Sunday, September 28, 2008

SEX and VIOLENCE

By guest blogger, Allison Brennan

Do I have your attention? Good.

allison-brennan When my publisher launched my first trilogy, they billed me as “Julie Garwood meets Thomas Harris.” I had to think about that a minute, but then realized that it’s pretty accurate. I write about romance (and with it, sex) between the hero and heroine, plus dark, disturbing serial murderers. Sometimes there’s sex on that end, too—but not the romance variety. I go deep into my villain’s head because if I don’t know or understand why he (or she) is so evil, then my readers aren’t going to know. I’ve been very proud and honored by the tag and try to live up to it each and every book. Not sure that I’ve made it yet, but I’m still working hard.

A friend of mine wrote an article at Romancing the Blog about why she doesn’t like to read dark and scary. Too many bad things going on in the world, she doesn’t need the realism in her fiction. There are many readers like her out there. Fortunately for me, not everyone shuns violence in their entertainment. But her comments got me thinking.

In Shakespeare’s time there were tragedies and comedies. Today is no exception. Some argue that the proliferation of sex in movies, TV and books is leading to a warped sense of romance and marriage. Some argue that the steady diet of violence in entertainment is causing more violence today. I disagree.

AE There’s a bunch of crap out there, but it doesn’t have to do with the quantity of sex or violence in the projects. Sex and violence goes back thousands and thousands of years. Whether you consider the Bible literature or truth, we all agree it was written long ago. Sex and violence was part of the culture as it is now. Wasn’t the serpent simply a seductive con artist convincing Eve to take something she’d been forbidden to have? Didn’t Cain slay his brother out of jealousy and cold rage?

I’d argue that romance in fiction validates our universal need to make a life-long connection with someone who loves us unconditionally. When love goes right, it truly makes the world go round. When it goes wrong . . . well, there’s a different story in there.

In addition, violence has been part of our society since the beginning. Societies watched as people were torn apart by lions and gladiators fought to the death, a far more gruesome visual than anything I could come up with in my mind. Public hangings were well-attended and celebrated by men, women and children. And beheadings? They give me the shivers.

serial-killer In Harold Schechter’s THE SERIAL KILLER FILES, he writes about the history of serial murder:

“The harsh fact is that we belong to a violent species, the kinds of outrages committed by serial killers have been an aspect of human society at all times in all places. As the Bible says, ‘There is no new thing under the sun’ – and that applies to sadistic murder as much as to anything else.

“Indeed, recent scientific evidence suggests that a taste for savage cruelty is encoded in our DNA, an evolutionary inheritance from our earliest primate ancestors.”

One story that has intrigued me since I read it in Schechter’s book is one of the first known and documented serial killers in America—the Harp cousins. They fought for the British—though apparently “their motives had less to do with politics than with the opportunities for rape, pillage, and murder that the conflict afforded them.” They ended up deserting, kidnapping a couple women, and moving to Tennessee—where they raided farms, robbed travelers, and tortured and killed for pleasure and profit.

In today’s books, violence is a way to exorcize our fears as much as to be scared. I explore violent themes, but in the end justice is always served—unlike in real life when bad people sometimes get away with atrocities. Okay, not true to life . . . but when I read I want to be scared. I want to turn pages rapidly, fearing for the survival of the protagonists, hoping for the demise of the villain. But in the end I want justice. It may not be pretty and wrapped in a pink bow, but it’s has to be present.

killing-fearIn the midst of all the violence, why not show the opposite? Love? Romance? Sex? A well-placed love scene adds emotional depth and hope to an otherwise dark story. Without the human connection that we all share, and that most of us have experienced, we only see the bad and not the good, not the potential, not the reason for fighting evil. When you’re fighting evil to protect those you love, the stakes are higher and the happily-ever-after sweeter.

I read broadly, light and dark, funny and serious. There’s a place for all tones and themes in fiction. But I’ll admit, I’m drawn first to the dark and dangerous, exploring the question of who and why? Who kills and why do they do it? Who wants to stop them and why are they dedicated? What demons do they struggle with? And, is there a place in their hearts and lives to share with someone else?

tempting-evil What do you like? Light, dark, anything in between? Are there places you refuse to go in fiction, as a writer or a reader? Do you like a little romance with your thriller, or do you prefer to keep all sex off page? Does it even matter? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

And because I have a new book out this week, I thought y’all might be interested in my new book trailer.

