the mother of the other, with at least the possibility of sexual violence churning in the mix. My wife reviewed "Parallel Play" in draft form, and while she said it was one of my best stories, she asked me to please not ever ask her to read it again. I would encourage you to see for yourself, but it won't be published for a year and a half, in the next Chesapeake Crimes anthology, Storm Warning.
A rape in the distant past was also an important—but again, not central— aspect of another story that I wrote a while back, "The White Rose of Memphis," which was published in Needle: A Magazine of Noir. My editor at Ellery Queen, I should say, passed on that story as not right for their readers; and I could certainly understand. Just proof that such issues, even treated indirectly, can be tough to take.
I hope I don't seem to be contradicting myself here. In my mind, the distinction is a clear one. Burrowing deep into the physical details and psychological aftermath of either of these specific types of crime would, at this point, be more than I want to attempt writing about. But I also don't think it's necessary to pretend that such things don't happen—to purge completely from the page any reference to those crime or the possibility of those crimes.
It's a fine line there, of course—and a fine line to tread generally for anyone attempting to write about sensitive, troubling issues at all.