What makes you angry?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Denise Mina is one of my absolute favorite crime writers and a constant inspiration. At a recent Bouchercon (San Francisco) she gave some of the shortest, sagest advice to writers and aspiring crime writers I think I’ve ever heard:

 

Write about what makes you angry.


It doesn’t take me a millisecond’s thought to make my list. Child sexual abuse is the top, no contest. Violence against women and children. Discrimination of any kind. Religious intolerance. War crimes. Genocide. Torture.

I have long found it toxically ironic that the crimes that I consider most unspeakable: slavery, rape, torture, the sexual slavery of children (including incest and prostitution – the average age a woman begins that life is thirteen), animal abuse – none of these were even worth a mention in the Ten Commandments. Apparently taking the Lord’s name in vain, stealing, and coveting thy neighbor’s wife rank above any of my personal hate list.

And I think the lack of Biblical sanction against those crimes has contributed to society’s continuing and pretty mindblowing ability to ignore those crimes.

And I’m angry about it.

That anger has fueled a lot of my books and scripts over the years. Gar wrote about this recently, and I agree: I’ve always thought that as writers we’re only working with a handful of deep themes, which we explore over and over, in different variations. And I think it’s really useful to be very conscious of those themes. Not only do they fuel our writing, they also brand us as writers. And if you need a hint about what your personal themes are, look to the themes of your favorite writers; chances are it’s theme that’s attracting you more than almost anything else about those books.

So when it came down to creating a series that I could sustain over multiple books, it’s no surprise that this issue came up again as one of the main thematic threads.  With Huntress Moon I’ve finally created an umbrella, an interesting world populated by characters I care about, to explore, dramatically, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.

But while writing is great to call attention to a problem and explore it, it’s not enough in the face of real, everyday evil. There’s writing, and there’s action.

 I’ve been thinking a lot about child prostitution (more aptly called child sex trafficking) recently as I’m writing the Huntress sequel, because there are characters in Book Two who are in that life. The fact is, most prostitutes start as child prostitutes. Women (and boys) who work as prostitutes almost always begin that life well before adulthood. Kids run away from abuse, usually sexual abuse, at home, and are sucked up into the life by predators: raped, battered, terrorized, and hooked on drugs so they’re kept enslaved to the pimps who live off their earnings. Yes, still.

I’ve worked with some of those kids, when I taught in the L.A. County Juvenile Court systerm, and I find it unimaginable that we just let this happen, and often treat these victims as criminals rather than getting them help to break free.

So today, I don’t want to just get angry about it, I want to do something about it.

I’m very grateful that sales of Huntress Moon have been very good. And since this issue is so much on my mind, I’ll be donating all of my proceeds from today’s sales of Huntress Moon to Children of the Night, a Los Angeles-based shelter which helps children and teenagers in prostitution from all over the country get out of the life.

So if you haven’t gotten your copy of the book and you’d like the extra satisfaction that that money is going to an excellent cause, today’s your chance:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

 

Or – take that money and take a minute to donate directly to a cause that’s fighting something that makes YOU angry.

So you know the question today:

What makes you angry?  Do you write about it?  If not, do you think it might benefit your writing to try?

And I’d also love to hear about other people’s favorite charities and causes.

Here are a few more of mine:

Planned Parenthood

Equality Now

Amnesty International

Kiva

And – I just had to mention that Murderati regular, the lovely, talented and deeply insightful Billie Hinton and I are both featured in Digital Book Today’s Weekly Great Reads – you can pick up Billie’s claire-obscure for just 99 cents!

Alex

 

25 thoughts on “What makes you angry?

  1. Barbie

    Actually, I don't. I have this whole idea for a series of romantic suspense that the characters are survivors of sexual assault. And there are murders. There is abuse. But, more important, there's healing, there's friendship, there's a hot guy helping them heal, there's closure, there's not being alone.

    In my short stories, I write just about *everything*, but it's all about friendship/sisterhood, how you can never go through life alone, and in my stories, my characters are NEVER alone.

