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April 19, 2010

Awhile ago a writer friend of mine gave me a manuscript to read, which of course delighted the closeted Evil Editor in me to no end. He told me before I started reading it that he felt like a bad person for writing it. I couldn’t figure out why he would feel this way. Sure, it was full of zombie-related violence, and the main character ended up sleeping with an underage girl. To me, though, what a writer chooses to write about is not necessarily representative of who the writer is as a person.

Was Vladimir Nabokov a pedophile because he wrote Lolita? Is Joyce Carol Oates a murderous (male) psychopathwith a fridge full of preserved penises in jars because she wrote Zombie? Is J.K. Rowling a dark wizard

J.K. needs some sun. And a rhinoplasty.

returned from the almost-dead because she wrote the Harry Potter series? Of course not. One of my favorite characters that I’ve created is a drug addict and an ephebophile (not a pedophile; pedophiles fancy children, ephebophiles fancy sexually mature adolescents), but I am neither of those things.  Well, ok, maybe I have a slight coffee addiction, but that’s not really the same thing…

I know that a lot of writers do tend to put something of themselves into their work, myself included. A lot of my characters tend to be socially awkward, creative, cynical, and/or geeky. I like to write  science fiction and satire because those are the genres that entertain me as a reader. However, there is still a fundamental difference between the content and characterizations in my written work and who I am as a person. Those same awkward artsy cynics are usually amalgamations of myself, people I know personally, and fictional characters I particularly admire. They aren’t purely me.

Likewise, just because a writer enjoys exploring certain taboos, like violence or inappropriate sexual relationships, doesn’t mean that that writer wants to go out on a Grand-Theft-Auto-style rampage or take up with a golden retriever in real life. That’s why it’s fiction. Fiction allows the writer to play with scenarios that are unusual, even repulsive. There’s no reason to feel guilty for making up something horrible for the sake of entertainment.  Imagine how guilty mystery writers would have to feel. Their culpability in all those murders would probably be enough to land them in jail.

In my opinion, the only thing writers should feel badly about is bad writing, particularly when they’re too lazy to improve upon it.  Danielle Steele should feel like crap all the time, not because her books are racy, but because they’re awful. Of course, I’m sure she sits in her fancy penthouse apartment surrounded by bestseller lists and bags of money (what, rich people don’t just have bags of money lying around?), and laughs hysterically at all the poor idiots like me who think they have integrity. But maybe, just maybe, she’s actually dying inside.

One can only hope.

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