Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dead puppies

by Josh

I love animals. I do. I swear. I have a dog and a cat (on my check 664913430369lcard). I have a pet turtle (in Harlem). I donate to the ASPCA. I love animals.

That’s why I kill so many of them in my novels.

You see, the job of the thriller writer is weird. To a certain extent, it is our lot in life to create victims. Heroes and heroines as well, of course, and villains too, but they’re the minority. If you are a character in a thriller novel, you very well may die (and violently). It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.

But we thriller writers can’t just introduce a character on page 22 and kill them on page 23. There would be no emotional investment, and emotional investment is what it’s all about. This is why so many Hollywood blockbusters lack suspense. These films have hearts of silicon. Emotion can’t be green-screened.

But I digress from my topic. Perhaps on purpose. After all, I’m a little ashamed by it. Because the fact of the matter is, to write good emotion-infused fiction, you need imagine someone you love in jeopardy, you need to make that person or object or idea the potential victim, and so…well…in my novels, animals don’t fare so well.

But only because I care.

Case in point: the first chapter of my September 2010 release, While Galileo Preys.

I’ll wait here while you give that a skim.

Done? OK.

So you see what I mean. Poor doggie.

22269_289439715138_552455138_3298999_3503188_sWell, my editor loved that chapter but she was concerned that MIRA would receive some angry feedback from readers about the sad fate of Moira. They wouldn’t complain about all the dead cops and bullet-ridden pedestrians, but they might be up in arms over my abusive treatment of Moira.

But I refused to change it. Moira’s death was not arbitrary. The fact that Galileo murders her as callously as he does everyone else just underlines what a cold-hearted bastard he really is.

Imagine if he’d spared the dog. We might think –well, he’s a dead-eye mofo for sure but at least he’s an animal-lover. He’s not all bad. And in the end we come to understand that Galileo isn’t all bad (although he’s pretty fucking bad). But that needs to be a discovery. Don’t get me wrong – shades of grey are fantastic. I love nebulous morality. But in the first chapter, where the footing is so uncertain and where the world itself must be painted in broad strokes, to introduce that level of ambiguity seemed to me to be an error. Galileo is decisive. Galileo is indiscriminate. Moira had to die.

This was my sole sticking point in the entire editing process. I agreed with every other suggestion my editor offered, and I know that While Galileo Preys is a better book because of her input. Did I make the correct choice or was I merely acting out of stubbornness? I’ll find out in September, won’t I. Perhaps I’ll be strung up by my own hubris. As if I’d be the first writer to suffer from that…


Rebecca Cantrell said...

You killed a dog in the first chapter and then mentioned it on the Internet before the book even came out? You are very brave, and probably not a little foolish. :)

I will now open myself up to criticism and say that I have never understood why people get more upset over violence to fictional animals than violence to fictional children. I've had long talks about it, but I am still baffled. (and, yes, I did support the good blue aliens over the bad humans in Avatar. It was on a case by case basis).

Unknown said...

I think Dean Koontz might take you to task here--kill everyone else, but leave the dog. But I see your point. You've got guts to kill the dog, too. Now, let's see how you're readers react.

Unknown said...

Becky, it appears to be a uniquely American issue, like struggling with religious belief and evolution :)

I've had more than one person ask me what is up with that. And why we talk about the bathroom so much.

No answers yet :)

Josh, I think you made the right choice--Alan Moore (graphic novel/comic book writer extraordinaire) says don't cheat your work for the lowest (or in this case most sensitive) common denominator, or you'll make a work that offends no one -- but entertains no one either!

Let us know how it goes, dead dog-wise :)

Joshua Corin said...

Becky, I am equally mystified by the distinction people make. That said, when I decided to have the poor pug shot, I did it knowing that most readers would feel an immediate emotional kinship to the animal that perhaps they wouldn't with the other characters in the first chapter. I mean, it's not like I intended to be overly manipulative, but it wasn't arbitrary.

And I guarantee you - I am almost always more than a little foolish.

Joshua Corin said...

Mark, you're right about Dean Koontz, but then again, he knows of what he speaks. "Watchers" is a hell of a good read and one of my favorite dog-centric novels and I'm mighty glad he didn't kill Einstein.

Joshua Corin said...

Mysti, a good rule of thumb is that when Alan Moore makes a suggestion about writing, I wholeheartedly and unequivocally follow it.

However, when Alan Moore makes a suggestion about hair length or jewelry...

Terry Stonecrop said...

I go along with your thinking on this, chancy as it is. I like risk, though. I'm stupid that way.

But getting an emotional reaction is always good in novel writing because you want to make people feel, not in a manipulative way, but in a genuine way. I think that's what you're doing here.

I like your writing style btw.

Joshua Corin said...

Thank you, Terry!

Organic emotional resonance is my hope, at least, and as Emily Dickinson so wisely wrote, "hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul..."

Shane Gericke said...

Hurting animals and children is a sure-fire formula for disaster.

Unless you get away with it.

Tough call, and difficult to write under the best of circumstances. But if it works, it really brings home the emotion that Joshua correctly points out is so necessary to engaging readers.

Even if they hate ya for it :-)

P.S. The Watchers is one of my favorite novels ever. I'm almost afraid to read it again in fear I won't like it as much. I loved Nashville (the movie) when it came out, and watched it again last year. Couldn't believe how badly it sucked the second time around.

Joshua Corin said...

Shane, I recently reread some of my favorite Koontz novels to see how my tastes have evolved/devolved since childhood and "Watchers," for me, definitely held up. So did "Lightning," although it is about a writer, and "Twilight Eyes," if only because the combination of goblins and carnivals is just plain cool.