I had a completely irrational emotional reaction the other day. Having lunch with two of the people I love best in the world, both writers, one of SF, the other fantasy. They were critiquing my book-in-process on violence. This has been a mutual relationship for a long time, they teach me how to write and I serve as sort of a reality check for their writing.
I was tired and the conversation was drifting around the subjects of war and horror and injury and whether people (editors and readers) who say they want "gritty realism" could really handle it. Good men die in novels and leave a horrible sense of loss. Good men die in real life squeeling and crying, kicking the dirt and screaming for their mothers to come and take the pain away.
Mike talked about writers who did major research so that they could describe those moments. My gut clenched up. I can barely stand to read fiction anyway. Think about it- sex and violence are the core issues of conflict, hence of entertainment, hence of fiction... and most authors write like they've had sex maybe once (with a partner) and NEVER been in a fight. I guess I have problems with suspending disbelief.
But researching to get it right bothered me even more. I said, "Graverobbers" out loud. I've spent the last two days digging into that reaction. I like the truth. I like reality. Most people who talk out their ass about violence need a good, well-researched wake up call.
I can't stand to read bad fiction, but its existance doesn't bother me. I've looked over conventions of writers and fans and they write for each other- one wants the luscious maiden and heroic warrior, the other supplies them. They are both "fiction people" and it keeps them off the street and away from big decisions where their fantasies might affect other people's lives.
But the idea of good, almost non-fiction fiction bothered me in the abstract (not in real life, some of my favorite books are exhaustively researched historical novels- the Sharpe's Rifles series, Master and Commander and the Flashman books).
I think it's because that knowledge comes with a heavy price- you remember looking into an empty fresh skull and the smell of brains and the indignity of plumber's crack in death. You sometimes catch yourself staring at the scars on your hands and idly counting them or thinking of the smooth hand you shook that morning. There is a gulf when you realize that you know more murderers by first name than school teachers.
I was offended by the possibility that someone would profit from the experiences paid for by another. So the word "graverobber" sprang to my lips.
It is utterly irrational. The price has been paid and much can be learned from it. The more it is spread, the more good and understanding results, the better. Relatively, the price may seem lower. Utterly irrational, like having a problem with robbing graves. The victims are dead and can neither know nor care, the jewelry or artifacts dug up could do much good, spreading wisdom and granting wealth to those in need...
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