    I guess I write about what I wish I had. I'm a very lonely person. Not because I don't have people who love me (and I suppose, who care about me), but I don't have anyone who gets me as whole. Who would be there for me as unconditionally, as blindly, as infinitely. So, I write about that. Whether it's amidst murder and mayhem or in my chick lit short stories. It's all about what I wish I had.

    The other day, there was this moment in my life, something happened, that I could have written. It was something I yearned so badly, it was almost like it was written by me. Maybe I'll write it someday.

    I don't write about what makes me angry, maybe, because I'm not mature enough. It still consumes me too much. I'm angry, more than most anything, about law still being based off religion. It's 20freakin'12. State and Church have "separated" a helluva a long time ago in theory. Just get the hell with it. I'm angry about politicians who make too much money and teachers who make too little (huge problem in Brazil). I'm angry children whose parents die in child labor that are killed for being witches in some African countries. I'm angry about so many things, that if I wrote about it, I'd go crazy. So, I write about what gives me comfort. About what I need. And even though there's some darkness, I try to put a lot of light into my writing. What makes me angry are things I cannot fix. And, I think until something is done about it, or until I grow up a little, I won't be able to write about it.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Barbie, THANK YOU. You've just written the other half of this blog – beautifully and passionately.

    Because I have such a dystopian bent, I tend to forget that other side of the coin – that it's just as important to write the utopian dreams. We can't fix what's wrong in the world if we can't imagine what it will look like when it's fixed. And the dream of harmony and joy is just as powerful a fuel for writing as anger. Not only that, but people who have lived the darkness often don't want to read about it… they want the light.

    Thanks for the reminder, and thanks for the light.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Barbie, THANK YOU. You've just written the other half of this blog – beautifully and passionately.

    Because I have such a dystopian bent, I tend to forget that other side of the coin – that it's just as important to write the utopian dreams. We can't fix what's wrong in the world if we can't imagine what it will look like when it's fixed. And the dream of harmony and joy is just as powerful a fuel for writing as anger. Not only that, but people who have lived the darkness often don't want to read about it… they want the light.

    Thanks for the reminder, and thanks for the light.

  4. Bryon Quertermous

    Alex, I have to disagree on both points. First, a lot of Christians who don't speak out on the issues you mentioned above are stupid if they think they don't need to because they're not in the ten commandments. The greatest commandment issued by Jesus a number of times was to "above all else, love your neighbor as yourself." Well I don't want to be a slave or raped or abused so why the hell would I want anybody else to be?

    And I've tried to write about what I hate and I fail every time. I need to write about what I love and how hard it is to get. I write about what happens when you fail to get what you love or the hard choices you have to make to get what you love but I can't write about what I hate. Maybe it's just my personality.

    Though now that I think about it one of the things I hate most is the nutty state of modern Christianity and I sure do write about THAT a lot.

  5. Zoรซ Sharp

    Great blog, Alex – and nice addition, Barbie!

    My new mission statement is: 'I will not dwell on things I cannot change.'

    But the things I CAN change? Oh boy …

    How about Help For Heroes to add to your list as well?

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Bryon, if you know of ANY Christians speaking out about the appalling absence of sanction about rape, incest, torture, slavery and child molestation in the Ten Commandments, I'd sure like to know who. I've never seen it. What I usually get when I bring up the issue is: Well, there's "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife."

    Um, no. Not the same thing. At all.

    Thanks to you and Barbie now, for providing the flip side of this blog – maybe I should do a followup: Write about the things you LOVE.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yeah, Z, I have a similar sanity-preserving mantra: I try to remind myself that it's the LITTLE things we do every day that make a difference.

    Great, I'll compile a list of links to the charities people suggest today!

  8. Sarah W

    I took a look in my Drawer of Misfit Manuscripts, and several include, at least peripherally, characters making stands against myriad forms of domestic abuse (for themselves and others) and going to great lengths to protect children.

    Not all of their methods are strictly legal, and I can't seem to bring myself to care. A restraining order is like putting up a barrier made of a single strand of red crepe paper with a challenge stapled to it and as a culture, we're only now starting to *believe* how psychologically and logistically difficult it is for adult victims of domestic abuse to leave their situations. And how difficult it is for children raised in that kind of situation to modify their coping mechanisms in the outside world.

