What do Elmore Leonard, Tim LeHaye; Rod Serling; Nat Hentoff; Mark Twain, Paula Danziger; Robert Cormier; Sidney Sheldon; Edgar Allen Poe; Jackie Collins; Mickey Spillane; Michael Crichton; Madelaine L’Engle; Maurice Sendak, and Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, have in common?
If you said they’re all dead, good for you. As of this post, they still very much are (and with this COVID headache still with us, they died of that, I drop sarcastically 😏). But if you also said they were writers who were in my reading and TV library as an impressionable, rebellious, and misunderstood girl-rascal, you know me well. Brace yourselves–doing so is precarious. **smirk**
Need another hint? I’ll give you a minute to find the clue in the above paragraph. **insert “Syncopated Clocks” theme here.**
Before #sorrynotsorry was a thing, they wrote rebelliously. For their time(s), they crossed lines and pushed comfort zones tame by today’s scary-dark and nakedly demonic standards. The thought was to push philosophical, societal, and imaginative boundaries and platforms within reason, and not to go against physical nature or humanity. This I was okay with. In fact, it kicked me to be a better author without having to plumb the scarier, darker side of what imaginatively could be.
In a critique of my 2nd book’s opening chapter, the now-fired editor said she loved it . . . but, despite my saying I’m a woman writing from a guy’s POV, she constructively found the female descriptions objectifying (but missed my other bigoted names briefly mentioned. Huh. 🤔). In today’s times beyond the hypocritical #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein, and the persistent tug-of-war between the sexes, it’s a tightrope balance between staying true to my unbridled imagination or being mindful of those finding “broad,” “cutie,” “honey,” “sweetie-pie,” “tomato,” “dame,” or the “C” word objectionable. None of these bother me if ever said IRT (in real time for those of you in Rio Linda), save for the “C” one. To be fair, I’ve use that for women being jerks when “basic bitch,” “thot,” or “nasty-ass ho” isn’t strong enough to call her (thank you, urbandictionary.com!) 😄😏. Justified, of course. Or muttered under my breath when it wasn’t.
Writing on the edge should happen by default no matter the genre; language is as perilous and nasty as it is sweet, lovely, and gossamer. Twain used nigger several times in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Stevie Wonder’s speaking parts in the “Livin’ For The City” track on his Inner Visions album mention this, too. I don’t shy from the questionable, objectionable, or downright frightening. To face it head-on to fine tune a moral and ethical compass, and to know where to draw a line I won’t ever cross. Children’s author Maurice Sendak told Maury Safer in a 60 Minutes interview he wrote about the monsters in Where The Wild Things Are because “. . . .the nightmares kids have–and monsters in those nightmares–are as real as their mommies and daddies are.” To put them down tangibly, he figured, not only gave kids something credible to show kids a grown up thought as they did, but that if kids faced their fears, they weren’t too scary big to fight them back, the kids weren’t too young to fight them at all, and to win. In his In The Night Kitchen story was where a naked child was shown for the first time, reasoning during the Safer interview, Sendak said he showed a naked child in the illustrations because he didn’t think kids were worried about clothes in their nightmares. I don’t fully remember the story, but if memory serves, the boy, dreaming he was in a dough suit, obviously couldn’t be clothed under the pastry; how much sense would this make? Sendak’s Night Kitchen was boldly, #sorrynotsorry controversial as Marilyn Monroe’s 1951 naked appearance in the first issue of Playboy. 🤔😏
L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time held a God-heavy theme in the Murray kids and friend Calvin saving Professor Murray from an evil force (and notwithstanding, a genius five-year-old unapologetically using a vast vocabulary in his character, but still manages to stay an adorable Charles Wallace. This sparked an argument how can five-year-olds talk on a near Einsteinian level? Um, some can. And some do.). Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit today could be deemed as fat-shaming in Marcy’s character, her mother a pushover in the shadow of her husband’s and Marcy’s father’s blustering bullying. But the story showcases a young teacher’s outside-the-box instruction in a conservative community determined to see their kids taught English by the book of English–Dead Poet’s Society, anyone? This wasn’t far off the mark of Danziger herself, since she’d been a full time English teacher before her writing career took off. In this story, Marcy’s high school teacher impacted her past the classroom.
Be they gentle stories showing a shy little black cat’s courage, or a Catholic family’s sons adventures in 1898 Mormon Utah, to grittier reads bearing themes in the plots that challenged my opinions and forcing my stances a closer look, these authors didn’t shy from their stories. They all pushed me past the story in their word choices, in the norms at their time, and letting their imaginations weave tales maybe the harsher themes and beliefs were better swaddled in than given so starkly. Whichever came first, it doesn’t matter and didn’t matter. They left a patina on me in their unapologetic storytelling to this day has gotten under my own storytelling skin. They were #sorrynotsorry doing that to me, so I pay it forward to anyone reading me, also unapologetically Sorry/Not Sorry. As one Logan McGuinness of the Casebooks and Threesome of Magic Mysteries would tell me: be bold AF, Missye. He’s right. I can’t let the kid readers and kids at heart ones, down. Or him, either.
Speaking of Mr. McG, I’ve a scene in my 2nd TOMM mystery I’ve finally smoothed the wrinkles from. Best I get to it. And best too, you, Dear Reader, find books and stories that push you past your easy, your simple, your familiar, your typical. For you Dear Authors reading this, your homework is to keep your imaginations deadly, unsettled, and untamed in good ways. That’s where the fun lies. In this wild ride we’re all on dealing with COVID, no one’s gonna much worry about writing dangerously anymore. We lived it.
And guess what? Even my lyrical writing, which was what the now-fired editor told me Casebook #2 is, is also writing lethally. But it’s lethal to the healing we’ll need on the other side of this COVID madness. Writing dangerously doesn’t always mean pushing, provoking, or even angering. Writing soft without the superfluous is a true skill to unapologetically be Sorry/Not Sorry for. I’m happy to be that rebel to do it.