Sunday, August 05, 2012

Write about what makes you angry

Denise Mina is one of my absolute favorite crime writers and a constant inspiration. At a recent Bouchercon (San Francisco) she gave some of the shortest, sagest advice to writers and aspiring crime writers I think I’ve ever heard:

Write about what makes you angry.

It doesn’t take me a millisecond’s thought to make my list. Child sexual abuse is the top, no contest. Violence against women and children. Discrimination of any kind. Religious intolerance. War crimes. Genocide. Torture.

I have long found it toxically ironic that the crimes that I consider most unspeakable: slavery, rape, torture, the sexual slavery of children (including incest and prostitution – the average age a woman begins that life is thirteen), animal abuse – none of these were even worth a mention in the Ten Commandments. Apparently taking the Lord’s name in vain, stealing, and coveting thy neighbor’s wife rank above any of my personal hate list.

And I think the lack of Biblical sanction against those crimes has contributed to society’s continuing and pretty mindblowing ability to ignore those crimes.

And I’m angry about it.

That anger has fueled a lot of my books and scripts over the years. I've said this before, here, but I've always thought that as writers we're only working with a handful of themes, which we explore over and over, in different variations. And I think it's really useful to be very conscious of those themes. Not only do they fuel our writing, they also brand us as writers.

So when it came down to creating a series that I could sustain over multiple books, it’s no surprise that this issue came up again as one of the main thematic threads.  I’ve finally created an umbrella to explore, dramatically, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.

But while writing is great to call attention to a problem and explore it, it's not enough in the face of real, everyday evil. There's writing, and there's action.

I've been thinking a lot about child prostitution (more aptly called child sex trafficking) recently as I'm writing the Huntress sequel, because there are characters in Book Two who are in that life. The fact is, most prostitutes start as child prostitutes. Women (and boys) who work as prostitutes almost always begin that life well before adulthood. Kids run away from abuse, usually sexual abuse, at home, and are sucked up into the life by predators: raped, battered, terrorized, and hooked on drugs so they're kept enslaved to the pimps who live off their earnings. Yes, still.

I've worked with some of those kids, when I taught in the L.A. County Juvenile Court systerm, and I find it unimaginable that we just let this happen, and often treat these victims as criminals rather than getting them help to break free.

So today, I don't want to just get angry about it, I want to do something about it.

I'm very grateful that sales of Huntress Moon have been very good - it's currently a Top Ten Amazon Bestseller in Mysteries, and the #1 Police Procedural. And since the issue of child sexual abuse is so much on my mind, I'd like to get active about it - in a slightly different way than one of my main characters chooses!  Today I’ll be donating all of my proceeds from sales of Huntress Moon to Children of the Night, a Los Angeles-based shelter which helps children and teenagers in prostitution from all over the country get out of the life.

So if you haven't gotten your copy of the book and you'd like the extra satisfaction that that money is going to an excellent cause, today's your chance:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon FR
Amazon ES
Amazon IT

Or - take that money and take a minute to donate directly to a cause that's fighting something that makes YOU angry.

So you know the question:

What makes you angry?  Do you write about it?  If not, do you think it might benefit your writing to try?

And I'd also love to hear about other people's favorite charities and causes.

Here are a few more of mine:

Planned Parenthood
Equality Now
Amnesty International

- Alex


wordsurfer said...

Love, love, love your idea and thank you for being so cool!
Amnesty is on the top of my list as well, but you should have a look at this, you'll like it:

For me, this is really important:
The Right to Education Project

And I like these, too:
Action Aid International

Oh, and if you have a few minutes, you could watch this documentary (I think it's still available to watch online):
The Dark Side of Chocolate

Mark said...


It might be profitable to examine the Bible in its context. At the time of the Ten Commandments, the Judaic culture would never dream of sexual abuse of the nature we see today. Justice would have been meted upon such fiends with such severity and dispatch, that a more tender soul might find himself having sympathy for the criminal. Including it in the Ten Commandments might be akin to putting an official rule in tennis that you cannot impale your opponent with a garden hoe. It obviously wouldn't be tolerated, but it hardly makes sense to include it in the rule book.

There is also more to the Ten Commandments than the simple literal meaning. The respect for parents and admonitions against coveting, for example, have an inherent context that respects the dignity of human beings, and the implications of that respect go far, far beyond the simple words on the page. And that says nothing to the fact that the Ten Commandments are by no means the full extent of the law. They were never intended that way.

