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Monday, March 18, 2013

Fear of the Dark

I'm about to release the first episode of my serial, Debt Collector.

I love it.
I'm obsessed with it.
And I'm afraid of what (some) people will think when they read it.

You see, it's the darkest thing I've written to date.

Joanna Penn has a fantastic post about Writing and the Fear of Judgment that landed in my inbox yesterday. Do you ever feel like someone wrote a post just for you, right at the exact time that you needed it? That was Joanna's post for me, yesterday. She talks about how, when we write darker elements (the swearing, sex, violence, and just shudder-worthy scenes and characters), that we sometimes hold back, self-censor, and don't go there. And she says how it's important not to do that - to tell the stories that need to be told, especially the darker ones. Exactly what I needed to hear.

(Caveat: I'm not talking about gratuitous sex and violence here. I've read stories that had blood spraying by the discount gallon and felt unmoved. There's an entire genre devoted to sex-driven stories - erotica - and I'm not talking about that either. I mean the stories where the darker elements are an integral part of the story, a necessary part, to fully explore the promise of the premise.)

Debt Collector isn't a YA series; it's intended for adults. And the subject matter is intrinsically dark. It's a story about a man who is a debt collector - someone who sucks the life energy out of people when their debts exceed their future potential contributions to society, then delivers it to someone else who will put that life energy to better use. I still get chills every time I think about the premise, and I dreamed it up, for heaven's sake.

Since today is Sneak Peek Monday (a new feature for the duration of Debt Collector releases), here's the first paragraph of Delirium, Debt Collector Episode 1:
My jackboots are new, the latest ultra-light material out of Hong Kong’s synthetics district, and they make a strange squeaking sound against the hospital floor. It’s the kind of sound that might gather snickers or a raised eyebrow, but no one looks at me, at least not on purpose. I stroll past the ICU desk, taking my time, breathing in the antiseptic smell that masks the odor of death held back by machines and drugs and round-the-clock care. The nurses duck their heads and study their charts, ignoring me. As if catching my eye might mean I’m coming to collect their debt, rather than Mr. Henry’s in Room 301. 
Dark. And it gets darker.

While I was writing the first few episodes of Debt Collector (I'm on Episode 4 now), I didn't hold back. It was only on revisions, when I'm facing the spectre of releasing this story into the wilds, that I feel the fear of judgment that Joanna speaks of. I found myself wondering if I should cut certain scenes, simply because of that fear. Then I realized that's the exact opposite of what writing is really about. Stories are entertainment, but they are also how we (safely) explore the horrors that life holds, in order to define how we truly want to live it. If we don't explore the darkness, define it, understand it, then we can't know the light when we see it. Some stories compel us to look more deeply into the dark than others, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't write them.

At least I hope so. Because Debt Collector is that kind of story.

Launches Wednesday.

  Circle Me

26 comments:

  1. I always try to dig as deeply as possible when telling any story, whether it be light or dark. The key, I think, is to be honest. Always be an honest as possible.

    Anyway, so excited for you, Susan!

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    1. I think you hit it, Matt. Honesty in storytelling is tremendously important. Readers know when you hit upon truth. They feel it, in their bones.

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  2. I LUV dark writing!!! It's what I do...yeah, with a little bit of soft romance. LOL I soooooo want to read this, Susan!

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    1. It's so different as a reader than a writer sometimes - I think because the writing is so personal! Thanks for the encouragement! :)

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  3. I didn't know you're writing adult fiction too. Wow!

    Now that I've switched to NA, it's easier to be even more honest in the darkness that I write. And I do love writing dark. :D

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    1. There is a certain freedom to it, isn't there? Not that I don't enjoy writing the clean stuff too - I do. Writing for kids is always going to be my first love; but I am drawn into the darkside for this. :)

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  4. I love your premise! Very intriguing and yes, definitely dark, but then, I've always liked books that thoughtfully explore the dark parts of life.

