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I said something dumb this weekend.

I know, you're shocked, right? But before I get into that, I want to thank everyone who chimed in on my author photo poll. I'm grateful for your input. I plan to close the poll later today, but I have received a couple emails suggesting I scotch all those photos and try again, next time with a professional photographer. Now I'm not sure what to do.

Anyway, onto my stupidity: Over the weekend, I read a post where an f-lister expressed her rage over a book she'd just finished. In effect, the villain kicked a puppy during the finale, and she was furious that the author had put that in front of her. She wanted all puppy-kicking on page one, where she'd notice it in the store and not buy the book.

Immediately, I was reminded of one of those moments that tend to stick with me. (For me, it's usually some odd human behavior that grants me pseudo-insight into how people think.) The memory was of a standup comic on TV (I watched standups obsessively during the '80's) who was telling a story about an elephant. The animal fell and died, or fell and broke its leg, or something terrible happened to it, whatever, it's not important what. Upon hearing this, the studio audience let out a long "AAWWWWWWW!"

The comic turned to the audience and, with full scorn and sarcasm, said: "Awwwww, the poor pretend elephant!"

The audience laughed, but I was startled. Of course it was ridiculous to feel sympathy for a pretend elephant, and when I read that puppy-kicking post, I immediately commented "It was just a pretend puppy, wasn't it?"

Which is pretty freaking stupid. God knows I've gotten angry at books for things characters did and said. I don't think I would have hated City of Pearl as much as I did if I had thought of those characters as pretend hypocrites.

Which brings to mind a question I haven't thought to ask: Why does some bad behavior trigger a sudden flinging motion in my book holding arm but others rivet me to the page?

In the case of City of Pearl, it was that the narrative treated the protagonist's infuriating hypocrisy as though it was wisdom. So in that instance, it was the world-view of the novel.

I can also remember the opening to a Douglas Clegg novel (not the title, though) Graham Masterson's Master of Lies in which a home intruder brutalizes a family to the point that they all commit suicide once he leaves. The scene showed amazing cruelty (plot-wise, the home intruder wanted to summon a demon, but didn't have cultists willing to kill themselves to finish the spell, so he had to gin some suicides up on his own) and after reading a little past it, I put the book down and gave it away.

I just didn't want to see that. If he'd opened with the scene where the cops pieced together the crime I might have been able to stand it (and maybe would have been willing to buy a father who kills his own kids). As it was, I just didn't want to Go There.

So, those are two different kinds of NO! triggers--scenes we don't want to experience and repugnant-to-me world views. And I'm sympathetic to both, when I'm not being an ass. There are several people, like buymeaclue that I would warn away from Everyone Loves Blue Dog, as an example, because of the way animals are treated.

Are there other kinds of triggers? Are there some triggers that affect you more powerfully than others? I know there was a year or two after my father's death that I couldn't watch movies with dying fathers in them, but that feeling is long gone. Maybe I should dig up a Clegg a Masterson novel again in a couple decades.

Comments

douglas_clegg
Jan. 5th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
Not sure I wrote that one.
Wait, I wrote that? What book was that? I can name all my books, but can't come up with one that opens with a home intruder who brutalizes people to the point that they commit suicide.

Let me know if you figure out the title, because I can't. You may prove me wrong, but I don't think I ever wrote the book that opens the way you've described. Maybe it's another writer?

On the other hand, there's an intrusion near the opening of The Halloween Man, and maybe that's it. I'll have to re-read it to see if that matches. I guess what I mean to say is: I may well have written that scene, but it must be that the experience of having written it was not as intense as the reading of it.

Best,

Douglas Clegg

www.DouglasClegg.com

Edited at 2009-01-05 10:26 pm (UTC)
burger_eater
Jan. 5th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Not sure I wrote that one.
In the world inside my head, you wrote that book. In the outside world that everyone else lives in, it was Graham Masterson's Master of Lies.

Sorry about that. I don't remember as well as I used to. I've edited the post above.
douglas_clegg
Jan. 6th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
Re: Not sure I wrote that one.
In the world inside my head, I've written all the books.

On a message board, someone once attributed some Bentley Little fiction to me. I kind of like this idea.

Best,

Douglas Clegg