Another thing you might consider are the commandments of Jesus Christ, which encompass all behavior and all law. He said to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. He further said that all of the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. All evil acts against human beings are condemned under those commands.

I have to say I found your statement that people ignore these crimes a bit stunning. I found your perception of the Bible lacking in sanction against these things to be even more stunning. I don't know a soul who "ignores" child sexual abuse other than the abusers themselves. I know of no communities more fiercely protective of children than the Christian ones.

When such things arise in their own communities, they are ruthless against the perpetrators, and perhaps even more ruthless against leaders who covered anything up. My Lord, our culture is so fierce against violence and abuse against children that even prisoners in the most hardcore prisons won't tolerate abusers. Inside the prison, they are dead meat. Outside the prison, the only thing protecting them from getting drawn and quartered and dragged through the street (and I'm not necessarily being figurative here) is the *secular* law that stands between them. People may feel a bit helpless--but that doesn't mean they ignore the matter.

There is some truth that our system has become so difficult as to hamstring communities to act against these things as fiercely as they might--but that is a systemic problem, not a Biblical one.

I hope that helps you come to terms with it a little better.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Some very cool causes I've never even heard of, Wordsurfer! Thanks so much, I'm going to investigate.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

I don't know, Mark - you TRULY believe there wasn't widespread rape, incest, sexual exploitation, sexual battery in the Biblical days?

Very hard to imagine.

And I just don't buy that sanctions against it were left out of the Ten Commandments because they were such appalling crimes that no one would need to be told not to do them. If there was a commandment against murder, and one against stealing, there should have been one against rape.

Seriously, don't you think?

Mark said...

That's not quite what I mean about the sanctions. At any given time, a people required a certain kind of guidance. From a Judeo-Christian point of view, they came from God, so they might presume that he was teaching directly to what they needed at the time. Plus, God wanted to appeal to Adrian Monk by keeping it an even ten.

From the perspective of someone who doesn't believe God directly handed the Commandments to Moses, you can say the same thing about the author--he was specifically addressing the issues important to them at the time. When something such as child molestation is so obviously a horror straight from hell, it would hardly seem to address what the people really needed to learn. And, again, the Judaic law goes far beyond just the ten Commandments. It was never intended to be all-encompassing.

I don't think it's giving it a fair shake to criticize them for not being all-encompassing, when they were never intended to be so.

Regarding widespread rape, abuse, etc., I *do* believe they were common in the world, though I have no idea how widespread. In fact, we know from the earlier account from Sodom and Gomorra that such things were certainly around. However, there was a huge difference between the rest of the world, and the tightly knit communities of Jews, and we know for a fact that the Jews were horrified by the stuff in Sodom and Gomorra. Hebrews were known for their morality and their cleanliness. There were no doubt other close communities like them that protected their own, but the Jews are the ones that we know most about.

An interesting thing to consider is the flip side of this. If we take the attitude that all things that are morally wrong should be in the Ten Commandments, we wind up with a state of affairs where anyone can do anything they want as long as it is not explicitly prohibited. I happen to think that the forces of evil are vastly inventive in coming up with new ways to do evil, and there are uncountable ways to get around written law. Therefore, it is a huge mistake to treat these things as if they are comprehensive in the way you would seem to like them to be.

Lack of explicit prohibition does not give license to do evil. The ancients knew this very well. The modern man has largely forgotten it.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Mark, COME ON!!! If you're going to choose ten crimes to prohibit in such a massive, demonstrative way, don't YOU think rape should have made the list?

Marcia Richards said...

Helping the causes in which you believe is an unselfish and responsible act. That is what we all should be doing and I'm thrilled to hear that you are. I write about women of all ages and the various issues they face. Some are more difficult than others. My first novella and its sequel deal with a young woman who spent years in a sexual relationship with her father and breaks away. The emotional issues she deals with afterward and how she overcomes is the main thread throughout the story. My website is Sexy, Smart and Strong Women. There I write about anything and everything that can boost a woman's strength and keep her healthy and happy. I will be donating some of the proceeds of my books to charity, but haven't settled on which yet. Wonderful post, Alexandra.

Mary Stella said...

What makes me angry? I won't repeat the things that you mentioned, Alex, but I'm right there with you.