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  5. In the first book of my mystery series, THE PEACEKEEPER'S PHOTOGRAPH I have a rape scene that is very violent. I know it's a horrible thing for many people to read, but it happens. All the time. People who read it encouraged me to gloss over it. Then when I tried to make it lighter, they said it was glossed over. I decided no matter how I wrote it, it would have widely differing reactions no matter who read it, so I just wrote it as best I could with the violence and we'll see what happenes.

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    1. For really strong scenes, I think it's even more important to be honest about what it's about and what you're trying to do with it. And people WILL have different reactions. STRONG reactions. That's how you know you've written something that's important.

      Good luck!

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  6. Oh, and I LOVE the art for this series. Looks very intersting. All of your art and your trailer for the Mindjack books are very professional!

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  7. I relate! Though I write MG and tame stories at that, I'm always drawn to write the hard things (or at least hard for me!) where censoring feels safest.

    It takes courage to write, doesn't it?

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    1. You are not kidding, lady. I keep thinking it's going to get easier. :)

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  8. Eep! I got my copy and will read and have the review up as soon as possible. :D
    When I was in the process of drafting Reaper's Novice, it was darker than it is now. during revisions I rewrote some scenes I thought were too dark, held back. Probably those parts would have made the story better. Thanks for Joanna's link. I'm heading over to check it out. :)

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    1. It’s hard to know when you’re in it – I think it’s best to trust your first instincts, most of the time. Refine, make it clearer or cleaner, but make sure you stay true to your original purpose in telling the story. I hope Joann’s link helps!

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  9. Wow! I love this concept!

    I know EXACTLY what you're talking about!!

    I am revising a 2nd novel in a series right now, and there are lots of dark scenes. But there's this one in particular. Oh gosh, Susan. When I came up with the idea for this scene I got this huge smile on my face, and then I slapped my hand over it and told my husband, no. I can NOT do that. People are NOT going to like that.

    But while it's REALLY dark, it's kind of perfect. It kind of sets the tone.

    So, I slipped it into chapter 4. It's only a thousand words really, and normally I write about 1,500 words an hour, but it took me three hours to write it. Every time I read that scene, I end up standing up and walking back and forth and shaking my arms out because it's just so intense and so... I don't know how to describe it. But I tend to end my pacing with the thought of "Oh, god. People are going to have reactions to this." You know, reactions.

    During revisions I got really stuck for about a week and realized it was because I needed to move that scene to chapter one. It was unavoidable. That's where it had to go. For some reason, it feels a little less obvious if I hide it four chapters in, but I have to move it today. I might be on the internet postponing that very move.

    It's very scary, you know? It feels like telling the world, "You know how I smile a lot and am polite and giggly and friendly? Well here's as dark as my mind gets. Have a nice day!"

    Oi.

    Sorry this comment got so very long! I really just wanted to say, I know what you mean. I'm keeping my very dark scene, and putting it where it's supposed to go, because when I take it out the whole novel falls apart. It belongs there.

    I'm super excited to read The Debt Collector!

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    1. I love your long comment! LOL

      When a scene makes you get up and pace the room and crawl out of your skin... that's a good one. :) I think most readers have no idea how much turmoil can go into writing a scene like that. But they feel it; they know it intuitively because it touches them. This is why authors have rabid fans - because they've reached across the barriers and touched people.

      Good work! ;)

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  10. I have no inspiring words to add to this great post. So I thought I'd just stop in to tell you how much I adore you and admire you for writing it like it is. Can't wait for the Debt Collector.

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  11. It is AWESOME! It's going to be awesome, and the majority judgment is going to agree. Betcha money~ :D

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  12. When it comes down to it, if we go with out gut, then we're already ahead of the game ... looking forward to Episode 1.

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  13. I loved the darkness to Delirium, and I think to not have it would be a great disservice to the story.

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    1. Knowing that you've read it, Cherie, that gives me great heart! Thank you!!

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  14. I do know what you mean. In fact, I'm struggling with that same issue now while a first draft simmers in the back. Still not sure what to do when I return to it!

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers