Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grief and the Writer

In light of what happened on Monday at the Boston Marathon, I scuttled the previously-intended piece for today’s slot.  I moved from NY (where I lived through the first WTC bombing and 9/11) to MA, south of Boston, a few years ago.  The images and continuous coverage brought back a lot of memories and emotions.  They should -- as a human, as a writer, one doesn’t ever want to be immune to something like this.

But then, as a writer, what do we do?  What is our responsibility?  How do we question/investigate violence, its use and abuse, in an ethical way in our work?

Many of my stories contain violence.  Some of it is designed to make the reader uncomfortable and question the character’s motives, even if that character is the protagonist.  As a writer, one of the things I do is investigate what makes people tick.  Even if I don’t agree with the motives, I need to understand them.

Responding with violence has become a knee-jerk response in so many areas of our lives.  Someone cuts you off at the intersection?  Road rage.  Someone doesn’t like a grade on a paper?  Open fire.  Someone gets fired?  Go in and kill the boss.

I understand personal violence against someone an individual feels wronged him -- even when I don’t agree with it.  But violence against random people one has never met just because they exist -- in other words, acts of terrorism -- infuriates me.  How does one respond?  When is violence the “right” response to a situation, and when is it “wrong”?  Who gets to make those definitions?

Because of the predator/prey concept, there’s the theory that if you never fight back, you will be devoured (metaphorically speaking) by those who are predators -- con men, lowlifes (many of whom dress in expensive suits and parade as “corporate executives”).  In movies and literature, time and time again, we see the character who doesn’t want to fight who is forced into fighting, and through that fight -- through violence -- triumphs.  But is that “right”?

I don’t have the answers  I keep exploring it in fiction, to try to figure out where, in different situations and with different characters, the lines are drawn.  Justice, vengeance, terrorism -- who creates and maintains the definitions, and who gets to make those decisions?  Is it always going to keep cycling and escalating?  Is it possible to create and maintain a non-violent society?

As we grieve for lives taken unfairly, we, as writers, return to the page.  It’s not just about churning out another formula title so we can say, “I published ten books” or twelve books or whatever.  It’s about investigating different ways of dealing with the world (even created worlds) and trying to figure out if any of them work.

Going to the page is how we keep ourselves out of the abyss.  It keeps us from giving up. It’s how we try to find ways to make sense of the tragedies, both personal and universal,  and find better solutions.  Words have power -- that’s why organizations like PEN ( are so important.  Every other country in the world fears its writers and understands the power of words -- we need to reclaim that power and make our words count, as entertainment and beyond.

We have to use them responsibly.

--Annabel Aidan’s paranormal romantic suspense novel, ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, is available from Champagne Books.  She publishes under multiple names in multiple genres.  Visit her at


January Bain said...

Writing has been my salvation and keeps me from the abyss. Not easy to be human these days and that maybe why I feel a need to create other worlds. Thoughful, timely blog.

Best, January

Liz Fountain said...

Important reflections on a tragic event, and the human condition we find ourselves experiencing. Thank you, Annabel.

Jude Johnson said...

Thanks for expressing what has been rumbling through my mind since Monday. I'll be in Boston three weeks from today for the first time ever, and my heart is heavy for the folks there.


Ute Carbone said...

Thank you, Annbel, for blogging about this. I live just an hour north of Boston. It feels very close to home and it has shaken me. I've thought a lot about violence, particularly senseless violence, this week. How do we respond? And what can we learn? There are no easy answers, I guess, but as writers it is something well worth exploring.

Nikki said...

Thank you, Annabel. Like Ute, I live an hour north of Boston. I know runners who aspire to the Marathon. I have a colleague near West, Texas. My heart is heavy and my hands feel useless. I wish I had answers, but all I have is this--life is precious. Live as fully as you can, help others, try to do no harm. Tell those you love that you love them. Keep peace in your heart.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Well said all around. Now that they are rounding up the perps., perhaps we will understand their twisted motivation. In the meantime, my husband (MIT 1956)says that this terrorist strike struck the heart of Patriots' Day in Boston. It's not just a Marathon; it's a victory run. My prayers are with the victims.