Comment (on anything!) by midnight tonight for a chance to win the first two books in my Prison Break Trilogy, Killing Fear and Tempting Evil.

Note: Future Sunday guest bloggers will be:

Oct 10, Camille Minichino
Oct 26, Chris Roerden
Nov 2, Carla Neggers

14 comments:

  1. Great Post, Allison. We were just discussing the same thing over at another site, except they were into the G rated version of pretty much anything.

    I like light, dark and everything in between. However, I don't read Horror - blood and guts turns me off.

    I read "Tempting Evil" and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would rather that the books you or other authors write include the romance because it lightens the mood somehow and gives you a break from the heart pounding suspense.

    The disturbing sex scenes in any book are just that, disturbing, but puts you into the mind of the killer, entangles you in the story. It may not be all good and in some novels, I have had to force myself to continue to read or put it aside until I'm in the frame of mind to handle it.

    My husband and I were discussing last night - He can watch the forensics, cops and investigative shows without a problem. He finds them interesting and yes, even entertaining. But he can't watch a fiction tv show or movie that includes graphic assault or murder because it bothers him.

    Me, I'm the exact opposite. I can watch the fictionalize version, but the real thing just depresses me so avoid it.

    It all depends too on the imagination of your reader. If they have a very vivid imagination, (like I do) then some scenes are difficult to read.

    Now I'll go watch the trailer.

    Thanks

    Robin of mytwoblessings

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  2. Wonderful post, and your trailer rocks, Allison! Sex, violence and comedy rules today, just like it did in the Bard's day! I agree with Robin about not caring for most Horror--too often it's blood and gore at the expense of suspense and character.

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  3. Sex and violence. "Lysistrata" and "The Illiad". "Romeo and Juliet" and "Hamlet".

    As long as it serves the story, I'm all for it.

    Sex in a story just to get the voyeurs to buy bores me. But if the rest of the story is good, I can skip it. Considering my orientation, I do half the time anyway unless it's well written. Then it's a literary dance, and I really enjoy it.

    Violence for violence's sake I can't read. Oddly enough, I don't mind horror, but generally horror writers use the reader's imagination to create the creepiness. I don't watch slasher films at all. But again, a writer who's throwing in gratuitous violence for the voyeur is wasting my time, and in this case, I won't just skim past, I'll put the book down.

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  4. Hi Allison,
    I like reading dark romantic suspenses. I don't think it's necessary for an author to gloss over the violence. I think it's more realistic to show what the villain is capable of doing. I'm a big fan of shows like "Criminal Minds" and "CSI." I like these shows because they're not afraid to be gory. I have yet to read book that has turned me off. If I'm reading a romantic suspense novel, I expect some romance. It doesn't matter if the romance is secondary to the mystery, but it would be great if the mystery and romance were perfectly balanced. I enjoyed the "Playing Dead" trailer. I'm looking forward to reading Mitch and Claire's story.

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  5. Hi Robin: Interesting point that your husband can't watch fictional violence. Maybe because the forensic shows are very clinical in their presentation. Anytime something is portrayed scientifically you can distance yourself from it, I think. Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed Tempting Evil! I really liked that book. Some of my more romance readers weren't as happy with the romance because the hero and heroine were apart for more than half the book, but structurally that was the only way the story could have worked, IMO.

    Hi Kathryn--great point about blood and gore. I tend to write gritty, but I do it (hopefully!) to increase the tension and the suspense. In my book FEAR NO EVIL, a major character was raped. I showed everything up to the actual rape, and everything after including her feelings and fears. My husband wished I'd found a way for her to be rescued before it happened because he was so invested in her character that it hurt him to know she was hurt. I couldn't have done it any other way, though, without the story being contrived. And now, that character is one of my favorite and I want to write a whole series with her.

    LOL, Fran, about the love scenes. I have a good acquaintance who's a reporter and interviewed me after SPEAK NO EVIL and made a similar comment, but she said she has a good imagination :) . . . HAMLET is probably my favorite of Shakespeare's plays.

    Hi Jane! I'm glad you liked the trailer. I had fun working on it with my designer. He did a fantastic job. My suspense tends to outweigh my romances, but I work hard to make the romance believable and integral to the plot. And I love Criminal Minds. CSI is hit or miss with me. I love it for the characters, but sometimes I can't suspend disbelief. My favorite recent storyline, though, was last years dollhouse murders. Brilliant.

