Banned Books? Or Freedom to Write and Read?

by Jami Gold on September 23, 2014

in For Readers, Random Musings

Blue sky beyond barbed wire fence with text: Banned Books? Or Freedom to Choose?

This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association celebrating the freedom to read. The ALA works with librarians, teachers, and community leaders to ensure that controversy doesn’t lead to book banning.

Many have already blogged about the political aspects of this event, such as what it means for readers to be able to seek out unpopular ideas and what it means for writers to have the freedom to express those ideas, so I’m tackling this issue from a less serious perspective. Sort of. *smile*

Freedom to Write

As writers, we know the importance of having the freedom to explore the ideas in our head. For many of us, our subconscious-muse doesn’t like being restrained from thinking wild (maybe even nonsensical) thoughts. Such restraint can freeze our creativity all together.

We all too easily think our work is crap already. We don’t need someone from on high telling us that our writing doesn’t meet a standard or breaks too many rules.

Fiction writing often is about bending or breaking rules. We break rules about sentence fragments, and we break rules about the existence of dragons. We can imagine ourselves a different gender, age, or ethnicity through various characters. We push the envelope to encourage people to think deeper about issues.

I’ve mentioned before that my stories often include at least one element that makes me uncomfortable. That’s okay. I enjoy knowing I have the freedom to do what’s right for the characters and the story.

Playing it safe won’t allow me to dig into my characters’ weaknesses, failures, or emotions. I have to be willing to push them to reveal the deeper truths that give my stories meaning, and that means I have to be willing to push myself—and those “rules.”

Between the edgy aspects of my characters and the paranormal/fantasy aspects of my stories, I can guarantee my stories would fall under someone’s definition of “should be banned.” (Some in my extended family would gleefully add me to that list—just for writing fiction, never mind the romance or the paranormal aspects.) Some of my characters follow no accepted religion, some don’t answer to human laws, and some of my characters swear, have pre-marital sex, or seem like a deviant.

(And some of my characters don’t do any of those things. It’s all about what’s right for the characters and the story, not about me breaking rules just for the sake of being edgy.)

I want the freedom to write my stories without worrying about the subjective preferences of one person or another. I trust that my stories will find their way to those who would enjoy them, and I’m fine with everyone else ignoring them. *smile*

Freedom to Read

Many of the challenges to ban certain books come down to those same subjective preferences. Maybe someone doesn’t like the religion or sex portrayed, simply because it doesn’t match their definition of normal. (Given that my motto is “Why be normal?” portraying only “normal” doesn’t hold much appeal for me. *grin*) Or maybe someone doesn’t think the subject matter is age appropriate. (But that makes the assumption that all kids of the same age have the same maturity level.)

Not all stories will appeal to or are appropriate for every reader. Some adults don’t want to read about profanity or sex, and some don’t mind those elements. Some teens (and even some preteens) are mature enough to handle the dark messages of, say, Hunger Games, and some aren’t. It shouldn’t be up to a random person to decide what we can or can’t choose to read.

Just because something doesn’t appeal to us doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. Like we discussed when comparing literary and genre stories, a preference should not lead to a judgment of value. Yet that’s exactly what banning books equals: a judgment of value based on personal preferences and subjective measures.

Celebrating Stories: What Some Don’t Want Us to Have

To celebrate these freedoms in the face of book-banning controversies, I want to take a moment and highlight the stories that others might want to ban, such as for the most common reasons:

  • sexually explicit
  • offensive language
  • unsuited to age group
  • violence
  • homosexuality
  • occult/Satanic themes
  • religious viewpoint
  • anti-family

Do any of your stories include elements that others might challenge for one of those reasons? Take a look at this list of the Top Ten Challenged Books of each of the past 13 years. Are any of those books on your “enjoyed” list?

For example, I enjoyed The Hunger Games, despite its supposed “religious viewpoint,” “insensitivity,” “occult/satanic,” etc. issues. (I’ll admit that enjoyed might be the wrong word for the trilogy because it was a hard read in many ways. However, the powerful story has stuck with me over time.) I also enjoyed Twilight despite its issues, and the Harry Potter series is one of my all-time favorites.

On the other side, I haven’t read another frequent target of book banners, Fifty Shades of Grey, because of the abusive relationship, ethical issues, and poor writing quality, but I still wouldn’t call for the books to be banned. Again, just because I dislike or disagree with something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist.