Persecution against any one for gender, religion, sexual preference, ethnic origin. . . persecution against any one for political power. You name it.

Animal neglect or abuse.

I was shocked to recently learn that human trafficking exists even in my own backyard. There are young Russian women who believe they are taking jobs as au pairs who are sold to older men as sex slaves.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear Alexandra! Add patience to your gifts of insight and eloquence.

Tyler Tork said...

What makes writing involving and meaningful, is that the author writes about things they feel deeply about. Anger is one way to feel deeply, but it's far from the only way, so if you focus on anger, you're limiting yourself.

Basically the same set of things make any decent person angry. As a result, certain topics -- child sexual abuse, in particular -- are seriously overdone. Anytime someone wants to depict a villain, the cause du jour springs to mind. The way you show they're evil is that they're a child abuser. A terrorist. A Nazi, if you go back far enough. I like my villains to be evil in complex and creative ways. If I see one more scheming CEO I think I'll scream.

A book that has a moral cause to champion, also is at serious risk of becoming a polemic. Rotten things happening to your characters is pretty essential, and they could be some of the things that make you angry. Getting out of or recovering from such a situation, or battling the people who caused it, could be an important part of the story. But if, in your mind, your enslaved protagonist a symbol for all slaves, you're likely to lose some of that personal aspect of the story that brings it to life. They're a person in a predicament. Their problems are their problems, not everybody else's.

Write about what makes you angry. But also write about what you fear (actually they're likely to be the same things, but fear is the truer emotion). Write about what puts you in awe, what you love, what you can't make up your mind whether is good or bad.

Virgilante said...

Wow Alexandra, you certainly inspired some emotions with this one. I think that's a good thing. Some folks may have found their next project.

I'm a member of the wrong group when it comes to most arts circles. My likes and dislikes are likely to light a flame war, so I'll keep them to myself.

I took this as a lesson out of many. It seems like a darned good one too.

Virginia said...

To tell you the truth, I don't like to read a book where the villain do child abuse or a he's a serial rapist or do something so horrible. I think everyone would hate this character immediately. I believe that even a villain must have some reasons to act in a bad way, but he should be also in some way attractive. So I prefer a villain that doesn't raises hate in a reader, but curiosity. So even if those horrible things makes me angry, I wouldn't write about it, because is too simple, those things hurt our feelings deep inside.
Usually I make donations to "Save the dogs" and other animal association.
Thank you for your interesting post.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Good for you, Marcia! I have the deepest respect for people who have actually been through this kind of hell who are able to share their stories with others - that's where the real healing is.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Mary Stella, no kidding. Sex trafficking is a global epidemic, it's incredible how prevalent it is in the US. Horrifying and unacceptable.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Tyler, I completely agree! I hope I'm not coming across as saying you should ONLY write about what makes you angry - I just think that Mina has an excellent point that the issues that make you angry are powerful fodder for your writing.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Virgilante, if "some folks have found their next project", then my work here is done! ;)

I totally know what you're saying about flame wars... I know I always lose a few potential readers when I get political, but the fact is, I AM political. I'm not going to hide it.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Paola - I also avoid books with depictions of rape and child abuse, unless I am confident that the writer is being absolutely true to the point of view of the victim, not the killer. Too many authors exploit these situations for commerciality, I'm afraid.

And animal abuse is a hot button issue for me, too.

Mark said...

Are my posts now being censored? I'm just asking--it's your blog.

Mark said...

Okay, I guess we'll try this again.

In answer to your 3:56 PM entry, my post that mysteriously disappeared said something like this:

This really has little to do with what I think should have been in the Ten Commandments. I do not presume to believe that I am wiser than the ancients in teaching the moral lessons that were necessary at the time, especially if the lesson came directly from God. I think it is extremely convenient to look back from the utterly different world of modern times, prejudge the ancients, and believe you know better than them what morality needed to be taught.

In fact, there is a never ending list of atrocities, and the forces of evil are unfathomably inventive in creating new ones. By using your method, there is no end to the atrocities we could list and complain that they should have included them. But would that be reasonable at all?

I absolutely think it is unreasonable to prejudge their morality regarding rape because of something they didn't say on one particular occasion. Especially when we know so much more about Jewish morality that is contrary to that.

