Thursday, March 21, 2013

Runaway Victims

By Jay Stringer

First to a little bit of bidness. My second crime novel Runaway Town is out next week. But you already knew that, right? Did you know that the song of the same title is out this week? For Old Gold I released a Spotify playlist that acted as a soundtrack to the book.

I'll be doing the same for book 2, but I wanted to try something else. I even tried writing a song myself, but I'm so many years past being a song-writer that I don't think that skill is in my toolbox anymore. I was talking to a friend of mine -who writes catchy songs under the name 8-Bit Ninjas- and the book's title gelled with something he had in mind.

We discussed the themes of the book, and he channelled some ideas that had been kicking around his head. We share a hometown, though we've both moved away,  and the song he wrote perfectly caught the mood I'd had in mind while writing the book. He writes of being being used and abused, and of a town going wrong, and does it with a melancholy voice that could have belonged to the narrator of the book, but sets it to a driving chord progression and, and course, some 8-Bit catchiness.

Not only that, but the song is also a good listen while reading the rest of today's post. So why not give it a go? It's a fun idea that lead to a fun experiment and the result is a great song. I hear there may be an album soon.

It's less than a quid in UK moneys and is available on Spotify, Itunes, Bandcamp
Do it. 

Last week I waxed lengthy-like about some of the issues that spring from the setting I choose to write in. These are the things that you can't ignore. They might not be the story you first set out to tell, but if you pick a setting and then ignore that settings voice, you're going to fail. 

This week I wanted to talk about what first set me writing the book. And I better give out a trigger warning, just in case. 

Victims. Violence. 

"Some say land of paradise. Some say land of pain. Which side are you looking on?"
-Uncle Tupelo

Violence in fiction and the media seems to be a very relative thing. We have no problem seeing people being beaten, tortured, stabbed or shot, but if someone swears or -yikes- shows a little nudity we lose our shit. There is a debate to be had on the casualisation of violence. We know this because blogs have spent years having that very debate. I'm not talking about that, and I think violence has an important part to play in fiction. What sets my spine itching is the casualisation of victims. 

We live in a world full of victims. There are children, women, men, ethnic minorities and immigrants across the globe being turned into commodities, or beaten, or starving, or used as scape-goats. And in fiction we do some extremely violent things to these people, and often skate on by to the next bit in the story. I'm sure we've all heard of that million-selling book that purports to be about how men hate women and how they are used and abused. The same book and film that then goes on to depict a graphic scene of the woman being reduced to a victim. (But hey, it's okay, she gets a revenge scene later, so that excuses it.) Just as we see crime fiction that wants to talk about human trafficking (which is a valid issue to explore) but only in terms of impossibly attractive and well-lit women being forced to do kinky things on screen or page. If the choices we make in talking about exploitation are to exploit, are we examining the issue or using it? And it often seems to be the way. I watched the film Seven Psychopaths and there's a scene when the writer played by Colin Farrell is criticised for having terrible female characters. It feels like the films writer is speaking directly of his own work. Farrell thinks for a moment then says what his script is saying is that it's a terrible world for women. And it is. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has used that excuse at one point or another to excuse a blind spot in our work. But if you're aware enough to know -as it seemed the films writer was- that your work is weak on female characters, maybe just set about fixing that rather than cracking a joke? 

"They're making it easy not to try."
-8-Bit Ninjas

Victims also seem to be relative.

The media tells us that the aggressors are the real victims and that the real victims are to blame. We don't have to go far right now to see that at work. and this isn't just me being on a soapbox about the treatment of women, this is about the treatment of all victims. McFet would probably write a very interesting bit here about the treatment of the working class in fiction and the media, and he's right. We take away the human faces. It's all too casual, all too easy. 

There was a time when crime fiction didn't deal with grief very well. It was the dirty secret that all of the actions we wrote about would produce grief in the real world, but that got in the way of getting to the next bit of the story. Then we started to talk about this a lot, and writers started exploring grief. There are great writers out there who've been doing that very well for a while now. 

When I sat down to write Runaway Town I couldn't help but think about the other kinds of grief. Not just of someone we've lost, but of parts of ourselves that we're losing day by day, and of the parts of themselves that a victim never gets back after the event.  How does violence change us? What does it say about us when we choose who to inflict our violence upon? And how do we get back up again after having violence inflicted upon us?  I wanted to try-It's for others to decide whether I succeeded- to put my story eye to eye with these people. To let them talk about what happened and to not be looking for excuses to do anything else. 

"When this world was made, it was never meant to save everyone in kind. I don't believe God much had me, had me much in mind."
-Ben Nichols


Dana King said...

Your timing is impeccable. (For me.) I'm in the process of reading over the WIP after the first draft, deciding what to cut and what to add. You hit on tow issues here that have been in th back of my mind that need to be addressed, and, since this is what at the front of ,y mind right now, I'm ready to get at it.

John McFetridge said...

"... are we examining the issue or using it?"

Well, I think it's good to ask the question. It's a discussion I thought Quentin Tarantino effectively ended - it's all just entertainment, a bit of a giggle and don't worry about what's underneath it - so it's good to see it's back.

Maybe violence is okay because smarter people than me know it will never liberate anyone - it'll just continue the cycle. Powerless people taking it out on each other will never upset the social order.

Now, if people start thinking they can love whoever they want, well, that could be dangerous.

And congrats on the publication, the book looks great.

Steve Weddle said...

Seems to me that a book dealing with the impact of violence tends to be vastly more interesting than a book that merely glorifies the violence.

That's only one of the reasons RUNAWAY TOWN is amazing, though.