HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: So here’s an easy question. And I say that because it isn’t. First, let me preface by saying my new book, SAY NO MORE, tackles, as one of the story threads, campus sexual assault. And to the end of my days, I will be thrilled that Publishers Weekly calls it not only thrilling and gratifying, but “Unflinching.”
And I have told many audiences, if I can write a great story—one that allows you to see the world in a new way , through a new point of view, and think about an intensely important social issue—then hurray, that’s a good thing. But—and here’s where the debate is about to begin—I think my first task is to wrap that in entertainment.
But there’s another way—an opposite but equally compelling way—to tackle that balance.
Alex Sokoloff is one of the heroes of my life. An inspiration and a joy. If you know her, or have read (and studied) her books, or have heard her teach, you understand why. If you don’t know her—hurray. I am delighted to make the introduction.
And now—how Alex answers the question:
Is Crime Fiction Entertainment?
BITTER MOON, Book 4 of my Huntress Moon thrillers, is out this week, so thanks to the Reds for hosting this episode of my blog tour!
Here’s my discussion question for the day.
Is Crime Fiction entertainment?
I belong to several online readers groups and it’s a question that has been coming up frequently, lately.
A thorny issue, right? But I’m glad to see it being discussed. For me – no. I DON’T read crime fiction for entertainment. When I pick up a crime novel as a reader, I want to see intelligent treatment of societal evils that focuses on bringing awareness to problems and proposing activist solutions.
That’s my goal as an author, too.
My Huntress Moon series is intense, page-turning psychological and procedural suspense. I worked as a Hollywood screenwriter for ten years before I wrote my first novel. I’m well aware that I need to deliver a satisfying genre experience to my readers. If they’re not biting their nails and staying up way past their bedtimes, I’m not doing my job.
But within the context of a ripping thriller, I am writing about issues I care passionately about and want to eradicate for good – meaning the good of everyone on the planet. Violence against women. Child sexual abuse. Human trafficking.
The last thing I want to do is show these scenes in a way that anyone could get pleasure out of. The few times I show anything on the page, it’s very brief and absolutely not there for entertainment. And I am very suspicious of any book that starts with a beautiful woman obviously being set up to be raped and tortured. Sexualizing rape and torture is not solving any problem – it’s actually contributing to the atrocity of sexual abuse. Personally I won’t support any book or author, film or filmmaker, that sexualizes scenes of abuse.
But I used to teach in the Los Angeles County prison system. I want to explore the roots of crime, not soft-pedal it. For better or worse, my core theme as a writer is “What can good people do about the evil in the world?”
So my choice is to confront the issue head on.
The fact is, one reason crime novels and film and TV so often depict women as victims is because it’s reality. Since the beginning of time, women haven’t been the predators – we’re the prey. Personally, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
But after all those years (centuries, millennia) of women being victims of the most heinous crimes out there… wouldn’t you think that someone would finally say – “Enough”?
And maybe even strike back?
Well, that’s a story, isn’t it?
So my Huntress Moon series is about just that.
The books take the reader on an interstate manhunt with a haunted FBI agent on the track of what he thinks may be that most rare of criminals – a female serial killer.
And here’s what’s really interesting. Arguably there’s never been any such thing as a female serial killer in real life. The women that the media holds up as serial killers operate from a completely different psychology from the men who commit what the FBI calls “sexual homicide”.
So what’s that about? Why do men do it and women don’t? Women rarely kill, compared to men — but when it happens, what does make a woman kill?
Because another pet peeve I have about crime fiction is the way so many authors presents serial killers for entertainment. So many authors seem to have no clue what a serial killer actually does. What we see on the page and on screen is criminal masterminds who stage their murders like artistic masterpieces or leave poetic clues in a cat-and-mouse game they're playing with the cops or FBI.
Well, bullshit. What serial killers do is rape, torture and kill for their own gratification. They are not masterminds. There is no art or poetry to their sadism.
Yes, two of my favorite books are Thomas Harris's Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, both of which deal with mythic versions of serial killers. But Harris was writing horror novels in which he created mythological monsters within the frame of very accurate police procedurals. And authors who don't really understand the complexity of what he did have been ripping him off - almost always badly - ever since.
Silence and Red Dragon are entertaining, no doubt. But they're also brilliant, passionate explorations of the nature of evil and the quest of good people to fight evil.
As an author, you can settle for writing entertainment, and make a living at it. But is that really all we're here for?
I hope not.
Within the context of my Huntress series I can explore those psychological and sociological questions, and invite my readers to ask – Why? I can realistically bring light to crimes that I consider pretty much the essence of evil – and turn the tables on the perpetrators.
And I’ve created a female character who breaks the mold – but in a way that makes psychological sense for the overwhelming majority of people who read the books.
Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.
Because as one of the profilers says in the book: “I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more women acting out this way. God knows enough of them have reason.”
So what do you think?
Readers, do you read crime fiction for entertainment? Are you looking for something that goes farther and examines the root of crime, and maybe even solutions? Are you concerned about scenes of violence against women being presented as sexualized entertainment?
Authors/writers: is this an issue you grapple with? Have you found ways of exploring real-life issues of violence against women and children that both fulfill the conventions of the thriller genre and avoid brutalization for entertainment?
I’m always interesting in hearing!
HANK: Told you she was fabulous! So--what do you all think? And see below--you can get a huge bargain, and maybe a FREE BOOK!
"I strongly recommend that you read the Huntress/FBI thrillers in order. So…"
SALE ALERT: The first three books in the HUNTRESS series are currently on sale on Amazon US for just $1.99 each (and Amazon Prime members can currently read Book 1, HUNTRESS MOON, for free! http://hyperurl.co/xtajck)
BITTER MOON, book 4, is now out in paperback, ebook and audiobook: http://hyperurl.co/fkh61x
Alexandra Sokoloff is the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Black Quill Award-nominated author of the supernatural thrillers The Harrowing, The Price, The Unseen, Book of Shadows, The Shifters, and The Space Between; The Keepers paranormal series, and the Thriller Award-nominated, Amazon bestselling Huntress/FBI Thrillers series (Huntress Moon, Blood Moon, Cold Moon), which has been optioned for television. She has also written three non-fiction workbooks: Stealing Hollywood, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, and Writing Love, based on her internationally acclaimed workshops and blog (www.ScreenwritingTricks.com), and has served on the Board of Directors of the WGA, West (the screenwriters union) and the board of the Mystery Writers of America.
Alex is a California native and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, where she majored in theater and minored in everything Berkeley has a reputation for. She lives in Los Angeles and in Scotland, with Scottish crime author Craig Robertson. www.Alexandrasokoloff.com
Blog URL: http://www.screenwritingtricks.com
Facebook URL: http://www.facebook.com/alexandra.sokoloff
Amazon: The FBI Thriller Series: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B011M9AOBM?keywords=huntress%20moon&qid=1451693113&ref_=sr_1_1_ha&s=digital-text&sr=1-1