|Print from A Yorkshire Tragedy|
I did a bit of soul-searching this week.
On his blog, my fellow author James Garcia Jr. recently featured his reactions to Base Spirits. He very eloquently tackled the question of the infanticides as portrayed in the novel, and I really appreciated his comments. I disturbed him. I made him angry. But? He stuck with the book and pushed on past his own discomfort because he wanted to find out what happened, and because he admired my writing.
"I am positively reviewing this novel for two main reasons. Barrett writes with beautiful prose and she nailed everything that was required of an author doing a period piece. That's what got me through the unsavory subject matter of abuse, as well as the murder of those beautiful children. When Clara and her husband were in present day, we were there with them. It was present day; anyone could pull that off! More importantly, however, when Clara began seeing through Lady Calverley's eyes, Barrett was able to fully transport us there, too. She nailed the culture, the dress, the language, the pacing, the lifestyles - everything! I found myself thoroughly impressed with Barrett here, and am convinced that no one but a master could have pulled that off."
I am truly humbled by his reaction and his high praise. (You can link to the rest of James Garcia Jr.'s blog here: http://bit.ly/H3Bwjg and his Facebook page is here: http://on.fb.me/H6DAjg ) Thank you, James. It means a lot coming from you.
I want to know how others feel when dealing with the dark side, and to that end I'm offering Base Spirits at a deep discount of 99 cents for a limited time: http://amzn.to/wQ1ms4
That difficult reaction is the sort of thing I really need to hear about as a writer. I've been lucky to have had mostly glowing reviews on my Amazon page, on review blogs, via e-mail and in person. Only two poor reviews so far, and those readers just didn't get into the concept. (That's fair- not everyone's going to love what I do.) I am heartened when I hear things like 'I couldn't put it down' or 'I sat up all night jumping at sounds' or 'Freakin' amazing!'. That pleases me. I like hearing comments like those.
But when I have made someone truly uncomfortable with the subject matter-- or with the brutal portrayal of the murders-- it gives me pause. Years ago, I had a good friend give an earlier draft a beta read... and he couldn't get past the murder scene. I really upset him. He had two children about the same ages as Will and little Walter at the time, and he was horrified. Not a 'scary monster in the attic' kind of horror reaction, but HORRIFIED. I remember feeling guilty for upsetting him so much. At times, that has given me pause going forward with the book itself. If I had that strong sort of visceral reaction from my oldest friend and fellow writer, then what would other people think of me? I didn't want readers to think I was some sort of monster who derives pleasure from tackling the harsh subject matter.
(As a sidebar, my old friend has since re-read the novel and really admires it.)
The scenes of abuse and violence were wrenching for me to work on. I felt sick a lot of the time. I hated that these things happened-- really happened-- to this family in 1605. But they were true events at the heart of my story. How could I shy away? There is no easy or 'nice' way to portray a murder.
If Base Spirits was a screenplay (and it may well be... stay tuned!), I would have handled it differently. That's the joy of filmmaking: you visually suggest something, and the viewer can fill in the rest with more truth and horror in their imaginations than any special effects can. I'm not a huge fan of over-the-top splatter onscreen-- sometimes it's necessary, and sometimes it just becomes cartoonish and goofy and doesn't serve the story. It depends on what effect you want to make on the audience.
In a novel, a writer needs to paint a picture. It was a very unpleasant and disturbing picture for me to paint. I played the mother of these children-- the wife of the abusive killer-- onstage. I had to go somewhere very dark deep down within myself and 'feel' all of that anguish. The fictional retelling had me right back there in the pit. It wasn't easy. But I was compelled to write the novel.
In the end, that's the answer of why I didn't shy away: I've elicited a true gut reaction. Isn't that what art is meant to do? Yes, it entertains us and makes us use our imaginations... but if it upsets you, it is reaching you at a deeper level. And as another Canadian writer Timothy Findley once said: "We are all of us a hiding place for monsters".
What do you think?
Why not judge for yourself? I'm putting Base Spirits on sale for 99 cents for a limited time. Here's the Kindle link again: http://www.amazon.com/Base-Spirits-ebook/dp/B005L38G8E