I watched an episode of the Glenn Beck show this last week. On this particular day, Beck interviewed author Daniel Silva. Professionally dressed, with well-groomed hair and a clean face, Silva looked like a one of those quiet neighbors from next door. And yet, he writes suspense stories that involve violence. “Where does this come from?” Beck asked him. Silva’s response: Writers have vivid imaginations (paraphrase).
Thinking about that exchange, and Glenn Beck’s reaction to Silva, I couldn’t help but remember a quote from Ed McBain regarding one of his short stories:
Although [“Chalk”] was finally published in 1953 (under the title “I Killed Jeannie,” can you believe it!), I wrote this story in 1945, aboard a destroyer in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When it circulated among my shipmates, it caused no small degree of apprehension.
- From the collection of short stories, Learning to Kill (2006)
Reading McBain’s comments, it’s clear (at least to me) that his shipmates wondered about him, if only just a little. It’s also clear that the reaction he received stuck with him for over sixty years.
It’s interesting how writers can impact their readers, isn’t it? I can’t pass by a large gas tank along the freeway without thinking of the Trashcan Man in Stephen King’s The Stand. When I hear the ticking of my dog’s toenails on our kitchen floor, I often remember the evil creature in Dean Koontz’s Watchers. Likewise, in my recent stories I have tried to grab just one image that I hope will stick with my readers forever. When they see a can of paint, or watch a Glidden commercial on TV, I want them to remember what they read about in “Pure White”. When they look at a newspaper and see photos of people randomly captured off the street, I want my readers to remember the psycho they read about in "Picture Perfect". The first of my own examples shouldn’t create any consternation. Grief can be expressed in many ways. The second example, however, might raise more than just an eyebrow.
There are times when a story comes together and a villain so cold and unpredictable pours out of me, like it did in “Picture Perfect,” that it literally scares me. Afterwards—often after it’s been released for everyone to see—I start to wonder: Will people look at me differently because of this? If they see me in public, will they grab their children and pass by on the other side of the street?
Writing is a lonely place at times. Loosing friends because I’ve revealed the darker side of my imaginative mind is something altogether different. Truth be told, there are some stories that I’ve never penned just because of that reason alone. Thankfully, nobody’s closed me off yet.
How about you? Do you worry about stuff like this? Does it matter what your spouse thinks of your writing? Your parents? If you have one, your priest?