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  6. Hi Allison, thanks for stopping by The Kill Zone! I'm with you, in my reading habits I lean toward the dark and violent. But one thing has changed: since giving birth to my daughter, I find myself increasingly unable to handle any sort of violence toward children in books, films, or tv shows. Soon as I see it coming, I have to stop reading/watching. It's just too unsettling for me now. Consequently, I don't think I could put a young child in harm's way in my own books anymore. Do you find that to be true for you as well?

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  7. "Ice cold psychopath" -- music to my ears!
    I read only dark, unless friendship or a class presentation requires me to read other authors. Dexter is my friend; T-bag is my favorite character on "Prison Break." Send me to bed with a serial killer or a hit man and I'm in heaven.

    BUT -- I write light. I wonder why?
    I've tried to write dark but it comes out somber and overwritten. I even have trouble writing the "conflict" scenes at the end of my cozies.

    Any tips as to how I can overcome this will be welcome. Does anyone else have such a dichotomy between what he/she writes and reads?

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  8. Great post and trailer, Allison. Thanks for being our guest in the Kill Zone today.

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  9. Michelle, my greatest fear is that something might happen to one of my kids. I used to have a recurring nightmare when I only had two (I now have five) that my car would go off a bridge and I would only be able to save one. I also believe that when you face your fears, you can deal with them. Not that you're not scared, but you can compartmentalize the fear and manage it later. When my oldest daughter was 2, she had major surgery. I didn't cry, panic, yell, scream, or do anything but cope until she was out of surgery. Then I broke down and cried. She was fine, she was going to be fine, but it was like the relief made me realize how scared I really was.

    I don't write about child murder per se, though in THE KILL the killer targeted girls. All the girls were already dead before the book started. I often use children in my books--Ryan, 12, in THE HUNT; Emily, 16, in SEE NO EVIL; and Jason, 13, in TEMPTING EVIL--all major secondary characters. And in my upcoming book CUTTING EDGE, my heroine has sixteen year old twins.

    I do have a very hard time with young kids being brutalized. I worked with legislation that dealt with tougher sentences for sexual predators and listened to testimony from parents that really rocked my foundation. No parent, and no child, should ever go through what some have suffered. But at the same time, I think that society puts them at arms length because we fear that the evil that killed a child, or made a parent suffer constant pain at that loss, will somehow taint them. I'm also shocked at how politicians can listen to such testimony and then vote on the side of violent predators. But that may be going too far into the political realm, so I'll leave it at that.

    Camille, I READ a lot of light books, so thank you! I tried to write a chick lit/humorous mystery and failed miserably. I'm not funny. I can't write light if I tried. It took me a few books to discover my voice, and it was a lot darker than I thought. But since I can't write light or romantic comedy, I read it alot--as well as suspense and thrillers--and I greatly admire those who can pull off a great story and make me laugh. Toni McGee Causey (not light, but definitely funny!), Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Jennifer Crusie are three turn-to authors when I need to lighten my mood.

    Joe, thank you so much for inviting me and for putting up the images! I honestly couldn't think about what to send with the article.

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  10. Thanks for joining us here, Alison and a great post. I love the light and the dark - and for me the romance and suspense meld well together. Thanks for being our guest! Trailer is cool. Hope to see you at our local RWA chapter - I've been so busy this year i think I managed one meeting...

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  11. Thanks Clare, and congrats on your latest release!

    Camille, email me your snail mail address allison @ allisonbrennan.com -- you've won the first two books in my prison break trilogy!

    And to add to your comment about writing/reading different . . . I don't think you should mess with your voice. I believe all writers have a natural voice and if you try to force it down another path, it'll come off stilted and labored. Read what you love, and write what you love that suits your natural voice.

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  12. How exciting, Allison, to have both your encouragement and your books!

    Camille/Margaret

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  13. Great post Allison...There is a lot of sex and violence on the small & big screens and in books. It sells, sadly.

    Lee
    www.chasingheroes.com

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  14. hello
    great post as always!
    man i wish i could win the first two books of ur prison break trilogy!!! that would be awesome!!
    well since u love major character in fear no evil are you really gonna write another series with her? because that would be just great!! i love that character too!!
    and i want to know what happens with her and her family!
    well good luck with everything (sorry im like kinda late i just found this blog)

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