• Where Writers Fear to Tread

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    Right now I’m reading Chris Adrian’s A Better Angel. It’s a collection of short stories and the themes of the collection are death and grief. Sounds like the short story version of Nicholas Sparks, huh? No—far, far from it. It’s a mix of magical realism, dark humor, and transgressive fiction. Overall, I’m enraptured with Adrian’s work, excited to find an author whose prose reads like crème brûlée for the mind.

    I found only one of the stories, “Stab,” hard to read. The protagonist, an eight-year-old boy, befriends a girl his age who takes him on nightly adventures to kill and mutilate animals. I won’t tell you the ending, but I will say that the girl’s actions drive the plot. Normally, I have a strong stomach—the stomach equivalent of Hercules—but I can’t read about animals getting harmed without tearing up. If I wasn’t on the bus at the time, I would have cried. I can’t even imagine writing scenes that depict animal cruelty. I’d probably go mad, a crazy granny-nightgown-wearing-cat-lady kind of mad.

    So does anybody else find some things too hard, emotionally, to write about? Or perhaps too taboo? One of the projects I’m inspired to begin involves a subject I feel nervous talking about: religion. Specifically a lack of religion. I come from a religious family and I’m like a layman’s version of Richard Dawkins on the subject of faith. Since I’m used to censoring myself around my family and some of my friends, I find myself hesitant to share my insights. But you see, I have so many of them. They want to spill out onto the computer screen and into my own blog. I honestly struggle with articulating my views on serious things in person, and writing allows me the opportunity to put things just so.

    Just admitting my problem in writing inspires a Pattonesque voice to sound off in my head: Stop being a pussy! Write whatever crap you want! Okay, okay. But that doesn’t keep it from feeling like a risk, one that might change the way people perceive me. We take risks whenever we transgress popular cultural boundaries. If you read Amazon’s customer ratings for A Better Angel, you’ll see that the main criticism Adrian receives is for portraying a few extraordinary acts of violence. Reviewers found it unnecessary, in bad taste, and a reflection of the author’s moral character. Write and you will be judged.

    Some of the nastiest book reviews I’ve read were written by people commenting on religious books. The worst I’ve seen came from atheists bashing Christians and vice-versa. It makes sense—religion is one of those sensitive subjects, along with race, class systems, and politics. People get riled up about those things, which is why I think it takes courage to write about them for the public.

    So what about the rest of you WBNers? Is there somewhere you won’t go with your writing or does your writing have no limits?


    In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads.  Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012.  She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas.




    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    David Duhr

    I like writing that makes me cringe. The “Is he/she really going to go there? Is this really going to happen next?” feeling. I don’t think I’ve ever had that feeling while writing my own fiction. Not intentionally, though–I guess I just haven’t explored anything terribly sensitive in my own work. But I don’t think I’d be averse to it. I will say one thing: I’ll reread some old journal entries of mine and think, “Damn, did I really write that?” And then I’ll take out the Yellow Pages and scan the psychiatric listings. (Actually, I’ll think “Damn, did *he*… Read more »

    Laura Roberts

    I think it depends on the reason for writing a scene of violence or taboo nature, as well as how the scene is itself handled. There are plenty of heavy-handed moralists in the world to tell us what is right or wrong, and there are plenty of shock-jocks, too. I don’t need a story to make me throw up in order to feel something genuine; there are subtler ways of getting one’s point across, and realism is certainly not the only criteria for a work’s effectiveness. Are there places my writing will not go? Yes, though hopefully not due to… Read more »

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x