Sunday, February 07, 2016

How Graphic is Too Graphic?

It is the first week of February and, though I am still a little spooked by memories of last winter, this winter has been a whole lot milder so far. Usually winter is a very productive time for me but this year I seem to be in a state of on-going befuddlement. I am treading water and have no idea what direction I'm going in. This is not lik me.

Part of the problem is the book that I just can't seem to finish, The Legend: A Marienstadt Story. I've probably done more research on this book than on anything I've ever written which is amazing since I've written about subjects as diverse as miracles and apparitions, the Boston underground, the Civil War, and shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. The Legend is about animal abuse and rescue and it seems to be gnawing at a deep place in me. There are parts of it I have read over and over and over and every time they bring tears to my eyes. I'm not sure what is going on.

As I have been in the act of writing, things have happened in this country that have an impact on the book. Animal Cruelty was finally made a federal crime. A woman in Pennsylvania was arrested and convicted of fraud in connection with her business as a horse kill-buyer. These are things I never paid attention to before deciding to write this story. Now it seems I cannot get away from them. I have revised the story several times to add new information that seems important to me.

And I worry about how people will react to this. I know people who love animal are going to have a hard time with parts of the story that deal directly with the practices of kill-buyers, horse slaughter, and also dogfights. I want my readers to know how horrible these things are and I can't just write “it was pretty bad.” I have to—alas—show, not tell. Some years ago, a writer I know was working on a mystery story for a series she was writing that included dogfighting. She was struggling with it and told me several times how she didn't think she could go on with it—it was too horrible. At the time I was writing a book that involved child pornography and I told her if I could deal with that, she could deal with her subject matter. She couldn't though and she gave it up.

Maybe what I'm realizing is that we cannot look into the darkness without the darkness laying claim to part of us. Several times, as I did research about truly horrible things, part of me was repulsed—but there was also a part that was fascinated and that worries me. As I was working on a scene in which one of the characters explains some of the practices fighting dog trainers employ, I stumbled into an internet discussion group for “sport dog enthusiasts.” How is that for a euphemism? These are people who pay money to see beautiful, innocent animals literally tear each other apart.

The posts were nearly unbearable to read. These people both mocked the “bleeding-heart” people who opposed dogfights and bragged about the viciousness they had cheered on. There were over a hundred people involved in the discussion and, as I read their comments, I thought that any one of those people could be someone I might know, someone I might have worked with, someone who I liked without knowing what they considered “fun.”

Maybe all the tears and all the distraction I seem to be experiencing lately are leftovers from all I've exposed myself to. I always get upset when people on social media share horribly disturbing pictures of animals that have been beaten and abused. At the same time I have looked at those pictures, watched videos, and read articles that are a whole lot worse, in the name of research. Have I damaged myself in the process?

They say that those who would fight monsters must guard against becoming monsters themselves. I don't worry about becoming a monster but I am disturbed by the proximity of monsters. I need to get this book out and then I need to make tea and knit and watch Downton Abbey and sew and nurture my soul—and try to forget what I know.

Thanks for reading.

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