Heck, some want the entire romance genre to disappear. They say romance stories harm marriages (even though studies have proven the opposite), create harmful expectations (because “weak-minded women” can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality?), and don’t have any literary value (because a whole genre can be judged by someone’s preconceived ideas?).

There are too many who want us to feel guilty or ashamed of our reading (or writing) choices. So I want to take this opportunity to celebrate our reading choices, whatever they are, because choice is important.

We don’t have the right to go through life never being offended by anything we come across. That “right” would create a hideously bland world and would never allow for discussion, much less growth from outside ideas.

So let’s celebrate the stories that don’t appeal to everyone. Let’s celebrate the stories that some try to make us feel guilty or ashamed about but we enjoy anyway. Let’s celebrate the freedom of choice. *smile*

Do any of your stories contain elements that might make some want to ban them? How important to you and your creativity is the freedom to write what you want despite those controversial elements? Have you enjoyed any books on the Challenged Books list? How important to you is the freedom to read what you want? What “guilty” or “secret” pleasure reads do you want to celebrate?

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33 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Loni Townsend September 23, 2014 at 10:03 am

I was never afraid of my book being banned, but I did worry that my family would judge me for what I wrote. They’re mostly conservative Christian, and here I was creating a world where other gods were very real and powerful.

I’ve since gotten over my fear.

I don’t like the idea of banning books. It’d be better to educate and let people choose. Otherwise, our world may end up like one of those dystopian novels.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 10:19 am

Hi Loni,

Exactly! I’ve read too many dystopian novels to know how that would turn out. 😉

My close family is very supportive of my writing, but beyond them, some in my extended family would be horrified. LOL! Many are not big readers at all, and if they do read, it’s non-fiction only. So you can just imagine how they’d react to my very spicy paranormal romances. 😉 Luckily, they live far away, and I hardly ever see them. Besides, I was the black sheep of the family since before I was born, so… *shrug*

Good for you in getting over your fear. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee September 23, 2014 at 10:41 am

I want the freedom to write my stories without worrying about the subjective preferences of one person or another. I trust that my stories will find their way to those who would enjoy them, and I’m fine with everyone else ignoring them. *smile*

This.

Do any of your stories contain elements that might make some want to ban them?

My most popular book right now—with more than 660k reads on Wattpad as of this writing—features a narrator who’s the product of incestuous rape and who lives in (legitimate) fear of experiencing the same. It’s first in a series that also features a narrator who is homicidally insane (book #2), and another who’s the “other” woman in a relationship (book #3). Book #4 opens with a liar and killer having a “Oh, shoot” moment because she got drunk enough to sleep the the guy she’s in love with. (He’s already married.)

For my Destiny Walker books, the narrator is a teenage slave with severe PTSD and suicidal tendencies.

It’s probably easier to tally which of my books don’t have ban-able elements.

I’m well aware that some parents will deem my stories unsuitable for their children. Fine. But I’m of the opinion that sheltering does kids more harm than good. Sure, there are things you protect a child from, but a child needs to learn to think, and how are they going to do that if all they ever experience is the four walls of their parents’ brand of “normal”? Let them be aware of other things, to think through what they believe and why, or they’ll have to learn to think on their own…if they ever learn at all.

How important to you and your creativity is the freedom to write what you want despite those controversial elements?

Why are the elements controversial? If nobody ever stops to ponder that, you create an echo chamber, which leads to harassment and outright persecution, even for those who have nothing to do with the elements.

For instance, folks also often assume I’m a teenager. Most people realize, “Something’s odd here…” within a few seconds of me opening my mouth. They might not realize I’m older than they’re assuming, but they realize I’m not quite what they assumed. (If I mention that I like whiskey, folks’ expressions can be HILARIOUS.)

Some folks, though? My tactful hints that their assumptions are wrong result in outright condescension, because they’re unwilling to consider the possibility that they’re wrong. And if I point it out directly, they tend to respond with defenses about why they were right to assume what they did.

Those latter types of people are usually the ones who seek to ban books.

Have you enjoyed any books on the Challenged Books list?

I loved Thirteen Reasons Why! Also

I actually enjoyed Twilight when I read it. I read the book through this lens of irony. It wasn’t until the end of book 2 or something like that when I realized that Bella was meant to be taken seriously.

I appreciated Beloved, and I still remember it from time to time. Same with Brave New World. I didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird, but that was personal taste.

How important to you is the freedom to read what you want?

Very. No freedom to read what you want = no freedom to have your own opinion.

What “guilty” or “secret” pleasure reads do you want to celebrate?