    It's become . . . not a theme . . . but definitely a thing.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sarah, working with at-risk kids, as you can imagine, I encountered a lot of mothers in this situation. I agree, it's incredibly difficult for people to understand that whole families can be kept virtual prisoners in their own homes, but it happens all the time.

    You'll find a way to write about it commercially. These things come out in layers, I find.

  10. Barbie

    I love your blogs, Alex. They keep making me come back here every week ๐Ÿ™‚

    I've always been more utopic than dystopic, I've been often described as all "rainbows and unicorns", but, really, that's what I need to project out there, it's what I need to focus on, it's what I need to show people, it's what I need to want, need, write, desire, because there's just so much darkness inside of me, that if what was outside was darkness, too, I would lose it. I would kill myself (good thing I'm not a psycho killer or I would kill others). I'm a very contradictory person, but I always make a point that, to other people, I pass on a lot of hope and light and just the good stuff. The don't need the messed upness that's in my head:)

    That's what I think anyway.

  11. Darla

    Alex, a stimulating post – thanks!

    I write about The Happy mostly — about what I love, the beauty in the world, and actually have a hard time bringing in anything terribly dark. In fact, this latest manuscript is in the process of being overhauled because it was in dire need of conflict. Maybe it's because I'm a hopeless romantic or because I just don't want to revisit the darkness that was my 20s (abusive spouse, etc), but the older I get, the less I read or write about The Dark. I can go for a bit of Shadow, but not much deeper.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Barbie, it's just as much a pleasure to interact with you regulars!

    Projecting rainbows is actually probably the best thing you can do for your state of mind – psychologists and philosophers have always said that we become our projections, so make them good ones! And I keep saying this, but it really does get better. My early 20's were an adventure, but I'm not sure I would EVER want the angst again, seriously!! You'll be just fine.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Darla, I'm sorry to hear you went through that, and am really happy you're out of it. Of COURSE you don't want to revisit that.

    You know that saying that there are two kinds of people…?

    Well, I don't believe that at all, there are a million kinds of people. But there does seem to be a big split between people who want to read and write the dark, and people who would much rather focus on the light.

    And that's just fine! We all have our reasons for responding to literature and life the way we do. There are books for all of us out there.

  14. Brian Hoffman

    Alexandra,

    I'm sorry to hear that these things make you angry. That is a dangerous emotion that can eat you from the inside out. Doing something about the injustices you mention is a great thing and all of us should do what we can to prevent it including putting pressure on states that haven't adopted Jessica's Law.

    But try now to be angry. It isn't a good motivator over time. I'll keep you in my thoughts.

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Well, thanks, Brian – you don't really have to worry about me self-destructing, I'm pretty good about channeling my anger (the whole point of today's donation – putting money where it can do some good).

    But as a proponent of Jessica's Law – you must know that that kind of vital legislation doesn't happen without people getting angry and active enough to PASS laws like that, right?

  16. Greg James (G.R. Yeates)

    What makes me angry? Frivolous answer would be something like getting up in the morning after another night of this insomnia, but my serious answer would be many, many things and yes, I do write about what makes me angry.
    My main project this year, even though it was not intended to be originally, was a means for me to express a lot of anger, hate and fear drawn from personal experiences of childhood and adolescent abuse and then at least try to look at what this says about our society and how we root and raise younger generations in a culture that could, with very little push and shove, become as horrific as regimes propagated by the nazis, the khmer rouge and the like.

    Greg

  17. Reine

    Hi Alex… provocative today. I do write about some things that anger me – but not directly. I need redemption somewhere in my story but not by hitting the reader over the head. When I am too angry I can't write, although anger gives me the story.

