DEBORAH CROMBIE: Here on Jungle Red we usually reserve our Mondays for a light-hearted round-robin chat. But while tomorrow we will get back to subjects that are ordinary--and all the more precious for it--today I wanted to share the concern that plagues me whenever I'm confronted with the horror of real violence, whether it's a mass tragedy like Friday's shootings at Sandy Hook, or news of a murder that for some reason strikes particularly close to home.
My concern is this. I write crime fiction. I make up stories about bad things happening to people. I am, in fact, using violence as the basis for entertainment. And so I worry that in doing so, I am trivializing the real thing.
Are we all, writers and readers of crime novels, guilty to some small degree? But the last few nights, when I couldn't sleep, what did I turn to, out of all the books piled on my bedside table? An old Agatha Christie mystery.
I don't believe that the Grand Dame of Mystery took murder lightly--she knew much about the evil in human nature. Nor do I think that we, as writers and readers, take murder or violence lightly. Why, then, do we like these stories, even find some measure of comfort in them?
This is, of course, a simplification, as crime novels range from the very cozy to the very dark. But I think most have two things in common. They give us a means of making sense of the unfathomable, of putting reason in the unreasonable. While we will never understand how, or why, someone could slaughter innocent children, most crime novels give villains motives, so that while we may abhor what they do, we at least understand it.
And perhaps even more importantly, I think crime novels satisfy a very basic human need for resolution. These stories don't always give us justice--just as in real life, that's not always possible for our characters. But these stories have beginnings and endings, and endings are something that will forever be denied those affected by real-life violence.
So, for me, the stories that I write and those that I choose to read are a way of keeping the wolf from the door, a light in the darkness, a bastion against despair.
JAN BROGAN: I do think about this question a lot, not just as a crime writer, but as a journalist, as well. And even as I eagerly read the details of Adam Lanza's life to try to understand the unfathomable, I can't help wondering, are we, in the media, creating an anti-hero inspiring the next mass murderer? I don't think mysteries generally inspire violence - because most are more of a puzzle, piecing things together afterward and avoiding a lot of graphic violence. I do wonder about really graphically violent books, however, whether they are thrillers, true crime, or even romance. Yes,, I worry about the influence the sexual violence and the intense jealousy in Fifty Shades of Gray might be having on young girls' notion on what love is. I do think we all play a role in bringing up or bringing down the culture and that we should all think about it.
HALLIE EPHRON: Real life events definitely affect how I feel about what I write and read. I still can't bear to even look at images from 9/11 and I'd never presume to think I could write about it without trivializing it.
It is weird, isn't it, that people read crime novels to escape. I guess knowing there will be answers and the bad guy will be punished is a comforting thought.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: When we see a funny movie, we walk out laughing, right? A musical, we walk out singing. I was nerous for a day or two after I saw--what was it? The Dark Knight. The Batman movie. Scared me, and I was nervoud walking down the street at night. Certainly our brains soak up what we see and hear. But I'm wondering--is it more common for people to take reality and make it into ficton than to take fiction and make it into reality? I have no answer for this, but I'm wondering.
LUCY BURDETTE: I've just finished watching that wrenching memorial service so it's hard to bring the lens out wide and talk about the meaning of crime fiction or the purpose it may serve. (And I do believe it does...) But a tragedy like this brings us down to our deepest fears and griefs--what a powerful moment when the president read out the names of the children who'd been killed. Powerful moment that made each child real, and also made real, the pain of the families they left behind. I hope I will remember those things when I'm writing about loss, so I don't trivialize the pain of my fictional people. Anyway, Obama gave a marvelous talk and I imagine he was so much comfort to those families--and soooo tired now.
DEBS: What about you, REDS and readers? Do real-life events affect how you feel about what you read or write?