Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Laura Ellen: Why I write 'crime'

Welcome to "Case Files From Our Detectives." Every Tuesday, in rotation, we blog on a topic relevant to the craft of mystery writing. If you're a new follower or just discovering us now, you can check out past Case Files in the archives; they're all listed in the upper right sidebar.

Today we're continuing with our topic of CRIME in MG and YA fiction. with a bit about why Laura Ellen writes about crime. 

In her Crime Case File post, Elisa Ludwig talked about a mother who, when she discovered that the MC in Pretty Crooked is a thief, put it down, noting that she doesn't condone crime. Although I understood this mother's point -- as a mom I worry about what my kids are exposed to also -- this story kind of bothered me. It took me a little while, but I finally figured out why. Once I did, though, I felt it was important to share.

Let me explain.

The first novel I ever finished was a MG about a girl whose mom and step-father are killed in a car accident and she must go live with her real dad while her half-brother goes to live with her aunt and cousins. Now this novel will never see the light of day. It was my first attempt at a novel and is riddled with newbie-mistakes and dripping with melodrama. But, my point in writing it, besides seeing if I could finish a novel, was not to get published -- it was to work out a fear I had. At that time, my husband and I had just sat down to make out our will. I realized that if something were to happen to us, there was a good chance our kids would be seperated from one another -- my daughter going to live with her father and my son, most likely to an aunt or grandparent. The thought of them growing up without each other terrified me. So, I explored the situation the only way I knew how -- by writing about it.

Throughout my whole life this has been how I've dealt with things that scared me. From attending a new school to walking down a dark alley alone at night, anytime something made me frightened or anxious, I would play it out in my head, coming up with extreme scenarios and how I might respond, so that I'd be prepared for anything.

I think books do this for people too. Reading is a way to explore things that fascinate or scare or bother us. It is a way to look into those 'dark' things without having to actually live through them. It is a safe way to experiment and observe.

So, coming back to the mother at Elisa's book event. While I get her response -- like I said, I am a mom and yes, I watch what my kids read/watch/play -- I don't agree. No matter how well we raise our kids and no matter how sheltered we think we keep them from the monstrosities of life -- kids are people, and people live. They see, hear, observe, deduce, think, talk, and interact. In the course of doing these very human things, they will be faced with a situation or decision that their parents didn't expect or plan for them.

Whether it's that unbelievably charming bad boy in art class, or that expensive new phone everyone else has, or that downstairs window that accidentally broke -- everybody has that moment where a choice must be made. Sometimes that choice leads down the wrong road -- and once on that road ANYTHING can happen. The people that fare the best and find their way back are the ones who have thought it through, played out the vatious outcomes, seen the big picture. What better place to get that pre-exposure than in the safety of a book?

That's why I write about dark, edgy topics like crime. I like to think of the worst thing that could happen and then find a way to get my characters out of it. I do this not only because in real life bad stuff happens, but also because I want to be prepared, and  I want my readers to be preapared. I want them to know that if something similar happens, they'll not only be ready. They'll live through it.

Maybe that seems idealistic.
But no more idealistic than thinking if you don't bring that book home, your child won't be exposed to whatever is inside that book. For me, reading about life's dark side is a better solution than pretending it doesn't exist.

As a parent, my solution is to bring home that book that may have questionable content in it and read it myself -- instead of avoiding it. That way, I know what to expect and can discuss it if necessary with my kids. I can also make an informed decision on whether or not the material is too mature and should be shelved for a bit. And for those wondering about Pretty Crooked, since it is the book that began this discussion. It is a great book and definitely worth the read. :)


1 comment:

  1. So true, Laura. We see and hear about difficult/scary events all the time, and books are often a safe way to process our fears. I totally understand the urge to shelter our kids, but reading also builds empathy - you get to put yourself in someone else's shoes, struggle and triumph along with them.


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