Saturday, November 5, 2011

Unleashing the Beast

Nothing Men is selling.  Not gangbusters.  Not quit my job and buy a mansion.  But selling enough to get me a royalty check that I can be proud of cashing.  It's taken promotion and some word of mouth, and now that Halloween is over it will take more of that, but I'm fine doing it.  I've heard from a few readers either on my blogs or through an e-mail.  One friend who bought it, however, had a complaint:  It is too violent.

I'm used to complaints about this book.  The first publisher whom I sent it to dismissed it because the ending was "too depressing."  My test reading group was generally positive, but there were a few who couldn't finish it because they either "knew bad things were going to happen," or it was "just too tense."  Regardless, I didn't change anything based on those comments.  It's a horror story of a certain nature.  Certain things had to happen.  If I thought the complaints had been valid, I would've made changes.  However, when one of the test reading group said it read like "one of those movies [exploitation] from the '70s or '80s where you knew everyone was going to die," I knew I had hit the nail on the head.  Home run.  Perfect game.  That was exactly what I was going for.  This is my exploitation novel.

My friend, the one who thought it was too violent, said, "I know you can think of some pretty crazy things, but the stuff in your book bothered me.  I don't think I'll be reading anything other horror stories you write.  I don't like when you unleash your beast."  Out of morbid curiosity I asked what he thought of the novel's ending.

"I didn't make it that far.  I stopped at that part with the boy in the woods.  I was done."

Incidentally, that is where two members of the test reading group stopped as well.  It was something about that scene that really got under their skin.  It's a scene I really enjoyed writing.  It is nasty.  There are threats of sexual violence.  Two nasty men.  One teen boy.  A ball gag.  A meat hook on a chain.  A survival knife.  Urine.  The combination of things and the situation (and dialog, I learned) upset at least three readers I knew about, and I wondered about that.  Two of them I knew for a fact read horror. Why was mine different?  I asked my friend, who was hesitant to talk about it.

He told me, with much hesitation, that the scene bothered him so much because it felt gleefully sadistic (wait until he finds out about the manuscript I'm working on now), and the fact that he knew me made it even worse.  "I can't believe I know someone who would come up with something like that."

That may be what bothered the others, too.  People who know me know I come up with some pretty horrific things, but I guess putting those things into a story makes them more "real."  Oddly enough, that scene in the novel is where I think the tone changed, where it hit its stride and where I first really "unleashed the beast."  It is gleefully sadistic, and it should be.  Those people who stopped reading there didn't upset me.  In fact, it made me feel like I was doing my job right.  I wanted them to finish the story. What writer doesn't?  But the fact that I wrote something disturbing that it caused them to stop reading and made them promise a cold, hard refusal to ever finish it is something I take pride in.  I've never stopped reading a horror story because it was too scary, but I've loved those moments where I've felt hesitant to go on, where I've felt nothing but dread.  And now I've created that moment for others.

I wish those readers who stopped reading would've finished the story.  Again, what writer doesn't want that?  But I know they were right to stop.  If that scene bothered them, the rest of the story would thoroughly ruin their day.  It doesn't get nicer.  The sadism the friend pointed out doesn't lessen.  The violence only gets worse.  They were right in putting it aside to never revisit again.  But damn if it wouldn't have been nice to send them home in tears ...

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