My thirteen-year-old nephew is a mystery and action/adventure fanatic. He never passes up an opportunity to read an Arthur Conan Doyle story. (He says he likes Sherlock Holmes because the guy’s really smart.) My nephew devoured The Hunger Games Trilogy in a couple of weeks. (His only complaint is that the heroine, Katniss, thinks too much for someone about to be killed.) And he believes Neil Gaiman is the best author. Ever. (His stuff is really cool.)
At a recent family get-together, he pulled me aside. He was pissed because his mom and dad wouldn’t let him to read my first novel, Pursued. It wasn’t the book’s gay content that bothered his parents. They felt the adult themes weren’t appropriate for a boy his age. And I agree. Pursued is about an openly gay college junior who wants a boyfriend more than anything else in the world. But when he finds the man of his dreams, the guy turns into the man of his nightmares and tracks our hero through the Catskill Mountains and New York City. He has only one goal— to kill his young lover. When writing Pursued, I didn’t shy away from the story’s sex, nor gloss over its violence.
“Then is your book dirty?” my nephew asked.
Conscious of the fine line I was walking, I said, “No. But it does have mature themes.”
“You mean it has sex and violence.”
“Well, yes, but the book is about more than that.”
He nodded, but his next question threw me for a loop. “Then why couldn’t you write the book without the sex and violence?”
I didn’t know how to answer him. While developing Pursued, the main character’s need for love and the violence he encounters was always an intricate part of the story. It’s what made the story interesting. In fact, I believe sex and violence are two of the reasons we like most stories. Shakespeare probably thought that, and I’d wager that most of today’s best-selling authors believe that too. But sex and violence are just two aspects of a successful story.
In Europe, James Bond is known as “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” because that phrase described every James Bond plot. Sex and Violence. The audience knows what to expect with Bond. In every story 007 gets involved with a lot of women and engages in a lot of fights where he gets to use a bunch of fancy weapons and gadgets. But at the heart of every story is a diabolical villain who is wrecking havoc with the world. Bond must apprehend the villain and save civilization.
Pauline Keal, The New Yorker’s film critic during the 1970s and 80s, even titled one or her criticism books Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. She said those words were “perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.”
I believe that same sentiment holds true for our literature. Yes, we love to read about sex and violence. It entertains us. Satisfies our urges, excites our libido and lets us live vicariously through our heroes. Often, it’s the entire basis of how we judge a novel. But deep inside, we also want our stories to enlighten us and to broaden our outlook of the world. We want to believe in our hero’s admirable cause, and to cheer his successes, and mourn his losses.
When the conversation with my nephew ended, we decided one thing. I’d sign a copy of Pursued for him, wrap it up, and keep the book until he becomes old enough to read it. When he reads the novel, I hope he’ll say he has a new favorite author, his uncle Joel, because his books are really cool.
Joel Gomez-Dossi lives with his husband in upstate New York. At last count they have twenty-five nieces and nephews of varying ages, so this particular bookworm’s identity is safe. To know more about Joel, visit www.JoelGomez-Dossi.com. You can watch Pursued’s book trailer on Youtube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcb2-fixq6M.