I got a comment from Molly in the previous entry. I started replying to it there, but figured it was such a smart question that it needed its own space. The essence of the thing is as follows:
“Chill out with the violence and blood. Seriously. Mortal Coil changed my life for the better: It made me very sensitive to violence and blood. It scared me to think of Val's life going down the drain like that, along with the lives of others. And so I ask: Why do you do this?”
I haven’t really discussed this on the Blog before, so this is my opportunity.
Molly, I’m always very careful not to go overboard with gore. In Playing With Fire, there's an exploding head. I could have gone into tremendous detail describing it, but I didn't- I basically said "and then his head exploded". I like to leave it up to the reader to be as graphic as they want- if they're comfortable with imagining blood and brains flying about the place, that's fine. If they're not, that's fine too. I'm not out to be extreme- that's not what these books are about.
In Mortal Coil, however, there are a few chapters devoted to an autopsy on a living person, and in this I DO go into detail. Why? Because an exploding head gets one reaction- it gets "Ooooh gross!" But that's not the reaction I wanted for the autopsy. I wanted it to be HORRIBLE. I wanted it to be cold and impersonal and just a horrible, horrible experience. In no way did I want any reader to be enjoying reading about this. The problem is, if I DIDN’T go into detail then it wouldn’t have had the same impact- there may even have been a chance that it could have been seen as just another wacky adventure this girl gets into.
Violence is a trickier subject, however. For one thing, I hesitate to call it violence. I’ve always regarded a fight scene that you read or watch onscreen as “action”, not “violence”. Violence is up-close and personal, and it’s something that happens in the real world. Anything we see in a movie or read on the page is simulated violence- which, in my opinion, is action.
But putting that to one side, let’s talk about the action in these books. When I started, there was one thing that I wanted to convey whenever I’d write a fight scene- fights HURT. Getting punched HURTS. Punching someone HURTS. Poor Valkyrie has had her leg broken, her hand broken, her tooth broken, her ribs broken... She’s had black eyes, burst lips and a bruised body. I’m typing this now and every time I use my right hand, I wince, because my knuckles are busted and bloody from hitting a bag earlier today. I spent this evening applying straight-arm bars and getting straight-arm bars applied to me- and THAT hurts, too. Even the TRAINING for violence hurts.
I have some knowledge of fights, and how it feels to be in one, and it is a thoroughly rotten feeling. Even when you win, you feel sick, because you’ve just hurt another human being. It is a terrible, horrible thing, to be in a fight. It’s not fun, and you really don’t feel okay about it afterwards. I train with doormen and bouncers who need to go somewhere to cry after they've been in a fight, simply because they've had to be MORE aggressive than the person they were fighting in order to win. They've actually sickened THEMSELVES. And that’s why my fight scenes are the way they are.
Molly, you say Mortal Coil made you sensitive to this stuff, and it scared you “to think of Val's life going down the drain like that, along with the lives of others. And so I ask: Why do you do this?”
Well, to be honest, that is exactly why I do it. I want you to be scared for Val. I want you to NOT want her to be hurt. If the fights were nothing but good fun, if nobody ever got really hurt, if Val didn’t run the risk of serious injury every time she throws a punch- then I’d have failed in what I set out to do.
I respect violence. I respect what it can do. I respect the fact that it can change your life. Two guys have an argument outside of a pizza place at night, one of them throws a punch, the other falls and hits his head, slips into unconsciousness, then a coma, wakes up with brain damage. His life- instantly changed. The life of the guy who hit him- instantly changed. Jail. Lawsuit. The sheer GUILT over what he’s done.
One moment of violence can change your life, so of course I respect it. Any intelligent person would. So I’m not going to write a book where action scenes take place without consequence. There is ALWAYS a consequence.
I hope that answers your question, Molly. Now, whether or not you agree with me is totally up to you. I don’t want to drive ANY reader away, and I don’t want to upset anyone. But the books are what they are, and I am what I am, and I write the way I write. So this is my side of the argument, and I want to sincerely thank you for asking the question.