How Far Is Too Far?

mellisa-clarke-2I keep most of my New Pulp writing in the PG-13 range but I’ve been known to cross “the line” on occasion… some of you may remember when Sun Koh ripped a rapist’s penis off in The Rook Volume Six, for instance! And my novel Rabbit Heart (soon to return to print via Pro Se Press) is basically a study in excess! Whenever I thought that I might be pushing the envelope too far, I went ahead and tore it open.

But when is it *really* too far?

I’ve kept hardcore sex and violence out of Lazarus Gray, for instance, but there’s an element of subjectivity there, as with all artistic endeavors. When I wrote The Damned Thing, there was a scene early on that involved oral sex. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it by the time it saw print — it was just a brief character moment and believe it or not, not every scene sticks in the mind of the person who wrote it (I write a lot of scenes…). So when it came out, I had a reader who went on and on about that scene and how much it disturbed them. I didn’t even remember what they were talking about! See, for them, that was shocking and extremely memorable. For me, it was no big deal. So you never know how folks will respond.

But there are times when even I know that I might be going into territory that would be best left undisturbed. I’ve mentioned before that I started writing a sequel to Rabbit Heart — it was going to be titled Starstruck. In fact, I wrote about 12,000 words on it, meaning it’s about 20% complete. But even as I was writing the opening scenes of Starstruck, I knew that this probably couldn’t see print. Despite how far I’d gone with Rabbit Heart, I went a lot further into the disturbing territory with just the first 12,000 words on Starstruck. There is at least one scene in there that I think would be hard for people to get out of their heads when they thought of me… and I’m not quite sure I want to go there.

Nobody’s read Starstruck – not even people who’ve really begged & pleaded! I’ve thought about finishing it but it’s so dark and if I didn’t publish it, what would be the point? I’ve considered completing it and then sticking it in a box with a note to say that it could be published after I was dead & gone but then I’d miss the perverse pleasure of seeing people freak out!

On the other hand, I don’t want to tone the story down, either. If I’m going to write disgusting smut then by God, I’m going to write disgusting smut!

Anyway, I think that I’ll continue staying on the PG-13 path for most of my New Pulp work – I often try to craft stories that will appeal to adolescent boys the way that classic pulp did me when I was that age. A little titillation is fine but I try not to veer too far into adult territory. Of course, sometimes the characters demand their course of action (like Sun Koh did in Rook v. 6) and often what I consider PG-13 isn’t what someone else would. In fact, I had one lady tell me she’d never let her 15 year old son read my books because they contained too many “demonic” elements.

7 thoughts on “How Far Is Too Far?

  1. It’s a tough thing to judge. I think you have to look at the story you’re writing and determine whether or not it’s appropriate for that story. Some people who are used to The Rook or Lazarus Gray may be surprised by Rabbit Heart, but I thought it was very appropriate for that story (and it is my personal favorite Barry Reese book).

    I guess this sort of thing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s great to have different works that appeal to different audiences. On the other, it can be really shocking to see the crossover (I remember being totally blown away when I saw Robin Williams: Live on Broadway, because up until then, all the comedy I’d seen him in was family friendly slapstick and then he’s talking about Shakespeare with a strap-on).

    With me, I’ve had one book that pushed the envelope a lot, and that was Chasing The Dragon. And man, when I was editing that, I remember going, “what the hell is WRONG with me?!”

  2. The only way to see how far you can go is to go there and see what happens. I certainly think that if you have a story you feel you absolutely have to tell, then tell it. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little outrageous once in a while. Keeps you and your readers guessing.

  3. Percival, I think that’s the big thing for a lot of people with my work — you get used to seeing a certain level of sex & gore… then you read Rabbit Heart and go WTF?! LOL

    Christopher, you’re scaring me 😉

    Derrick, that’s generally my rule of thumb – if it feels really right, I’ll go for it, as long as it’s within reason.

  4. Chris Qualls

    Barry, I dare say that every writer has a dark Muse that whispers dark stories into our minds, and they won’t stop until that story is written. My dark story is “The Fire Council,” which is still in the handwritten stage. It disturbs me to even think about writing it! Yet I know one day it must be written, to satisfy that Muse of the Dark Stories, whose voice is rarely heard.
    Go ahead and write “Starstruck,” if for nothing more than to pull it out on dark nights and read it to yourself, taking solace in that it was all in your head and that it silenced the dark Muse, at least for a little while.

    1. Chris Qualls

      Just since I wrote my reply I decided to change the name of my dark story. I’ll let you know when it is written. Now, write yours! 😉

  5. Pingback: Starstruck « Barry Reese

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