Thursday, February 7, 2013

Writing A Novel: The Offense Defense

As a writer of young adult fiction, I have no delusions that I'm crafting the Great American Novel. I don't think that my stories are going to change lives or history; I'm no Harriet Beecher Stowe. However, I do pride myself on telling well-written, entertaining and realistic stories -- which means that I sometimes have to cover controversial topics like bullying, homosexuality, weight and body image issues and teen sexuality.

In my latest novel, I cover religion, specifically Judaism, and the different degrees in which one can observe this particular faith. In real life, I'm more of a "cultural Jew" and am not especially observant. My narrator also has only a slight interest in her faith, but my main male character, Griffin, comes from a family that's much more strict about practicing Judaism. Throughout the book, he has to make some choices about various things in his life, including just how observant a Jew he wants to be.

To be honest, I have some fears that this topic, as well as some of the other issues in this work-in-progress novel, will offend some readers. I had a serious discussion about it with my friend/writing muse, Amy, who is a more observant Jew than I am. She calmed my nerves and assured me that many people question their ties to their religions and that this would be a realistic thing to come up for a college freshman. She also advised me, "You can't worry too much about what will offend people. Chances are that no matter what you write, SOMEONE will take offense -- but if you try to please everyone, your writing will just be bland."

She makes some good points and I've been thinking about her words. There are some books that are very offensive. If I read something that was full of hateful words and stereotypical descriptions against a particular group, for instance, I wouldn't enjoy the story. Unless something offensive were said in context. For instance, if I were reading a story about American slavery or the Holocaust, I imagine that some characters would use strong words against Blacks or Jews; but there's a big difference between an author's portrayal of a time period and an author expressing his or her views. Then again, there's the whole question of free speech, so you can see why the issue is so complicated.

As for me, I'm just trying to tell a tale in the most thoughtful way possible. I hope that readers take something positive from my book and perhaps change their views on certain ideas. If not, I hope they at least enjoy the story. Either way, I'm proud of the work that I'm doing and am glad that I live in a country where we can address topics that aren't always easy to discuss.

Meantime, please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD, 99 cents through February.

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