Wen Spencer’s Tinker series. I’ve re-read it I don’t know how many times, and it always makes me think.

There was another one, but the author pulled it from publication, so I probably shouldn’t mention it.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 11:58 am

Hi Carradee,

“It’s probably easier to tally which of my books don’t have ban-able elements.”

LOL! I know the feeling. I have a serial murderer as a hero in one, a rape culture in another, and seduction all around, not to mention lying galore. 🙂

My stories are about the choices we make when things aren’t black-and-white–and as you mentioned, the ability to think things through is important. Life isn’t black-and-white, and we might not be able to make good decisions if we’ve never been exposed to strategies for thinking through the pros and cons and consequences of gray-area options.

Many of the books on those lists are ones I read in school, and I appreciate that I wasn’t sheltered from them but instead taught how to analyze and think and come to my own conclusions. As you said, the freedom to read–for me–equals the freedom to have opinions. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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Carradee September 23, 2014 at 4:24 pm

And yikes—I didn’t mean to indicate others’ condescension = persecution. I changed tacks halfway through writing that and left the transition. *facepalm*

But anyway, if you never see anything or anybody who conflicts with your idea of “normal”, you’ll just come to believe that your “normal” = reality, which means you’ll react all the harsher when confronted with evidence that doesn’t match up, because that evidence will conflict with one of your core beliefs about the world.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Hi Carradee,

LOL! I’m so brain dead today that I didn’t even notice. *sigh*

Great point! Yes, a lack of variation in the information we expose ourselves to just results in a false belief about the world, and as we know from character generating, false beliefs cause problems. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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R. A. Meenan September 23, 2014 at 11:18 am

I really don’t worry that my books will be banned. None of them fall into any of those categories.

Personally, I don’t like books with sexual content. It’s one of my biggest turn offs, and I’ll often drop a book completely if I find a sex scene in it. But that doesn’t mean those books should be banned. Heck, banning books often makes the book MORE desirable since people like looking into the Forbidden.

A fellow teacher of mine recently said that her high school banned “The Diary of Anne Frank” because it’s “too depressing.” Out of all the books in the world, that is probably one of the worst to ban. It’s historical. It’s talking about a piece of history. Are they going to ban talks about the Holocaust in history classes too? And actually, out of all the books to come out of the Holocaust, Anne Frank’s is probably one of the most uplifting, if you can call a Holocaust book “uplifting.”

Book banning is, in my opinion, just one action shy of the events in Fahrenheit 451.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Hi R.A.,

I have an older post about putting ratings on books (or labeling content in some way) because I think, as authors, we don’t do ourselves any favors if we mislead readers about the content of our stories. So I fully understand why you’d be upset to find a sex scene in a story without a hint of that content as part of the description.

As readers, we want the choice of what to read, and as authors, we should enable readers to make an informed choice. Maybe this list of controversial aspects could help us know what elements to make clear in our book description, whether that’s “Warning: Spicy sex” or “Note: Clean, inspirational Christian Romance.” 🙂

Ugh–that’s awful about banning The Diary of Anne Frank. Like you said, we need books like that or else we lose the context of history. Thanks for the comment!

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Melissa Maygrove September 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

That depends on where the ‘banning’ is occurring. If you mean no publication at all, then no, don’t ban. But if you mean in a school library where my kids are going to be turned loose without my supervision, then yes, there needs to be considerable selectivity in stocking the shelves.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Hi Melissa,

Unfortunately, in many communities, the only libraries are those connected to schools. (In my area, this is the case. All public libraries are attached to schools.) I fully support the ability of parents to choose for their own kids, but no one, in my opinion, should be able to choose for other people’s kids.

Just as much as some parents want to prevent their kids from being exposed to ideas before they’re ready, other parents want their kids to read books and then have conversations about the content. That’s personal choice.

As I mentioned in a comment above, I’ve previously written about the importance of giving enough context in the book description so people can make informed choices, and that includes the ability for parents to be able to tell from a book description whether they want their kids to read a book or not.

So I’d like to find a happy medium where parents have full veto power over their kids’ choices, but not have veto power over the rest of the community. I hope that makes sense. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda September 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Thirteen Reasons Why was amazing! I think everyone should read it.

