Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stimulation

Blechta on the firing line...

Okay, okay, I knew the topic I brought up last week would get the interest of readers of and contributors to Type M -- especially the sex part.

All of my fellow contributors have weighed in and the dialogue has been very good. Thanks should also go to all the readers who tossed in their two cents. Much appreciated!

But I'm going to stir the pot a little more.

I do think that graphic sex and violence can be a good thing in a crime fiction novel. It goes without saying that it also has to be written correctly and has to be integral to the plot. It's a bit ingenuous to say that when reading crime fiction someone doesn't want to be titillated, or horrified, or disgusted, but wants to be challenged. It seems to me that this is the road to "sanitization" of a story. Where's the challenge in that? If a story demands that extra "kick", it should be there. To leave it out because we don't want to offend someone is not a good thing, to my mind.

It's also been pointed out that Poisoned Pen will not publish a novel in which the plot revolves around a serial killer. Now it is Barbara's and Ron's company, and they can of course do whatever they want, but doesn't it seem that this policy is running close to censorship? Not knowing what their justification is, I can't speak past the previous point, but would someone be able to enlighten me? Does this mean that if a writer has written a truly great novel, but the story line comes with a serial killer, that they would not even consider publishing it, even if it had blockbuster best seller written all over it?

The last point I want to make is this: if all of a sudden, sex was selling really big in crime novels, would we turn up our noses at all that possible lolly and say, "No, thanks!" If one of our publishers said, "You know, Debby (for example), your story really demands a pretty graphic sex scene here, and I want you to add one," that Debby (in this case) would stomp her foot and say, "No way!" What if it was the deal-breaker on whether the novel is published or not? (Hey, it could happen!)

In my most recent novel, there's a shooting at the end, and I wanted it to be really horrifying to the reader (it certainly was horrifying to me) -- but I also didn't want it to be completely stomach-turning. I slaved over that scene for a long time to get the balance what I thought (and hoped) to be just right. The scene really needed to elicit a strong reaction from my readers or there was really no point to the whole story. So far there haven't been any complaints -- except for one reviewer who used the opportunity to make a rather cliched pun (and also gives away the ending). If anyone has feelings on it, assuming you've read the book, I'd love to hear what you think -- good or bad.

Violent death is a horrible thing. We somehow have to find a way in our books to make it so, but where's the edge of that cliff? And is my edge your edge, too? Or does that not make any difference?

Same thing with sex. Except the "horrible" part. Unless it's really bad sex.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

You simply must show up on Sunday, dahlings, because Type M's very special guest will be the ever fabulous Louise Penny!

6 comments:

Eric Mayer said...

"It's also been pointed out that Poisoned Pen will not publish a novel in which the plot revolves around a serial killer. Now it is Barbara's and Ron's company, and they can of course do whatever they want, but doesn't it seem that this policy is running close to censorship?"

Absolutely not. Unless you think PPP is part of the government.


"Does this mean that if a writer has written a truly great novel, but the story line comes with a serial killer, that they would not even consider publishing it, even if it had blockbuster best seller written all over it?"

I am sure of it and I salute them for publishing what they want, and for not publishing what they dislike, and for refusing to cave in to the money-rules-all mentality that has corrupted so much of our society.

I'm quite happy to earn some money from my writing but I will never write something I detest for money. Actually I was once asked to add gratuitous sex to a story that didn't need it, in order to get published, before I had ever got published. I refused.

I like principles better than money myself. Guess I'm just naive.

I hope that "Ron" was a typo.

Rick Blechta said...

Eric, that RoN was definitely a typo! Heavens!! (But I'm also not a PPP author so perhaps I can be forgiven.)

I see where you're coming from, but I don't think you see where I'm coming from.

I think that the Peters's should be allowed to do what they want, but if they would choose to pass on an extraordinarily good book (what I was trying to posit) simply because the plot involved a serial killer is to become hamstrung by your own rules. I thought the absolute basis of publishing was to produce the best books possible and trust that they will sell. (How's that for naive?) What if every publisher banned "serial killer books"? Maybe I didn't state my case as clearly as I could have.

As for never publishing something that you don't completely believe in, I salute you. You are not naive. I like to think I'd do the same thing, but I've haven't been tested -- yet.

Thanks so much for weighing in on this thorny topic!

Vicki Delany said...

I checked the PPP submission guidelines for clarification and this is what they say they will not accept:

# Serial killers when their point-of-view is part of the narrative
# Serial killings that depend on exceptional gore or weird twists to work; we don't think psychopathology enhances our list

So they're not completely ruling out SK novels. By coincidence, over at DorothyL someone mentioned the fabulous Simon Serallier novels by Susan Hill. I had to chime in and mention that I read the books out of order - for once in a series it is VERY important to read them in order - but probably wouldn't have read the first if I hadn't loved the second because it features the dreaded serial killer. So even I can be wrong sometimes!

Charles benoit said...

So let me get this straight - if your publisher said they wanted you to add a graphic sex scene to your book you'd do it? Careful how you answer since I'll throw that 'won't sell out just for cash' soliloquy you blogged a few months back. As for me, I'll quote Moliere: "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, then for money."

Rick Blechta said...

Charles, that's not what I said. I was just posing a question. If you want to know the truth (and who doesn't?), my publisher questioned the ending to A Case of You and I had a lot of 'splainin' to do in order to try to convince her (and my editor) that I had chosen the correct course. She could have told me, "I'm not publishing this story without a different ending," at which point I would have been left with a very tough decision. Either wisdom prevailed when she heard my arguments, or I blinded her with science.

Either way, I'm left feeling that I dodged a very big bullet.

NL Gassert said...

I have a (unfinished) novel about the aftermath of sexual child abuse. My characters are adults now, but the story includes a few flashbacks. When I first began looking around to see what kind of publisher would possibly be interested, I came across quite a few smaller, independent publishers who said they would absolutely not publish anything involving sexual child abuse. I respect their guidelines and think it is their prerogative to not want to deal with the subject matter.

I don’t think that’s censorship. Other publishers say they don’t want romance or they don’t want science fiction. It doesn’t matter how great the novel is, it’s just not what they want.

And, Charles, I love the Moliere quote. So true. So true.