I did some classes for the South Coast Writer's Conference and I've been letting it settle for a week. There was a fair amount of sleep deprivation and a very long drive; a beautiful sunset and a small town charity fish-fry; a hilariously awful hotel experience and great food and conversation at a heavy-metal cowboy bar and grill. A poet's first autograph. A writer's critique group that will become a long story over beer someday.
I was a bit of an experiment. Most of the presenters were literary types- people who identify themselves as writers. I was more like a thug who happens to have a book coming out. But an attractive subject: Literature is about conflict, right? And you have villains, right? So I was there to talk about violence and villains.
On the good side, only one of the students left the room and only for one segment. A few covered their eyes at the slides. The notebook of photographs that I sometimes pass around never made it all the way around the room, as if a small knot of people were afraid that the pictures would somehow enter their psyches if they touched the cover, and bring on nightmares.
Violence can be awesome, in the old sense of the word- the meaning that brought on kneeling, hoping that if you were small enough the god would not see you and crush you. It can be cathartic, completely changing in an instant how you will view the world. It can even be funny. It is often pathetic and sordid and messy. It is almost never dramatic or entertaining.
If I use force and it is dramatic or entertaining, I am doing it wrong.
So these writers, many of whom impressed me with their intelligence, insight, warmth and compassion got to see a tiny bit of the world that their profession often packages for entertainment. They got to see the rhinoceros that inspired the unicorn that they create.
The murders of Linda Lawrence and Kyle Dinkheller. Excited delirium. How and why women fight differently than men. What happens when an outsider interferes in an in-group's "adjustment session". How a real shooting differs from the range. What bullets and knives and bats and bites do to a human body. What happens when a martial artist tries to break up a bar fight and over-estimates himself.
How bad guys see themselves. How cops see them. How their families see them. How they see each other. How truly aberrant that can be at the extremes. Some of the norms, the "normality" in certain sections of criminal subculture. Why things that seem impossible to polite society make good survival sense in that world.
Prostitutes and the "Bad Date Line". Drugs, inmates and riots. Gangs and molesters. Icky days. Professional good guys and professional bad guys. And scars. We talked about the scars at one point, but only the ones on the skin.
It's always strange to talk to good people about bad things. Do you sensationalize it? But you can't sensationalize Linda Lawrence's murder: it could never be sold as fiction. Too weird, too impossible, too brutal (not her murder, per se, which happened in the space of a few seconds, the fight with her killer afterwards which would seem a bit 'out there' in a werewolf movie.) You can't sensationalize the heroism (and sheer bloody determination) of a Marcus Young. You have to tell them it is rare, but this stuff happens: blood has been used as house paint. Wounds have been raped.
And there is a constant, lower-level buzz of violence: casually abused children, casually beaten wives. Problems solved by boots and weapons as a matter of course... and they glitch hard there because since most people do not know anyone who regularly solves problems with violence they have a hard time accepting that there is a group that considers it an obvious first choice. Obvious. That's the glitch.
It went well. Janet Pretti worked her...erm... very hard to make sure that everyone had a good time. She even got me to do a public reading, though I almost choked when she said to pick something "family friendly". So much for anything out of the book.
And I got great reviews. But what would you expect? No one ever tells the teacher with the gun that he sucks.
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