I’m pretty sure most of my books would end up being considered “sexually explicit”, which is totally fine with me. If I didn’t want them that way, I wouldn’t have written them that way. But there are other elements, too – right now I’m getting ready to pitch a book about an assassin. She doesn’t just kill bad guys. She kills whoever pays her the most money. So you might say she has a morality issue 🙂 And a book I’m releasing next year is violent and deals with a looming communist threat from the former Soviet Union (oh, and it’s a romance, so there’s that sexually explicit part again).

The truly ironic thing, though, is the other story I’m working on, the MC is writing a research paper on the psychology of why books end up being banned – what is it about them that makes us afraid?

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Hi Amanda,

Exactly! I write for adults, so I don’t temper the explicitness of my stories at all. But I’ve also had readers who say that they usually don’t like sexually explicit stories say they like mine because my spicy scenes aren’t gratuitous at all. They’re there (and can’t be skipped over) because important emotional issues are worked through in the course of the scene. That was my goal! 🙂

LOL! I love morality issues–very fun. 😀

Ooo, great question about why books are banned. The strange or different can be threatening to our sense of self or our beliefs. But I’ve always been of the opinion that challenges can make our beliefs stronger, as we examine why we believe what we believe despite varying thoughts and ideas. (I have a line almost like that in one of my stories. 🙂 ) Knowing why helps us internalize our beliefs and not just go along with the belief because it’s our default.

So I like being exposed to different ideas, but others don’t always feel the same. 🙁 Thanks for the comment!

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Mary Roya September 23, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I don’t think books of any type should be ban. I do however, think that some should be restricted to an age limit. But you know as well as I do that would be hard to enforce.

History shows that if you ban something people want it. When the restriction is removed, the need or want dissipates.

Banning a book makes me think that the next step will be burning. The only time a book should be burned is that you in the middle of artic freeze and your life depends on the fire.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Hi Mary,

I’d be fine with books having an age suggestion as part of their description (and encourage that, in fact), but to officially restrict books would be–as you said–difficult. Plus, as I mentioned in the post, I know some preteens mature enough for The Hunger Games, so how would an age restriction accommodate that variability?

I’m not saying a non-public, elementary-school-students-only library should carry those books. LOL! But in a public library, I don’t see how age restrictions would work. And as you said, restricting something just makes it more desirable.

LOL! at your reasons for burning a book. Agreed, but I’d probably still wince. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Sara L. September 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Harry Potter?! Well, now that I think about it, I guess I can see why… but I adore Harry Potter. 🙂 I’ve also read the Hunger Games trilogy and the His Dark Materials books, as well as The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (which I also loved).

I absolutely believe that readers should be free to choose whatever they want to read. Like you’d said, Jami, some subjects won’t appeal to everyone – and that’s OK. Some people love the sexual content and violence of, say, George R.R. Martin’s books. I didn’t mind it in the beginning, but as the series has gone on the excessiveness of both is starting to wear on me.

Hmmmm, the WIP I’m working on right now… I haven’t thought about whether the material would make it “ban-worthy” (I’m being fascitious when I say that). It’s epic fantasy, so there’s sword-fighting and battles (violence), magic (occult??), discussion of one race’s nature-based religion (religious viewpoint) – and my target audience is YA, so I imagine the “unsuitable for age group” bit could come up… Well, I think I know where this is going then. *LOL*

In some ways, though, you almost can’t worry about whether your stories will be banned. If you have an idea, and you love it and feel so passionate about it that you must write it, chances are people are going to love it. At the same time, chances are others won’t like it. You just have to be willing to take the risk, while giving your story-babies big squeezing hugs.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Hi Sara,

LOL! Yep, I think you’re “doomed.” 😉 But as you said, we can’t worry about that risk. We can hope that those who don’t like our stories simply choose to ignore them, rather than try to ban them. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Mike September 23, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Great article! I tried to read 50 Shades, even bulled my way through six pages, but the writing was so atrocious I surrendered.

I loved the Hunger Games, but guess I missed the religious aspects. Pretty much straight sci-fi and political commentary to me.

Maybe *I* should be banned?

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Hi Mike,

Yes, the “religious viewpoint” reason seems to include stories that don’t follow “standard” religious beliefs. In other words, simply by not showing that Christianity survived the dystopian apocalypse of the world, some took it as anti-Christian? Maybe? Not sure, that reason is a puzzler. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Anne R. Allen September 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I saw a list of FB of books that have been banned by school libraries and they had me laughing, but I felt underlying horror. Books like Winnie the Pooh (“talking animals are an insult to God”) and Beatrix Potter’s bunny stories (bunnies of different colors sleep in the same bed which offended the Southern Baptists in the pre-civil rights days.)

