(Originally posted 4th July 2012)
I read an article today about Stephen King’s Rage not being available to buy in bookshops as a result of it having influenced several teenagers to execute copycat crimes and murder innocent teachers and classmates. King himself asked for the book to be removed from print, and is apparently happy that he did so.
The article is here for anybody that would like to have a read.
It raises some pertinent questions for authors, and especially self-published authors. Self-publishing for Kindle brings with it varying degrees of responsibility. Age-old criticisms about quality of self-published author’s work, and newer criticisms of formatting for Kindle (et al) heap pressure on self-published authors, many of whom must find time not only to write, but to market their work (which in itself could be a full-time occupation) plus raise families, run homes and, in my case, work a regular job.
We do not all have editors to tell us, ‘Oh no, you can’t possibly have him do that’ or ‘This character could influence others to do unspeakable acts’.
So is it our consciences or our perception of bad taste that should make us regulate the subjects or acts about which we write?
I have no problem with writing about someone being hacked up and butchered by something not of this world, but I’m pretty sure I would never write a novel about having a sexual relationship with someone who was underage. Although, Vladimir Nabokov didn’t seem to do too badly out of it. I think it is in poor taste, but I had to study it at one of the top universities in the country when I did my English literature degree.
What kind of checks do Amazon do on self-published titles? Presumably they don’t actually read any of the content? They’d need an army of trained chimps to read even a small sample of each title published. It’s not worth their money.
So what happens when someone does an unspeakable act and blames it on a book they bought for their Kindle? Am I supposed to, as an indie author, regulate my writing to prevent impressionable people being influenced by something like murders in my work?
I don’t see why I should, and I don’t see why King thinks he should either. Nabokov didn’t worry about the possibility of influencing grown men to drug and manipulate underage girls. In an age when school shootings have, sadly, become not uncommon, to what extent should King, Picoult, or anyone else who writes about school shootings (here is a list of those two plus another twenty-eight works), or subjects that *could* influence criminal and even barbaric acts feel responsible?
Shouldn’t I just be able to write fiction and have it seen as just that – fiction?
Should I be consulting my moral compass every five minutes before my character spits on the ground, drops a piece of litter, or uses the F word?
Ought I to describe my character attaching knee protection, elbow protection and donning a helmet before he cycles to the store for milk?
Where do we draw the line? Can I have a crab fisherman (or woman!) on a boat in the Bering Sea who can’t get into a survival suit in under a minute?
I think this is a really interesting subject, and would love to hear people’s thoughts.