Monday, March 29, 2010
Writers As Therapists?
Here are a few excerpts from my email about writing and writers. Are writers expected to be therapists? What are your expectations as a reader vs. writer?
"It is astonishing to me that if "Living Dead Girl" were a film, it would be illegal for even an adult to possess it as I gather from the descriptions that it would meet the definition of child pornography. Are "word pictures" any less harmful than photographic or cinematic images? Why thrust verbal child pornography onto an entire generation of kids by writing this kind of thing? How could it empower or heal or speak truth to any of the kids that read it?
By contrast, in Elizabeth Smart, we have an excellent real life example of a child who really was placed in this sort of position. Enough has been said that it's clear what happened to her and we really don't need the specific details. What IS healthy and hopeful about her story is the person she has become - a beautiful, talented, PRIVATE young woman who provides a powerful example of hope for victimized kids.
There's a way to tell powerful stories in a powerful way. I think you lose that power when you "fall back" on brutal details, even if they are true. It doesn't add. In fact, I think it diminishes actual victims more than anything. By not keeping certain things "in reserve" so to speak, we expose the private horror of true victims and in fact victimize them again. We trivialize them and their experience. And a fictional recover could do more harm than good -- reality is a lot harsher than the thin air we pull stuff out of and I can't help but think some readers struggling with those issues may read and wonder what's wrong with them, that they haven't gotten past it so easily as our fictional creation did.
Maybe some YA books do help readers heal. But I think we writers have to be careful and not delude ourselves that we are some sort of therapists - that something we write can accomplish what takes months or years of therapy with a trained professional. Not that some good can't be done - and there are some excellent YA books that maybe HAVE done some of that kind of good ("Speak" comes to mind. I don't recall it as being graphic but I do recall it as being eloquent.) Books like that don't "heal" by portraying prurient details but by exploring character and inspiring courage or even just creating hope (things in very short supply in much literature these days.) And let's face it - ever since there has been National Geographic and even Sears Catalogs, we could pretty much predict what the dog-eared pages would be. Sex sells. It even sells kids books. Violence attracts. It's a lot harder to make money writing/publishing quiet brilliant enduring "literary" books than it is to make money writing/publishing books that are just plain dirty or violent - even if there is supposedly some lofty goal attached to it.
Unfortunately we're in a market where publishing as an industry is fighting for its very survival. Since sex sells, we're going to see more, not less. And in spite of any lofty ideals the industry or author claims, much of it will be put out there just for the sake of selling books, not healing or helping or improving a generation.
I don't believe in censorship, but I have become disappointed in a lot of authors I used to admire."