The truth is there are always going to be people so ignorant they can be offended by anything. I recently read a comment by somebody who was offended by a book that used the word “fatuous” because they felt it was insulting to persons of size. 🙂

Banning any books can be a slippery slope, although I think the Canadian and UK taboos against child porn/incest/rape/bestiality is probably very sound. We don’t have such strict laws in the US and you see a lot of stuff on Smashwords that would be illegal in most countries.

What I do wish is that we could implement the ratings system you advocate: let people know if there’s torture or extreme violence before they buy. We have to judge by the covers and they don’t always let us know. Romance is a huge umbrella that now includes heavy-duty erotica. A monochrome cover with a man’s tie now means BDSM, but somebody not up on the latest covers wouldn’t know that. It would be nice if they’d let us know.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Hi Anne,

Wow. I haven’t seen that FB post, but it might have been something like this Buzzfeed post (although this post doesn’t include the Beatrix Potter books). Others on this list include The Giving Tree and Charlotte’s Web. *sigh*

You’re right though that ignorance can cause people to be offended, and this is another reason why I fear too much political correctness can do great harm. People can feel entitled, like they have the right to never be offended. Yet our individuality means that different things offend different people, and any attempt to avoid ALL offense leaves us with nothing.

I agree completely about the value of information for book descriptions, especially because book covers now more frequently don’t indicate the content. I can think of more erotic books with nondescript covers than I can with racy covers (which is exacerbated by authors’ desires to avoid the “erotic dungeon” of Amazon, where items don’t show up in lists or searches). That’s a shame for readers, and as authors, we need to ensure we’re giving people enough information to make educated choices. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insights!

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Serena Yung September 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Some people want to ban romance as a genre?? Nooo don’t do that! I’ve only JUST gotten serious about romance writing! :O Lol. But seriously, romance is nice and many people who say they hate romance actually enjoy it secretly. Though it’s easier for them to allow themselves to enjoy it if the romance is couched under a different name, e.g. fantasy or action/adventure, haha.

“We all too easily think our work is crap already. We don’t need someone from on high telling us that our writing doesn’t meet a standard or breaks too many rules.”

Haha my writing insecurity/ security has changed over the years. At first I was more insecure and lacking in confidence in my work, even though people around me usually like my work. Later I became more secure because I can say my work is very good if you can define “very good” as “a story that makes Serena happy”, haha, but I still didn’t have much confidence that my stories would make others happy, and if someone says they like my story, I feel grateful and assume that I was just lucky that they liked it. But recently, I learned about the importance of believing in and respecting our own work. SO, I now think my stories are awesome to some people, good to some others, okay to some other people, and bad to yet some others, lol. So a range from awesome to bad depending on who the reader is! Actually I assume that this awesome to bad range applies to every story, regardless of popularity, haha. Though more popular books might have a greater proportion of readers who think it’s good or awesome. But you know there are always people who dislike Harry Potter, and always people who really really love that odd book they discovered that nobody knows about.

Hoho about breaking rules, I break the “show, not tell” rule ALL the time. I show when I feel like it, and tell when I feel like it. 😉 As long as I feel it’s the most effective mode of conveying my message at that specific moment in the story.

And about breaking rules, even James Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake that was made entirely of made-up words, so you can’t get any worse than that in terms of breaking rules, haha. So we shouldn’t worry about it.

Speaking of, the hero in my story was discussing with his friends about writing (he reads but doesn’t write), and whether a writer should choose to please himself or to please his reader when he must make a choice. Even though the hero is a reader, not a writer, he still thinks that we should ultimately let the writer please himself, to express himself however he wants to in his art, to satisfy his own artistic needs, and that readers can just adjust to that. (Maybe he read too many books like James Joyce’s, haha, so he’s more accepting of artistic deviations and enthusiastically promotes artistic freedom, lol.) His friend, who is a writer, gently disagrees, because he thinks the writer should be more sympathetic towards the reader and be more considerate of the readers’ needs and wants. The heroine thinks that they should somehow manage to please both the reader and the writer at the same time, haha. For me, I guess I’m leaning more towards the being sympathetic to the reader side right now, though I do think that artistic freedom is important. By being sympathetic to the reader, I mean at least basic things like having understandable language. (So I’m not into writing a Finnegans Wake type of novel right now, haha.)

“We can imagine ourselves a different gender, age, or ethnicity through various characters.”

