When the only justice is made up

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here, and I have to confess that my heart isn’t in this.

It’s been a difficult week, from a distance or up close. After the Newtown shootings, I joined the rest of the country. Stunned. Paralyzed. Sickened. But then, most people didn’t have to go back to the task of inventing and inhabitating a world where people die violent deaths.

Apologies–or maybe not–if this is a downer. But I couldn’t–and still haven’t–gone back to writing. Good guys. Bad guys. This handgun and that handgun. Which Glock? How big a hole does a 9-millimeter slug leave in plywood? Which innocent person should be a casualty? Which likable character will have to go? How evil is the villain in this book? Should I give him any redeemable traits? Should I just whack him? How flawed is this hero? Does he or she have doubts?

For days now I’ve had no stomach for any of it. Fiction as it is, it still somehow hits too close to home. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a group of college students studying crime fiction. I told them I didn’t write about serial killers.  I said I didn’t do crazed villains. I said I only did criminals who were rational, accountable, in many ways like the rest of us. I did not do characters who walk into movie theaters and start shooting.

Because what is there to say? How can that story contain a moral lesson? How can the good guys win? Where is the justice?

Nowhere, of course. So this is not the stuff of my books. It’s the stuff of news stories I don’t want to read but can’t look away from. It’s the stuff of television reports that make me want to turn the channel. But I can’t.

So I didn’t write a word. I barely thought of the next chapter. The plot. The characters. The bits and pieces of a new book. I put it all aside. I went out to the shed and split wood.

And then, just yesterday, I walked by the study. I went in. I opened the document, my work in progress. Read a few pages. Looked at the books in my up-next stack. Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, set in Iceland. The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. And I not only thought I might read them. I felt like I had to.

Back to a world where there is order, even if it begins in dysfunction. Where there is a possibility of justice. Where murder is in some ways can be undone. Back to the writing today.

It’s small progress. But in a world that sometimes seems to be unraveling all around us, what else can a crimewriter do?




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9 Responses to When the only justice is made up

  1. Deanna says:

    Me, too. I have been hunkered down re-reading for comfort. Dee

  2. thelma straw says:

    Yeah, after watching so much heartache on TV, hearing it on the radio, reading it in the NYT, I have begun to question my own writing, the killing, the methods, how it might hit someone like a person in Newtown, etc… I will be much more careful in the future… Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  3. Joan Emerson says:

    Far too often our sensibilities are swamped by the ugly realities of the world in which we live. The need to escape the horror that perpetuates itself in the real world creates an interesting dichotomy for both writers and readers of crime fiction. Perhaps the fiction is, in and of itself, an escape valve of sorts . . . providing a bit of a respite from the anguish of the reality that has a tendency to be far crueler than anything we might invent on our own.

  4. Lil Gluckstern says:

    Beautifully written, and so apt. For a few days, I just read cozies.
    Thank you.

  5. Ronna DeLoe says:

    Hi Gerry, big hugs from our family to you. We reached out to our cousins and friend who live in Newtown. Harry’s cousin taught math at the high school so I’m sure she knew people. We were just in NY — had to argue a case in Brooklyn. We had just passed Newtown on the way down. It’s a beautiful area, in the middle of nowhere, where many people live in nice houses in fields. I was supposed to call my clients (teenagers) the next day to talk to them about the oral argument. I couldn’t either. I did yesterday. I thought it would be better to get some distance between the event and my phone call. After all, I would insist that they “stay safe,” whatever that means, and I would rather they heard that from their mother than from their lawyer. I hear you and know what you mean. It’s difficult to focus when the world is going crazy around you. Merry Christmas and PEACE to everyone, especially in their/our hearts.

  6. John Clark says:

    It helps to wake up every morning and ask for an opportunity to do one small kindness for another human being. None of us can fix the world, but individually, we can make it a tiny bit brighter. As for reading, I was fortunate to have a really good YA dystopian book arrive two days ago and I jumped in with both feet.

  7. monica wood says:

    Gerry, I’d love to see a larger conversation among the bloggers here on this topic. All of America, I think, has at long last been truly stunned by senseless violence, and there seems to be a national conversation starting not only about guns, but about how we are all complicit, or not, in the violence of our culture. How do writers, filmmakers, video producers, artists, and the like fit into this culture of violence? Is it immoral to write about sex-murderer-slasher-serial-killer-psycho-etceteras? Or is it, rather, a way of channeling readers’ penchant for sensationalism into a milder form of entertainment? There is a reason that most of the tv crime shows have gotten grislier. I remember years ago being shocked the first time Law & Order showed a child victim. I stopped watching after that–I met my own personal line. I don’t read anything about sex murders or child murders–another personal line. But I understand that there is a huge appetite for serial-sex-kids-murder books from perfectly decent people. Can the other writers on your blog weigh in? I’m so confused.

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