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Dark Fiction

I wrote the first version of Something Pretty, Something Beautiful a number of years ago, as part of a series of stories about Tacoma, where I grew up, and four teenagers who lived there. They are all very dark stories and every time I re-read one I like them even more, yet I’m also slightly more disturbed that I was ever able to write them in the first place.

I can’t quite reconcile this in my mind, actually. That stories I wrote — now in the form of the novel coming out in June — can at once disturb me yet leave me not only glad that I wrote them, but glad that the book is finally being published.

People ask me what the book is about and sometimes I joke that it’s Quentin Tarantino without the jokes. For the most part, people respond to this by laughing nervously. Then there’s an awkward pause in which I’m supposed to say, “No, it’s not that bad.”

But I don’t say that. Because it wouldn’t be true.

About a hundred pages into rereading the galleys of the book before it was printed, Elizabeth stopped and set the pages aside. “I just know what’s about to happen,” she said. Some days later, though, she finished it. And liked it, again, having read it three times now over the years.

I have that same sense when I re-read it. A sense of dread about what will happen next.

Yet I wrote it. I like it. And I want to see others read it.

Why do we like violence in fiction, be it novels or stories or TV or movies? And I’m not even thinking about senseless violence, the Saw IV’s of the world, the bad crime dramas on network TV. I’m thinking Shakespeare and Cormac McCarthy and Django Unchained. There’s a darkness we seek even if we have to squint our eyes and even turn away.

Kirkus Reviews said about my short story “Something Pretty, Something Beautiful,” that it’s about “teenagers wreaking havoc for no particular reason.” I suppose one reading of that is that it’s a criticism, a comment that the story was just another form of senseless violence. But I take it as praise, in that the story — and even more so, the novel — are very much about why people act violently. Why they make the choices they make. Why they turn out the way they do.

That, in part, might be the fundamental question — at least one of the fundamental questions — that we want answered in accounts of violence. Why does it happen?

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