    I won't try to defend religion here but will say that there is no mold. As for the commandments, there are 613, not ten. Here are a few (numbers 86-106) that address the issues you mention, a few of those regarding forbidden sexual relations/sexual abuse:

    Not to indulge in familiarities with relatives, such as kissing, embracing, winking, skipping, which may lead to incest (Lev. 18:6) (CCN110).
    Not to commit incest with one's mother (Lev. 18:7) (CCN112). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit sodomy with one's father (Lev. 18:7) (CCN111).
    Not to commit incest with one's father's wife (Lev. 18:8) (CCN113). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's sister (Lev. 18:9) (CCN127). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's father's wife's daughter (Lev. 18:11) (CCN128). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's son's daughter (Lev. 18:10) (CCN119) (Note: CC treats this and the next as one commandment; however, Rambam treats them as two). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's daughter's daughter (Lev. 18:10) (CCN119) (Note: CC treats this and the previous as one commandment; however, Rambam treats them as two). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's daughter (this is not explicitly in the Torah but is inferred from other explicit commands that would include it) (CCN120). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's fathers sister (Lev. 18:12) (CCN129). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's mother's sister (Lev. 18:13) (CCN130). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's father's brothers wife (Lev. 18:14) (CCN125). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit sodomy with one's father's brother (Lev. 18:14) (CCN114).
    Not to commit incest with one's son's wife (Lev. 18:15) (CCN115). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's brother's wife (Lev. 18:16) (CCN126). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's wife's daughter (Lev. 18:17) (CCN121). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with the daughter of one's wife's son (Lev. 18:17) (CCN122). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with the daughter of one's wife's daughter (Lev. 18:17) (CCN123). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to commit incest with one's wife's sister (Lev. 18:18) (CCN131). See Prohibited Marriages and Illegitimate Children.
    Not to have intercourse with a woman, in her menstrual period (Lev. 18:19) (CCN132).
    Not to have intercourse with another man's wife (Lev. 18:20) (CCN124).
    Not to commit sodomy with a male (Lev. 18:22) (CCN116).
    Not to have intercourse with a beast (Lev. 18:23) (CCN117).
    That a woman shall not have intercourse with a beast (Lev. 18:23) (CCN118).
    Not to castrate the male of any species; neither a man, nor a domestic or wild beast, nor a fowl (Lev. 22:24) (CCN143).

    Rev. Carter

  18. Reine

    I should say these say nothing about my own beliefs, because mine are not all in agreement, being bi, myself, would have me in trouble with more than a few of the 613.

  19. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Reverend Carter, how nice of you to drop in today! But come on, sweetie, you know the Ten Commandments I mean. The ones people are always referring to when they say: "The Ten Commandments are all the laws we need in this country." Well, I find it completely frightening that anyone would think so, and it's not an uncommon opinion.

    And that's a whole list of prohibitions you've listed, but my point stands: I don't see anything about rape.

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Greg, you need Melatonin! I'm a long-time sufferer of insomnia, but that stuff saved my life, and no side effects!

    Channelling that anger has worked very well for you in THE THING BEHIND THE DOOR. Everyone should check out Greg's chilling serial: http://gryeates.co.uk/ (my normal link is broken – did you take it down?)

  21. Reine

    Hah. Yes of course, Alex, you are right… except that I had no choice but to accept the translation I had available. Were I to have translated it, the word rape, would be there, as it is included in my exegeses on the topic. I do agree with you, of course, as you must know. Inequities, and like Van Gogh – TLE, drove me to ministry. Inequities drove us out… halleluja.

  22. billie hinton

    Alex, I am in the mountains on a writing retreat and just saw this today – thanks so much for the shout-out about claire-obscure – I got a huge kick out of the fact that we were both Featured Great Reads together this past week!!

    I do write about things that make me angry – right now it is horse slaughter rearing its head in my novel Never Not Broken.

    What a great blog post – I am so sorry I missed the dialogue yesterday!!

  23. Pari Noskin

    Alex,
    A lot upsets me in this world. Occasionally that transforms into anger. Anger motivates me and I think it's healthy if it doesn't remain unacknowledged and if it's allowed to fester.

  24. PD Martin

    Yes, I've been thinking a lot about Gar's blog on themes, too! And I'm with you on your list of things that make you angry. Like you, child sexual abuse and trafficking is at the top of my list. In fact, I wrote about it in Hell's Fury and my main character got to unleash HER anger on the perpetrators.

    But I think for those of us in the crime genre, we write about the light AND dark. I mean, we write about horrible crimes, but they're usually solved and/or justice is served in one way or another.
    Phillipa

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