July 23rd 2012
A Father and Writer Looks At Violence In His Books
I’ve just returned from a signing tour for Thieftaker. All told now, I’ve done nine signings in the nearly three weeks since the book’s release.
I get a lot of questions at bookstore events — Where do I get my ideas? What is my daily writing routine like? Stuff like that. But quite often I also get a different question: “Is this book appropriate for my son (or daughter, or niece, or nephew)?” And that is a much, much harder question to answer.
First of all, I almost never know the child in question. I don’t know the level at which he or she reads. I don’t know how he/she deals with dark themes, violence, sexual content. As the father of two daughters, seventeen and thirteen, I can tell people how I would handle a request from one of them to read the book. But really the person asking the question ought to read the book and then decide on their own whether or not it’s appropriate.
But my thinking today is on another aspect of this discussion. Because the truth is, despite what I just said, I usually do try to answer the question. With respect to Thieftaker, here is what I would normally say to a question about, say, a thirteen year-old girl reading the book: “The book is written for adults, but the sexual content is pretty tame — there is an adult relationship, but much of the physical aspect of the affair happens off-screen, as it were. There’s nothing explicit. There is also violence, but it’s really nothing more intense than anything she would have read in The Hunger Games and its sequels.”
Chances are, upon hearing this, the person will buy the book. Now, let me be clear: I am always honest in these appraisals. While I have not turned many people away from Thieftaker, I have discouraged a few sales. One person was asking about it for a nine year-old, and I told him to wait a few years. And I have turned people away from some of my older books, which are darker and more explicit.
Even this, though, is beside the point. What is bothering me today is the quickness with which I focus my answer, and even my concern as a parent, not on the violence, but on the sex. Murder, torture, bloody fist fights and knife fights are all part of Thieftaker, and yet I have been telling my thirteen year-old that she can go ahead and read it. Because she read the Harry Potter books, and the Hunger Games trilogy, and the Maze Runner series, and so she has read stuff that is just as dark and disturbing as Thieftaker, if not more so.
And I’m okay with this?
I remember a line from George Carlin’s routine on the “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” (the routine itself is now pretty dated, though still incredibly funny) in which he says “I would rather have my child watch two people making love than two people trying to kill each other.” It’s a great sentiment, and yet it’s one that makes me uncomfortable. I guess ideally, I’d rather my kid didn’t watch either. But I’m pretty sure that at this point she’s seen both.
And after this weekend’s tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, I find myself reassessing the answer I have been giving about kids reading Thieftaker. Maybe it would be best if readers were sheltered from that sort of violence for at least a few more years. Maybe, just maybe, if obvious sexual content is inappropriate for young readers, so is explicit violence. Or maybe I’m overreacting. To be honest, I have no answers to give in this post; only questions with which I’m struggling.
These are troubling times. And as much as I hate to admit it, I feel that in some small way, maybe my work and I are part of the problem.
I do not want this post to devolve into a political fight, or a war of words over the Second Amendment, so let’s not go there. (Troll-like comments will be de-voweled.) But I would like to know how my fellow writers answer that question about age-appropriateness. I would like to know how readers feel about violence and sex in the books they read. And I would like to hear from other parents who are struggling with the things their kids read and see and hear, just as I am.David B. Coe http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com
David B. Coe
David B. Coe is the author of eleven fantasy novels, including the books of the LonTobyn Chronicle, Winds of the Forelands, and Blood of the Southlands. He has also written the novelization for the Ridley Scott production of ROBIN HOOD, starring Russell Crowe, that is due out in May 2010. In 1999 he received the Crawford Fantasy Award, given annually by the IAFA to the best new author in fantasy. He has a Ph.D. in United States environmental history and lives on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with his wife and daughters. Visit site.
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