Saturday, January 23, 2010

Additional Comments

Out of the many fine entries I read in the Alice Pope Blog were a few that just stood out to me because they were too interesting to ignore. And reading them I found they were actually helpful to me as a YA author. The first was a post from December titled “Embracing Inappropriate, Violent, and Blasphemy.” This post struck that same twang of heartbreak I felt when I first pulled up the banned books list. The three ladies featured were all writer’s whose books had suffered a negative backlash for their provocative material from some nitwit or other. The first, Emily Wing Smith’s The Way He Lived had received reviews as being inappropriate because it dealt with themes of suicide, homosexuality, and mental illness. My immediate feeling was how dare they. How dare they. (This was pretty much my feeling reading the whole blog post but the immediate reaction is still important) Like Smith, I’m baffled a person can be offended by just the mention of something “inappropriate”. Who are they to deem what’s appropriate?

Likewise, Brodi Ashton’s Echo was labeled as Violent for its depiction of a female teenage alien hunter. Even more shocking was Bree Despain’s The Dark Divine label of Blasphemous because it mixed views of mythology and modern religion. So how did they ladies deal with the blows to their literary ego? With fashion. Each took the negative word used to describe their work, printed it on a t-shirt and wore it to their next writing conference. I found it inspiring. Not only was it a strong statement, but their shirts created conversation.

If I ever find myself fortunate enough to be in their situation, perhaps I could fashion myself a bad review business suit.

The second post that really caught my eye was from April of 2009: “Edward and Bella, An Abusive Relationship?” Having experienced first hand the wave of lust crazed teens with a completely obsessive love of Edward, I can honestly state this post just caught my eye because of its refreshing perspective. What was shocking to see is how correct the guest author Sara Rasch was in her assessment of Edward as the dreaded abusive boyfriend. Although I found myself frowning often at Edward’s sulky vampy persona, and dear Gods and Angels Bella’s constant martyr attitude drove me bonkers, I never really put together the whole abusive relationship picture. Seeing it laid out before me, I actually shuddered. I actually sympathized with this guy? And that is when the message became clear.

Beware of what you writer, beware of the unhealthy relationships you portray as a writer, because you might just have rabid teenage fans thinking your word is sacred.

This was an especially worrisome message to me as I often write characters with “messed up” relationships. The story I am working on now has two characters who don’t exactly have the ideal relationship. But abusive? I think I am safe from that title. I think Mina would knock anyone flat on their ass if they tried to pull half the stunts Edward does with Bella. While my heroine may make sacrifices to protect those she loves, she would not gentle set aside her self preservation to please her man.

Still as a writer of YA fantasy, Rasch’s message is something to keep in mind. But what she really brings to light is not only Edward abusive, but hey, he’s NOT HUMAN. Does that make it okay? No. But I have often found the portrayal of otherworldly boyfriends fits into the Edward template. They are controlling, and arrogant, and well, stalker-like, but why shouldn’t they be, they haven’t lived by human laws for a few centuries, or ever in some cases. Unfortunately, this factor is lost on many minds. They seem to gloss over the fact this is not the way your real breathing live boyfriend should act. Which makes me feel like the whole idea of otherworldly relationships is a very complicated dance for writers in general. What do you do when half the couple doesn’t act like a normal person? It is something I truly wonder about, and I wonder how often I will pause over a line of text in the future and think is this too close to the line?


Karen Romano Young said...

"Beware of what you write, beware of the unhealthy relationships you portray as a writer, because you might just have rabid teenage fans thinking your word is sacred. "

Uh-oh. This is the children's literature self-censoring conundrum in a nutshell. Are you writing to teach, warn, or moralize, or are you telling a story?

It's worth noting that we didn't used to do this, before we had separate literature for children. Think of the domestic violence in Grimm's Fairy Tales, the misogyny in Dickens, the depictions of racism in Huckleberry Finn -- banned books all.

A great deal of the controversy around banning books focuses on the gatekeepers -- librarians, teachers, and parents (even booksellers -- zounds!) involved in selecting books FOR children. Although these books have been accepted on literary grounds and are seen as reflections on the times or the assumedly adult audience, when they are suggested for children, they are questioned. In part, the understanding seems to be that portraying an attitude or action in a children's book amounts to condoning it. But is that really true? Can't kids learn something by reading about characters, relationships, activities, etc., that don't represent the best about humans? Aren't kids aware that these things exist anyway?

What about books that are written expressly for children or young adults? Should the writers try to anticipate the objections of the gatekeepers and avoid writing anything controversial?

Krazydiamond said...

It was a sentiment that bothered me, as a book seller and a former librarian. I really don't think writers should censor themselves, in fact I am very much against it, but this was still the message I was getting out of Rasch's essay. If you asked Meyer's if she condoned an abusive relationship, I think she would be just as rabid in her defense as her teenage fans.
Will this make me tread carefully in my writing?
Truthfully no. My characters are who they are. I started Blue Zone knowing Felix is dark and flawed, but I'm not going to tone him down for the sake of the Rasch's out there. I couldn't change him because it would be wrong, injust. I love my characters too much to censor them, no matter how politcally incorrect they may be.

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