I’ve wrestled with the idea of posting about this for a bit, but it’s something that comes up with such regularity that it just seems like something that has to happen… So…
There are a few different points that show up over and over again, whether in reviews of my books or in emails from readers (or, occasionally, direct messages on Twitter or Facebook), and it seems only fair that I just come right out and address them. If you haven’t read all of the Randall Lee books, it’s pretty likely there’s bound to be some spoilery bits ahead, so maybe wait until you’re caught up before reading any further.
First off, just to address what is, by far, the number one criticism: “Why do you have to curse so much in your books?”
I don’t have to, but given the scenarios that I write about, well, sometimes “darn it” just doesn’t cut it. 😉
In all seriousness, I try really hard to use realistic dialogue, and that takes listening to how people talk. In my experience, people in distress curse. People ragging on their friends curse. And of course it’s not every person or all the time. Cursing (and any other word choice in dialogue) tells you something about the character. If you’ve read Black, for instance, you may have noticed that Coda very rarely curses (especially in comparison to, say, Bruce…). You may also notice that potty-mouthed Randall, when meeting Tracy’s parents, wasn’t like, “Hey, bitches, what’s up?” That’s intentional. It fits the characters and their intentions in the moment.
It’s never my intention to be gratuitous, just real.
Okay, the next one is a biggie. I hear it a lot, and it always bums me out a little.
“Why do you have to slam Christianity?”
This is in reference to the big reveal at the end of Changes, so this is your last spoiler warning. 🙂
This one’s maybe my fault. Changes was my 2nd book, and maybe I didn’t lay everything out as much as I should. It was never my intention to slam any religion… and I don’t think that I do. I would say that the mastermind behind the killings in Changes is pretty far removed from being a good Christian. He’s a loon who happens to be using a religion to excuse his behavior, something that should be pretty familiar in our modern world.
Here was my reasoning, and please excuse me if it’s a little clunky: When writing Randall, I spend a lot of time thinking about Yin/Yang theory. I knew that I had a protagonist who felt terrible guilt for his daughter’s death, even though it’s really not his fault. Randall is a guy who didn’t do anything wrong, but he’s unable to forgive himself. So… the natural yin to that yang was a guy who has done really, really awful things – even to his own child – but thinks he’s totally forgiven.
And lastly, for now anyway, is a series of related questions regarding both Jianghu and my short story collection, Unknown Pleasures. There are a bunch of these, but they mainly boil down to some version of “What the hell is wrong with you?”
This has to do with the content, especially with Jianghu.
Writers write for a lot of reasons, and I’m not going to even try to write an essay about the many reasons people write stuff. I don’t even always know what drives me to write about a particular subject, so I don’t have any deep insight to share there.
But I do know what people are getting at when they write to me about Jianghu.
When I first started writing, waaaaaay back in school, I did what a lot of writers did. I modeled my work on other books I was reading, other writers I loved. I wrote really dumb horror stories about really dumb monsters who tormented really dumb people, and there was really nothing scary about any of it.
Then I had a long break from writing when a girl I was dating told me to give up that unrealistic stuff and just get a 9-5 job.
Luckily for me, I didn’t stay with her.
When I started writing again, years later (this time after marrying a woman who supported my writing), I had a very young daughter.
Now I actually knew what it was to be afraid. Because, as every new parent knows, the world you thought you knew suddenly shows its teeth. Everything is dangerous to your kid, and every stranger is a potential pervert or murderer…or both.
So a lot of the short stuff that I wrote back then was about bad stuff happening to kids. It was, and is, something that weighs heavily on me. And writing about that stuff was my way of trying to tame that fear.
When my daughter was about five, we moved out into the country. Waaay out in the middle of nowhere. A few years later, we had another child. When I started writing Jianghu I wanted it to be a way for Randall to have some closure. I wanted him to find her killer.
It was going to be a pretty basic revenge book.
Then I started doing research. All the horrible stuff in the book? I spent months researching that stuff, and it really affected me.
One of the things I found in my research was a website that lets you see if there are any registered sex offenders in your area. When I found that site, I put in our old address first, just for fun, just to feel good about our decision to abandon civilization for country life. If I remember correctly I think there were about five registered sex offenders in our old neighborhood.
Then I put in our new address.
We were safe, of course… Hell, we barely even have neighbors.
There were twenty-five offenders in our new area. And two of them were flagged because they’d assaulted girls under the age of ten.
So, yeah. The process of writing that book was not fun. It was on the second and third passes that I was able to insert in some of the usual Randall-style humor, and to inject some happiness into the third act… the first draft of the book was utterly miserable.
When people write to say that they have a hard time recommending Jianghu because of the subject matter, believe me when I say that I get it. I truly do. As I’ve said before, the good news (for the folks who are still here) is that I never intend to write a Randall book that grim again.
“Well, why’d you write it at all?” a few people have written back.
One of the problems I’ve always had with the depiction of violence in fiction is the way that it gets so normalized. Got a problem? Punch it in the face. No consequences.
Now, when you’re writing a mystery series that focuses on martial arts, people kinda expect cool fights and stuff. I get that. I love cool fights. I love action scenes.
But I also don’t want to minimize the impact of violence, the very real horror and the very real after effects of it.
When I’m working on a book, sometimes I’ll scribble a word onto a piece of paper and stick it to my computer as a very succinct reminder of what the book is all about, deep down. For Changes, that word was “Fatherhood.” For Pressure Point, it was “‘MANLINESS!'”
For Jianghu, it was “Alignment.”
(When I was a teenager, I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.)
While writing Jianghu, I realized that the central conflict in the story wasn’t really Randall vs. Child Killers. Randall was a guy who was becoming a little too comfortable killing anybody who happened to get in his way, and I wanted Beatrix to be a kind of funhouse mirror that would show him exactly where he was headed if he stayed on that path. So if all of his actions up to that point brought Randall to the darkness in Jianghu, it’s also that book where he decides to turn back toward the light again.
Maybe it worked for you, maybe not.
Anyway, that’s all my rambling for now. I’m really not a person who gets hung up on reviews or anything, but enough people have gone out of their way to contact me about these things that I figured I owed folks a more public response.
Part of what’s cool about indie publishing is that I’m able to follow these characters wherever they may go, and you guys have really been super awesome and supportive of the occasionally kooky directions I take them. I really appreciate it.
I’m roughly at the halfway mark on The Art of War right now. If this book were a roller coaster, I’d say that I’m currently ratcheting up the biggest, scariest hill… and the second half of the book is going to be a hell of a ride. 🙂
I hope to have some other really cool news this week, including some updates on other projects. I’m also really committing to using this blog more, so if there’s something you want to know about or something you’d like me to blather on about, please leave me a comment!