Lol I especially love writing non-human (people of a different species!!) protagonists. Since you write paranormal, you probably understand why I enjoy this. ^^

Oh yeah, I’m all for the “don’t rebel for the sake of rebelling, but just write as the characters naturally go or as the story naturally goes.” Like you mentioned once before, I don’t like “forcing” anything in my writing either. ^^

Oh my gosh they think The Hunger Games is satanic/ occult??? :O I couldn’t see that, lol. Nobody thinks what the Capitol does to the children with their games is right, so I would see that as being against Satanism… But I have heard that some schools ban Harry Potter because it’s satanic/ occult or something like that; yet, though I’m religious, I think that that banning is silly. Yes, it’s about magic, but I don’t see magic as anti-religious or anti-God. No one knows enough about the universe to say whether magic exists or not anyway! This psychologist we studied in our courses, Darryl Bem, also published some papers on ESP! Who knows, maybe ESP is something legit. 😀 That would actually be pretty cool, haha. (According to my prof, Darryl Bem is a guy who loves the controversial, lol.)

Hmm about the controversial elements, I would think about who my audience is (my friends and family), and adjust specifically for these people. So I (so far) steer my work clear from swear words and explicit sex scenes because I know these specific readers wouldn’t like it. It becomes harder to decide sometimes when e.g. I want to write about something controversial, but I don’t want some of my readers (thinking of specific people here, haha) to know about it. So instead of writing openly that my character (whom I love ^^) is a lesbian, I only give hints in the story that can be interpreted as either homosexual romantic feelings, or just very close friendship. That way, I can tell certain readers implicitly that my character is homosexual, but my more homophobic readers can interpret it as friendship instead, lol. So they can interpret it any way they like.

As for violence, I try very hard not to even mention blood even in my action-martial arts novel, haha, not because I’m adjusting to my readers, but because I myself am squirmish about blood. :O (Though I don’t faint at the sight of blood.) I’m okay with reading it in other people’s novels (as long as there isn’t TOO much), but I don’t relish the thought of my writing it myself, eek. So heehee writing about fighting and killing and maybe even torture without mentioning blood! And even avoiding the use of the word “blood” as much as possible! Lol. But yeah, this avoidance is more for myself than for my readers.

Books from the banned books list that I read (or watched the movie, at least) and liked:

-Hunger Games, duh 😀
-Perks of Being a Wallflower
-The Bluest Eye
-To Kill a Mockingbird—woah, I thought this book was AGAINST racism…So why are they offended??
-Twilight (I still think it’s a sweet story about family love and friendship 😀 , no matter what many others think.)
-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
-The Catcher in the Rye
-Harry Potter, of course
-Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (this was in my middle school syllabus for English…)
-Julie’s Wolf Pack

“They say romance stories harm marriages (even though studies have proven the opposite),”
I would imagine that studies would prove the opposite too, lol. Romance novels probably make couples realize that what they have is precious and wonderful and should be treasured. Or at least, I think romances tend to be pro-marriage or pro-happy-relationships.

“ create harmful expectations (because “weak-minded women” can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality?)”
Haha, yet some couples in “real life” actually ARE that ideal! The cynics might not believe it, but ideal couples actually exist!

ALSO, I think reading about ideal couples gives a good example for people to aspire to. (“Let’s make our relationship fantastic too!” or “I want to be a wonderful partner like this hero/ heroine too!”)

“ and don’t have any literary value (because a whole genre can be judged by someone’s preconceived ideas?). ”

Yeah, I don’t think people should judge a book based on its genre. I would judge each book individually, AND I would be aware that other people may judge that individual book differently from how I judge it. E.g. Somebody might think that Book X is mere “sensational pulp fiction”, whilst I might think it’s a very inspiring, encouraging, and beautiful story with characters you grow to love. 😀 (This kind of situation happens a lot, actually.) Once people remove their prejudice that stories with a lot of dramatic, sensational stuff (violence, murder, torture, vampires, etc.) are “pulp”, then they will free their eyes and be able to see meaning in the story. Meaning is in the eyes of the beholder, anyway. 😀

“There are too many who want us to feel guilty or ashamed of our reading (or writing) choices. So I want to take this opportunity to celebrate our reading choices, whatever they are, because choice is important.”

Yay! Thank you, Jami! Everybody likes different types of books, and I too think we should celebrate the diversity of reader interests.