And--with all this talk about respecting other religions, shouldn't we give them the benefit of a doubt?

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Mark, I'm sorry, but you have been triple and quadruple posting. If something "mysteriously disappeared", you will have to tell me what it was, but that is a LOT of posts for me to sort through.

I don't think it's at all unreasonable to look at that list of Ten Commandments and say that there are atrocities missing that should ALWAYS be mentioned in any discussion of the Ten Commandments today. However, what I hear instead from supposedly Christian people is "The Ten Commandments are all the moral law we need."

You seem unwilling evento admit that rape should have been on the list. But I have no doubt AT ALL that an actual wise and loving God would be the first to say the omission is heinous and unacceptable.

Ellen said...

Bless you, Alex. I started to say you're doing god's work, but really what you're doing is using your gifts toward the best of human effort.

It saddens me enormously that my beautiful Portland is a hub for trafficking. Not for Sale is another good anti-trafficking non-profit.

Mark said...

No worries, Alexandra. There was something odd happening with my browser, so sorry about the multiples posts.

Obviously I'm not convincing you, so I won't belabor it past this entry. Pardon me for saying so, but it really seems like you are determined to impugn the Jewish faith solely because the scope and intention of the 10 Commandments is not what you think it should be, willfully ignoring the Jews' extremely strong tradition and law against sexual crimes, and ignoring the context and purpose of the Commandments. That seems excessively unreasonable and even uncharitable to me, and it makes me think you are looking for a reason to disparage them. I'm not accusing you--this is just how it appears to me, and I don't think it gives the ancient Jews a fair shake at all.

I have never heard Christians tell me that the Ten Commandments are all we need. I've heard of non-orthodox Christians say that the Bible (OT and NT) was all the moral law we need, and I think that's misguided. The authors of the Bible never intended it to be all the moral law that was needed, and it is impossible to even interpret it without some extra-Biblical perspective, so, again, it's misguided to use it that way.

That being said, I inquired about the issue from a friend who is of a more fundamentalist ilk, and he informs me that there are some Christians who believe that all of the moral law is implicit in the Ten Commandments. But that has to do with the attitude toward the text, not as a way to discount morality. They would, he assures me, absolutely insist that a sanction against rape and things like it are implicit in them. Now, I have no desire to argue their point--like I said, I think it's misguided--but that minority view (and my perception is that it is a tiny minority) may be where you have gotten this distorted impression about Christians.

You said: "But I have no doubt AT ALL that an actual wise and loving God would be the first to say the omission is heinous and unacceptable."

I personally don't presume to speak for an all-wise and loving God. I am so far departed from that, I have no doubt that I would get it wrong, and I have less doubt that his actual words would be very surprising and even confounding to me. So, no, I will never "admit" that anything should be on a list that is provided by an all-wise and loving God, especially as far removed that I am from the context.

That being said, I don't think furthering this discussion will be profitable at this point, unless you would like to pursue it further. I'm not sure how you became so jaded about the Hebrew Bible, but I hope you can take at least a little comfort from the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there is a fairer way to look at it.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Wow, Ellen, Not For Sale is a GREAT cause I've never even heard of! Thank you!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Mark, call it disparaging if you want to, but yes,I do think that the omission of atrocities like rape, child abuse, torture and slavery from that very fundamental list says a great deal about the culture and morality of the time.

I do find it astonishing when anyone in modern times does NOT find those omissions troubling and unacceptable today.

And no, I really don't have any problem at all saying the ONLY kind of God worth believing in is ten million percent opposed to all of those atrocities.

Anonymous said...

Great post Alexandra, I think that writing about what makes you angry is a great motivator. I never really thought of it that way before but I SO do that. When my first novel came out I donated the first month's worth of sales to my local dog shelter. And while UNLEASHED is not really about stray dogs one of the main characters is a rescued mutt and helping animals is close to my heart. What I was pissed about when writing that book was politics... Obama getting elected really helped ease that anger though.

Anonymous said...

Great post Alexandra, I think that writing about what makes you angry is a great motivator. I never really thought of it that way before but I SO do that. When my first novel came out I donated the first month's worth of sales to my local dog shelter. And while UNLEASHED is not really about stray dogs one of the main characters is a rescued mutt and helping animals is close to my heart. What I was pissed about when writing that book was politics... Obama getting elected really helped ease that anger though.