I got my first review on PETER the other day. I have to say, it hit me in the heart; not because I didn’t expect some people to struggle with some of the brutality I exhibit in my fiction, but because it was the first review. I’ve since gotten a rather positive review, but I was hoping a negative one wouldn’t be first. I suppose it’s good that it was, as it reminded me of one of the keystones of my fiction: good stories require costs.
The reviewer specifically and understandably struggled with the two most difficult scenes in PETER. The first is the very tail end of a gang-rape scene of a known character. The second is a post-rape scene of a boy. Neither scene is written gratuitously — I have no interest in living out such awful moments any more than necessary — but both convey the gravity of trauma necessary to anchor important parts of the plot and pave the way for justice and redemption later in the story.
In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into who is assaulted in the book, but both are important. More to the point, both display a reality often glossed over in high fantasy. Women being ravished and children being “slapped around” are nice ways to put what are often much more horrific realities of life. I don’t pleasure in putting characters through pain, and — let me assure you — voicing them for the audiobook grew difficult. I had to step away during the post-rape scene, both for its emotion and its strain on my voice.
Why these kinds of scenes in my book? Because I see such defilement with more disdain than even murder or violence. If my characters would be evil, then I would make them evil, not mere bank robbers carrying bags of money before Superman swoops in and carries them off to jail. Great evil makes for powerful transitions for main characters. Evil exists in our world, and, like stories, can create great testimonies of lives that survive and find redemption and renewal.
How else can I make a story powerful if not in the same way?
Every difficult scene in my stories is designed to set the stage for powerful redemption, because my job as an author is to take my readers on a journey that expresses meaning, transition and victory. I will do that by escorting them into valleys shadowed by death to a better place, whose value is made clear by the path that took them there. It’s the darkness we survive that gives the dawn its meaning.
So yes, my fiction has difficult, sometimes triggering scenes. Important characters die and sometimes do not return. Mistakes are made, choices that cannot be taken back or quickly rescinded for a glossy ending. Two of my pre-readers have survived sexual assault, and I highly value their feedback, helping me shape my stories to minimize the pain and maximize the power of what such survival means to my characters and, as importantly, to you, the reader.
For you who brave my fiction, know that for the difficulties you face alongside my characters, there is redemption ahead. I believe that if you stick it through, just like my characters must, then you will get to enjoy the same quality of meaning and depth they achieve by facing the darkness and coming out stronger. And for characters who don’t survive, it reminds us what others around us deal with when they face it, alone. In that, we can all learn, grow and be better for ourselves and those around us.
“Aye, away to Eden.”