Monday, April 28, 2014

Is My Book Too Dirty? by Mike Monson

The Kindle edition of my new novella, The Scent of New Death, was released on April 21. That day, a review appeared on a website with this disclaimer:

Readers are again cautioned that storylines involving incest of a child under the age of 18, bondage, rough sex, as well as frequent brutal and bloody murders are present throughout the book. This is not a cozy style read in any way possible as everything is fully on the stage for the reader to see and experience. It simply can’t be stressed strongly enough that this is very much an adult read and only suitable for adult readers.”

Now, I’d known that my book was pretty hard-core, and I’d made the decision to not shy away from showing the details of my characters’ horrible acts. But, as the publication date got closer and closer, I wondered if anyone would notice. Or care. I mean, there is a lot of sex and violence and bad language all over the place in the culture—not only in books, but in movies and even on television. Certainly, the content of my book wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, right? It’s meant to be a pulpy crime book, after all, and that shit is usually pretty intense.

Deep down though, I knew the truth. The Scent of New Death does, in fact, depict some truly awful people being completely evil. The reviewer’s description is accurate. When I was writing, my imagination went to some dark and brutal places and I made a conscious decision to never censor myself. Thus, I was pretty sure that the bondage, rough sex, incest, etc., while not new, exactly, was presented with a graphic directness that might be unusual and new enough to be shocking, because I did make sure it was all “fully on the stage for the reader to see and experience.”

In the past two years I’ve had a couple dozen stories published (which I collected into the book Criminal Love and Other Stories and self-published last summer), and my noir novella What Happens in Reno came out earlier this year. All this fiction is graphic and dark. The Amazon reviews are rife with words such as “brutal,” “uncompromising,” “gritty,” “lurid,” “demented,” “bleak,” “harsh,” “twisted,” and “sick.”

Plus, with a couple of exceptions (like my wife and maybe my son) no one in my family appears to like my fiction, and very few people I knew before I started publishing ever say a word about any of the stories and novellas (again, with one or two notable exceptions). My friends and family don’t appear to be proud of me and my writing and publishing accomplishments. When we talk, my writing is like the bloody, raped, and dismembered elephant in the room everyone sees and no one dares talk about. Would this be different if I wrote slick cozy banal mysteries or quant literary stories, rather than tales of crime and violence with a wide variety of sexual acts depicted in great detail? I’m not sure, but it’s what I’m tempted to think.

All that said, The Scent of New Death is definitely the most extreme of all my stuff. In the context of “adult,” it is definitely my worst book. As I think I’ve established—it’s very dirty. It’s possible that it will remain my dirtiest book. My current project, while certainly a graphic dark crime book, doesn’t “go there” the way Scent does and there are many pages in a row with no sex or violence whatsoever.

While I wouldn’t change a thing, and I am very proud of the novella, here at the beginning of its publication, I have to admit that I wonder what people will think. Assuming that it is read widely at all, will readers/people be shocked? Will they be angry? Will I or the book be judged harshly? Will I be accused me of being as bad or wrong or demented or sick as the people and actions in the book? Will I piss people off because I didn’t turn the camera away at the last minute, because I didn’t fade to black just in time? Will it not be read it because I went too far?

Right now I’m waiting for the answers to these questions. So far, there has just been that blogger review (which was ultimately pretty positive) and a couple of five-star Amazon reviews basically praising the book because it is sick, demented, twisted and wrong. (What can I say? I do have at least a dozen true fans.)
Certainly, these questions are most likely a moot point. Mike Monson is not a big name in the publishing world. So far, I and my work have gotten very little attention, and my obscurity is quite possibly a permanent condition. But, still, I do wonder, and, I am braced and ready for any backlash and criticism that may actually come along. It’d be great of course if a lot of people read it and had strong reactions, good or bad. I’d love some engagement, some connection with readers because of this book. Definitely.

If, after reading this, you are wondering if The Scent of New Death is really that bad, maybe you should buy a copy right away (and a couple for your friends and family) and find out for yourself.

And then let me know what you think.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

As the blogger who was quoted above without attribution, I was in a quandary on this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and had no issues with the content. I do admit the eyebrows went up a couple of times while reading it, but I didn't have an issue with the themes or content in the book. It is a violent and warped book and one I liked as I noted in the review.

That being said, some of the folks who read my reviews would have serious issues with any one of the elements in the book---let alone all of them together. I felt that it was my duty as a reviewer to point it out at the top of the review and again at the conclusion because of that.

Did I go overboard with the warning? I don't know. But, I do know if I had not pointed out some of the content in the book, I would be catching flack for not saying something about this or that.

You can judge for yourself here:

Author of Mind Slices and contributor to the Carpathian Shadows, Volume II Anthology
Book Reviews, Market News, and Much More

Monson said...

Just for the record -- I had no problem with Kevin writing the disclaimer about the book. It seemed perfectly fine and wise to me. I decided not to name him because I didn't want it to seem like I was calling him out or criticizing him in any way. But, now, I see that was a mistake and I hope he accepts my apology.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Been very busy here today and only online a little bit here and there. Not upset about anything Mike did here or elsewhere. He has nothing to apologize for.

Anonymous-9 said...

Well, well, well here's a topic with meat on it's bones. First, I like the title of the book. Second, I don't care what macabre incidents occur in a book, it's what the book reveals about the human condition or human nature that's important (to me). A tip of the hat to you, Mike, for writing stuff your family can't embrace and going ahead with it anyway. If your stuff is accepted by people who "know" crime fiction, the family will come around. I experienced the same kind of thing myself. Great essay here, I enjoyed it.

Holly West said...

I don't remember who, but some writer once said that you have to write like you're an orphan, with no friends or family. Or something like that. It takes courage I don't thus far have to write without censoring yourself, and for that, I applaud you.

Warren Moore said...

Heh. When I wrote BGW, I let my folks read it. My mom's question:
It's good, but are you going to publish it under your own name?"

I said, "No, Mom. Under yours."

Similarly, I did an on-campus reading last term, and when I went to the bank the other day, the teller asked, "Do you work at the college." I said I did, and her next question was, "Did you read some of your book last semester?"

So apparently I'm that guy. It's fun, even though my daughter refuses to read it because she's unnerved by thinking that stuff came out of her dad's head.