Monday, March 28, 2011

A Concern of Taste, or Literature, or Something

Sometimes writing presents questions you never dreamed of.

Two months ago I wrote a very long novella (38,000 words) called "Before the Fall, After the Fall, During the Fall." It will be published by Tachyon Press late this year, or perhaps next year, as a stand-alone book, in the same manner that Tachyon published James Patrick Kelly's BURN and James Morrow's SHAMBLING TOWARD HIROSHIMA. My novella features, as part of the story but not in close-up or affecting the protagonist directly, a tsunami hitting Japan. I did my research; the tsunami starts with an earthquake on the same fault line that spawned the real quake a few years ago, although in a slightly different way, so that the main wave hits Tokyo. Still, the effects are similar and the coincidence is ghoulish.

Here is my concern: Does it look exploitative or tasteless to leave my tsunami in the story, given the monstrous suffering occurring right now in Japan? Nobody will know I wrote that scene before, not after, this real-life tragedy. It wouldn't be hard to move my tsunami to another place around the Pacific Rim. Should I do so?

What do you out there think? Help me sort out the issues of exploitation, taste, and honesty involved, because I can't seem to decide.

16 comments:

Tracy said...

I can definitely understand and empathize with your predicament. You're right, no one will know when you wrote the book, so to some, it may seem exploitative.

I think the real question is how did you handle the situation in your "imaginary" tsunami? If it was handled with realism, but also with sensitivity, leave it. If it was a heavy-handed, slightly callous treatment - which also has its place in fiction - move it to another location and pray lightning doesn't strike twice. Also, if you're still worried, add a brief foreword telling of when the story was written. Finally, I think if your publisher doesn't ask you to change the location, for all the reasons you mentioned, then you should leave it.

EA Hirsch said...

My two cents- if it could be moved and not effect the plot in a negative way, I would do it. In ten years it won't matter, but I think even in the next year or two seeing something that mirrors such a horrific natural disaster in print will bring that event to everyone's minds, thus coloring their approach to your work. Even if you take the exploitation aspect out of the equation, you're still left with the problem that this event has a pretty visceral emotional connection for a lot of people, which may not be the glasses you want your readers wearing.

That being said, if it's going to make the plot go all pear shaped, of course, it's probably best to leave it as-is.

Also- I'm working my way through Nano Comes to Clifford Falls, and I am really enjoying it! It took me a full day to process "Savior" and realize that the egg was the protagonist, but once that clicked I was really impressed.

Sean Craven said...

I agree with EA Hirsch; I would also suggest that a brief paragraph explaining this set of circumstances done as an afterward or part of the acknowledgments page would not be a mistake. If nothing else, it would allow you to make your intentions clear.

Tim of Angle said...

I should think that mentioning the timing issue in an introduction would be sufficient.

oldmangamer said...

Authors cannot be held responsible for reality overtaking fiction. Should we not write about murder because murders are tragic to some (and sometimes many)? You, yourself have already demonstrated your humanity by asking the question. Really, most of us are not The Acme Judgement Company (thx to Larry Gelbart). Just leave it in the way you wrote it. And thanks for asking.

TheOFloinn said...

Keep it. It's obviously a fictional event if it hits Tokyo instead of the northern coast. It's as much derived from the Indian Ocean tsunami of a couple years ago.

Ben Payne said...

I don't think there's anything tasteless about it, so long as its use within the story is sensitive, which I don't doubt, given your writing in general.

Sakura said...

Keep it. Copy this blog post to the introduction. Exactly what Tracy, Sean and Tim said.

And like Ben said, you will undoubtedly have well thought out characters and show more sensitivity than the world media have done thus far.

If you have a scene where babies are being scanned with geiger counters, maybe take that bit out :p

Guillaume44 said...

I think you should keep it.

Mia said...

Keep it, and as others have suggested add a forward explaining the situation. You could also include a list of disaster relief organizations that readers may want to donate to.

bluesman miike Lindner said...

I agree with Tracy--a foreword explaining the yarn's genesis.

David B. Ellis said...

A foreword sounds like the right way to go to me too.

Ken Schneyer said...

I agree with Tim of Angle. State the issue forthrightly and be done with it.

As a general matter, I think it is a mistake to act based on other people's erroneous perceptions of your intent. Nor can I, in all honesty, call it "exploitative" in any real way when events happen to coincide with what you have written.

By the bye, I taught "Out of All Them Bright Stars" in my SF class today. (We're using the Wesleyan Anthology.) The students loved it.

Julia said...

This is a pretty freaky example of an SF writer predicting the future, if I may just make that observation.

As for the book, speaking as a fan I hope you don't decide to change your original vision.

But out of empathy for Japan, maybe in addition to the foreward explaining the book's genesis you might also donate all or a portion of the profits to the Red Cross of Japan?

Nancy Kress said...

Thank you all for your comments. I'm going to call Jacob Weissmann, the publisher at Tachyon, today and discuss it with him.

Jack Crow said...

Don't know if this helps or matters, but I just started reading Point, Thomas Blackthorne's* sequel to Edge, published 2011.

I'm only thirteen pages on, and two paragraphs and some dialogue into chapter two, where he writes,

"The sniffling kids were gone, led away by murmuring adults. You might call them traumatised, but not if you had seen what Josh had seen: in Africa, in Siberia, in post-Deathquake Japan..."

So far, it's not as developed as your story, but I don't think it's out of anyone who is even moderately informed's ordinary to associate Japan with terrible earthquakes.

* - John Meaney's Angry Robot nom de plume