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Serena Yung September 23, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Oh I forgot to say that one of the main subplots in my current series is about this banned book!!! Well it’s not officially banned, but women and girls are highly discouraged from reading it. But this book is the hero’s favorite book; both his little sister and his crush bugged him to let them read it, because they were so curious about this book that the hero loves so much, and since he loves them both (his sister and his crush), he puts up this “initial resistance” of “Oh, it’s not suitable for girls to read”, but he quickly gives in and indulges them and lets them read to their heart’s desire. During the hero’s parents’ generation, the ban/ discouragement for women was even more intense, but the hero’s mom still managed to secretly read it anyway, and she even reread it several times in her life because she loved it so much, haha.

And—this book is banned because it contains many explicitly violent (tortures and murders, etc.) scenes and even one notable rape scene. So this book represents the book banner’s greatest nightmare, haha. It’s interesting that the hero, a guy who is very strict about moral principles (TOO strict, lol) would fave this book! It hints that he is secretly fascinated by dark stuff in contrast to his strong moral stances, lol. But he is quick to tell the heroine that he doesn’t love the book for those controversial elements; he loves the book because of its language, characters, and philosophical messages, and that it’s really touching, lol. But maybe he’s just denying it. 😉

Haha I hope that was an entertaining read! (Sort of a no pun intended moment.)

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Hi Serena,

Oh how interesting! 🙂 And that’s the thing–we can love, enjoy, or feel resonance from stories for many different reasons.

Lord of the Flies is a very difficult book, and yet the story stayed with me because of those difficulties. So I love talking about the story even though I didn’t “enjoy” it in the traditional sense. Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! Yeah, I wonder how many people who try to ban things do so just because they don’t trust themselves to not be tempted. 🙂 I’m with you in accepting that depending on the reader, my stories will be seen as somewhere between awesome and bad. LOL!

I recently received feedback on one of my stories that pointed out every instance of telling, but like you, I don’t think telling is always bad. When I don’t want to emphasize an action, I’ll give a telling summary because the details of the action don’t matter. (Think of something along the lines of “At her confirmation, he closed the door.” The “at her confirmation” phrase is telling, but does it really matter how she confirmed? No? Then I’m all for telling.) I think the point is to be conscious of how we’re writing and why. If telling is our intent, that’s what we should do. 🙂

Ha! I like your definition of “being sympathetic to the reader.” I don’t like writing that’s deliberately obtuse or difficult, filled with dense $20 words. (Probably another reason I’m a genre girl. 😉 ) So I definitely agree that there’s a middle ground where we can tell the story we want to tell, but in a way that will work for most readers.

Like you, I’m more open to things beyond our understanding, and I don’t see that as being anti-religious. In fact, those who believe they know all about the world seem more egotistical and anti-wonder-and-mysteries-of-God, but maybe that’s just me. 😉

Hee! for your squeamishness about blood despite your action genre. And I also loved your comments about the reasons why romance shouldn’t be banned, especially your line “Meaning is in the eyes of the beholder.”

Yay for reading! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Matthew Brown September 23, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Not much of what I write is in danger of being banned. I suppose you could make the argument that my books aren’t suitable for any age group. Seriously, though the only thing I do is make frequent use of foul language. @$&*! and #%@* are two of my favorite words. In my ebook Edge of the World, the two main characters drop f bomb after f bomb in a conversation until it’s noted that the question “Why?” technically constitutes an entire sentence without a swear word.

It’s funny though, I never get the complaint that there is a lot of foul language in Edge of the World. People are much more concerned with it’s size. “It’s kind of long, isn’t it?” I can only hang my head and surrender the point. It is kind of long.

(Forgive this last paragraph. It’s too embarrassed to come out from its parentheses. I just had to scratch a small itch. “They say romance stories harm marriages (even though studies have proven the opposite)” No, studies have SHOWN the opposite, not proved it. It can’t really be proved one way or the other. Sorry, sorry. I can be a pain in the @$$ about words sometimes. I once posted a 2000 word rant about how the word literally should be used.)

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Hi Matthew,

LOL! at your language choices. I go with whatever my characters demand, so maybe I should feel grateful that none of characters are like that. 😉

(And no worries on your “itch” note! I actually had it typed out with “shown” during drafting, and then I changed it during editing–I can’t remember why. It was midnight by then and I’d hardly slept the night before. *sigh* Sometimes I’m amazed my posts make any sense at all. 🙂 ) Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) September 23, 2014 at 4:51 pm

This is why I never paid attention to religious markets because they don’t like anthropomorphic animals, whether in the paranormal realm like what you write, Jami, or the “Beatrix Potter” style tales I tell.

