I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Going Too Far

Yesterday, I found the December Asimov's in a local Borders and peeked inside to confirm that I wasn't dreaming, that this issue did indeed contain my story "To the East, a Bright Star." I also noticed something standing in the bookstore that I was blind to in my subscription copy. There's a warning label on my story! "A word of warning: there are brief scenes in this story that may be disturbing to some readers." I don't recall ever seeing that label in another issue of Asimov's before. (Although I've since been informed they've done it for a few years now.)

I'm slightly more flattered than offended by the label. Part of me does wonder what, precisely, earned the warning. I suppose it was explicit drug use. Worse, it's explicit drug use that doesn't ruin the character's lives.

Yet another part of me views the label as completely extraneous. My story might disturb people. Why did they need the word "might" in there? Has fiction become so bland and timid that writers no longer produce disturbing stories? In the stories I'm most proud of, I almost always come to a moment where I'm disturbed by what I'm writing. There's a moment where I think, "I can't write this--I'm going too far." In Nobody Gets the Girl, I felt this way when Rail Blade has her temper tantrum in Jerusalem. Then, I topped my discomfort a chapter later when Rail Blade's father sticks the needle in her veins and delivers the lethal dose of poison. In "Empire of Dreams and Miracles," I felt this way when the Dobay the Gold admits his lust for his transgendered father, and later when he gets his eye gouged out by a clawhammer. In "Perhaps the Snail," I write about masturbation in the back seat of a cab, and took comfort in the fact that the story was so offensive it would never be published and I would be spared the embarassment of having people read it. (I was wrong on the never being published part.)

Perhaps there are some writers who get a thrill out of shocking their readers, and purposefully set out to be sexually explicit or ultra violent. I am not one of those writers. Each time I get to one of these scenes, it's a struggle. I worry about losing readers. Worse, I worry that one day, against all odds, my parents might pick up a science fiction anthology and find out what kind of sicko crap I'm churning out. Yet when I come to these scenes, I never have the option of simply not writing them. My stories often climax with a single, transformative moment in a character's life, and these moments are often disturbing and uncomfortable for the protagonist. If, in "Perhaps the Snail," Devie had decided to go get some ice cream instead of agreeing to be a nude piece of living furniture for her rock star idol, I might have had produced a story that didn't offend anyone. Instead I decided to tell the story of the worst moment of her life--and show how humans are capable of taking these worst moments and flipping them around until they become the moments of thier greatest strength. I write about trauma so that I can write about transformation.

If you aren't convinced the human mind is programmed to make these flips, I have more evidence. I write stuff that I'm embarrassed to write--and later feel proud of it.

So, yeah, some scenes may be disturbing to some readers. If they aren't, then I'm just wasting my time.

1 comment:

rastronomicals said...

I had let my first subscription to Asimov's lapse something like fifteen years ago. But after reading a missive in the last Year's Best SF, where Dozois tells us that we are imperilling the future of Published Short Fiction if we don't Go To The Computer Now and subscribe to a science fiction digest, I actually went ahead and did so. Felt pretty good about myself, too, which I'm sure is what Dozois had wanted.

Anyway, I got the first issue of my new subscription to Asimov's a couple weeks back. December issue, it was.

I had to finish the new Iain Banks before I dug in, and I actually read the (excellet) Rusch cover story first, but it was this morning, while stuck in an hour and 45 minutes worth of brutal post-hurricane traffic, that I read "To the East, a Bright Star."

I'd read some good ex-junkie stories in my time, and I'd read some good End of the World stories, but I'd never read a good ex-junkie, End of the World story. Very impressive I must say.

I was not really disturbed by Tony's drug use, but what shocked me, and made me put down the magazine onto the gear shift, and say "Whoa--so THIS is the kind of world we're looking at" is where Esmeralda talks about how she'd sliced her parents throats at the age of thirteen.

That may have been to what the notice referred.

Also, although I do not write from experience, I did have a question as to whether a junkie--ex or not--would have given up his last chance at a fix. But I guess if I could quit smoking anything is possible.

Overall the whole thing was just very deftly executed, I thought, and certainly the first sentence couldn't have grabbed my attention any more if it had been written in dayglo neon.