I’m writing this blog almost immediately after writing and posting a short story that disturbed me. I want to write about both how I came up with the idea and why the story disturbs me. This is a long post, longer than I want it to be, but indulge me if you will, dear reader. First, what lead me to write the story…
I’m not excited about it, but the concept of child predators has been floating in my conscious for just over a week, now. Nine days ago, friend and talented Minneapolis actor Levi Weinhagen wrote a blog post about child predators and, specifically, Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.” A few days later, I ran across this story at MSNBC.com. A few days later, I hear a fascinating tale on NPR’s The Story. Finally, two nights ago, my fiancée watched Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” while I was writing in the other room.
Earlier today, I ran to Barnes & Noble with a friend to exchange the birthday book he’d given me which I already own (if this happens to you as the gift giver there’s nothing wrong with it, by the way – it shows you really know the gift receiver’s tastes). With the exchange, I finally picked up a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’ve been meaning to get it forever, and the paperback is affordable thanks to the (removable, if you wish) Oprah Book Club sticker. When I got home, I noticed another (just as removable, though I’m not sure that I’d take it off) sticker: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.” In-between my time of hemming and hawing over picking up a hardcover copy last summer and the Oprah paperback release a few months ago, McCarthy won the Pulitzer. Don’t know McCarthy? Blood Meridian is gold.
A few hours later, I went to Wikipedia to read about when McCarthy won the Pulitzer and his other major award, the National Book Award. That had a link to young adult literature which mentioned Judy Blume who I used to read, especially Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Still with me? After reading a little about the book, it made me think of how as a kid, I loved that book (maybe not as much as the Harry Potter fans who claim they simply couldn’t put the latest book down last weekend, but quite a bit). Potter fans. Couldn’t put the book down. A-ha!
I had a first sentence. Someone asking someone else about what books they just couldn’t put down. Who would ask that question? A therapist, for insight into someone’s psyche. What’s the answer? Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, of course, and the person who answers is the therapist’s patient. But toss in a little humor. It’s a man, but he only read it for the first time a week before. My trip to the bookstore must have tripped his next bit, that he got it in the children’s section. From there, the child molester concept that haunted the dim recesses of my mind this week crept up before I knew it, and the last line came out: Joe had met “a boy” while getting the book. The story doesn’t come right out and say Joe did anything to the boy (a happier interpretation might be Joe found his inner child), but I believe the implication is there, at least enough for a few folks to latch onto it. And the names are important to me, too, “Joe” being common for the anonymous everyman and “boy” being just as generic – these people could be anyone. The title, “Book Club,” suggests to me that Joe took the boy and the book and had the most horrific book club meetings one would never want to imagine, something quite the opposite of Oprah’s.
It’s the tip of the iceberg in what could potentially be a longer story, but what I’m fascinated most with is how so many bits and pieces floating around in my brain over the last few days culminated into this story. As I’ve mentioned before, I write most of my Scrawlers stories as flash fiction, so to me, it’s doubly-interesting that not only did the story elements zip together from the aforementioned floating brain bits, they did so all in one minute – straight from my brain, out my fingertips, and onto the screen. The process is one I find wonderful, and it makes me curious how often I’ve done that before, if I’ll ever do it again (and with success), and if one could force it, if they tried. Has this sort of process happened to you, dear reader?
As for the story disturbing me, it describes a dismal moment in the life of a confused man. His crime is reprehensible, his motives are unclear, but his emotion rings genuine to me. To me, Joe is a man who committed a horrendous act but feels genuine sorrow for the pain he caused. I’m not claiming to judge predators, nor sympathize with them. After all, I work with youth on a regular basis; it’s a touchy subject in my profession. The catch-22 of sympathy and judgment makes this story difficult to read, yet isn’t that something good fiction is supposed to do? To make you think, to make you respond enough to have to give it some thought, to actually have to “put the book down,” so to speak? I suppose I’m saying I wrote good fiction, and I think I did, but think of it this way – what does it mean if the story makes even the writer have to step away from it for a moment because he reacted to it emotionally?
Just some initial thoughts on a story from the writer. At and 11:57pm, I’m getting this in just under the wire to adhere to my self-imposed one-a-day goal. Your comments are appreciated.
[tags]pulitzer, cormac mccarthy, couldn’t put it down, to catch a predator, npr[/tags]