Friday, December 02, 2011

As Long as it Makes You Feel

Publishing my short story, “Hitting Back,” in e-book form was an enlightening journey in so many ways. For instance, I didn’t anticipate the anger the story would draw. The strong feelings.

I no longer remember where the heart of this story came from and how it came to me. I only know that one of the things I wanted to do was explore looking at things from the viewpoint of a character who was, at very least, morally reprehensible.

The nameless main character in “Hitting Back” is an assassin. A hired killer. You give her money; she’ll make someone dead. For me and my own view of the world, there is no place that she can come to this and have it be all right. But she’s a character and she has her reasons. And even though the story is told in the first person, they are not my reasons. And she? She is not me. If there’s something out there that would make me take a life, I can’t imagine what it would be. That is, I can’t conceive of the situation that would allow me to take another human life, let alone take it and continue to be me.

So coming to this character and writing her in a believable way was, at least, a challenge for me. How could you write something about someone with whom you share nothing at all? More: how could you write it from their viewpoint? Yet somehow she -- whoever she is -- came to be. Not only that, in this single story, she came to be with such veracity that she’s struck a nerve with some readers. With a lot of readers. People have written to me to tell me how much they hate the character: how they could really feel the intensity of her pain, yet still couldn’t justify what she’d done.

Here’s the thing, though: there is no justification for what she’s done/for what she does. In a way, that’s the point. You’re not meant to like her. Or identify with her. Or even, particularly, understand her. If I had any intention at all with that character -- if there’s any reaction I wanted from you, gentle reader -- it’s that I wanted you to feel. If, when you read “Hitting Back” you feel anger or if her story saddens or even confuses you, then I guess I’ve hit my mark. I wanted to explore something for which I don’t think there is a good explanation. I wanted to feel -- and have you feel -- what it is to stand on the dark side. And I wanted you to know how good it feels not to have to stay there. How good it was for both of us not to stay there.

Some people have asked me if this character will get her own book. I’m still not sure. I liked the voice in “Hitting Back.” I liked the tone and the pace. To be honest, though, I’m not sure I could spend a whole book in this woman’s company. I’m not sure I could do that to myself, emotionally. And, were I to do it, I’m not sure I could ask you to join me there.

So here’s what I want you to take away from all of this: if you read “Hitting Back” and the emotions that come up in you are strong, I’ve done what I set out to do. If you feel outrage or disagreement or even anger, that’s all okay. My intention, when I write anything, is not necessarily to make you like what I’ve written or even make you like me. I’m only hoping to make you feel.

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