Not all my animal characters are anthropomorphic, or it’s a hybrid of naturalistic and anthropomorphic. That’s part of me as a writer I can’t not do so I don’t focus on those markets for that reason.

The only notable exception seems to be “The Berestain Bears” as they’re often put in the “Christian or spiritual” section of Barnes and Noble’s kid book areas (I’m a children’s author, just to clarify my points)

Jami, THANK YOU for saying-

“Some teens (and even some preteens) are mature enough to handle the dark messages of, say, Hunger Games, and some aren’t. It shouldn’t be up to a random person to decide what we can or can’t choose to read.”

I would so NOT be able to have read “The Hunger Games” if it existed when I was a teen.

I still can’t read it now at 27 because I’m far too chicken!

Even so, part of me wants to read it simply because you told me about Peeta.

As I’ve said before, I didn’t get into much YA because I most of the boys and men in YA felt so distant from me, and the fact that a book series this popular dared to have a non-barbarous guy (who wouldn’t participate in this “Reality Gladiator farce gone wild given the choice!) and a “Take Charge Gal” like Katniss (based on what those who’ve read the books) in a potentially romantic context is BIG NEWS to me, as breaking out of gender stereotypes I feel is harder in some ways for boys and men (not that girls and women still don’t struggle here) because there aren’t given many avenues to express those concerns and work through them OUTSIDE of sports.

I wish more middle grade and YA books had non-traditional boys and men who aren’t LGTQ, and again I’m for the rights of the LGBTQ community, I just don’t want readers to have the default mindset that anytime you see a boy who’d rather cook or dance ballet instead of playing (American) football or watch things “Guys are SUPPOSED to like” but you just don’t is LGBTQ.

You can be a heterosexual man and love opera, okay!?

For me, I’m NOT into gross humor in general, but I don’t condemn those that do, and that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of humor, it’s just that doesn’t tickle my funny bone.

That said, I’ll let you in a on secret, sometimes a gross gag will get me giggling, but it’s BLUE MOON RARE. (Hint: Walter the F***ing dog is NOT in that camp, but I do like his character design despite his signature characteristic)

Some of my favorite book or television series go to “The Gross Zone” at times, but THANK GOD they don’t do it to the point where it makes me NEVER want to watch or read it EVER AGAIN.

Like you referenced some people getting ticked of that Gamora from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie wore a skirt in the climax like “Tough girls are FORBIDDEN to wear them!”

That’s what I mean about not having all boys and men in stores have the default “Dark and Snarky” or “Alpha Jerk” persona, just how like we shouldn’t assume our character default “white” that you touched on regarding the posts about diversity in our stories.

I’m not saying those often stereotyped variants of boys and men don’t exist, at all, just saying they’re NOT the sole example.

To use toy lines for an example, “Barbie” and “Bratz” have overlapping demographics, but they don’t inherently attract the same type of customer.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Hi Taurean,

I’m never sure whether to be amused, confused, or disappointed by the fact that even though Jesus was a storyteller of fiction (parables!), some want to use religion as a reason to take things too literally.

Yes, humanity includes such a wondrous variety that we need variety in our books to allow everyone stories they can relate to, like back when we were discussing diversity in fiction. If we allow only one definition of “normal” or “acceptable,” many will be left adrift from the power of storytelling.

As you said, we need the full spectrum of characters, not just “normal” with a few token LGBTQ exceptions. (And I think I just realized my father hero character I’ve mentioned to you before does all the cooking for his family. LOL!) While I was writing this post, I thought about that diversity discussion as well, so I’m glad to see that idea resonate with you too. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) September 24, 2014 at 1:57 am

Thanks for replying, Jami, glad to know we’re in sync on this issue.

The good news (that I forgot to mention in my first comment) is that in picture books there’s a ever-increasing variety of books with nontraditional and outright atypical boys.

There’s also more positive and varied portrayals of fathers (not just the bumbling goofballs) in the picture book space. Far more than when I was a fatherless kid in the 90s.

I just want to see more of that in books for kids OLDER than 6!

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Jami Gold September 24, 2014 at 8:39 am

Hi Taurean,

Good point! Many of the children’s books I can think of that portray diversity of some type are picture books, but chapter books and Middle Grade (and to some extent YA) seem to be more of a desert. Hopefully changes will spread. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Ralph August 14, 2015 at 8:21 am

Hi,
Often, I feel guilty when I am gathering all the various tidbits and helpful stimuli that your website provides. I have never read, written or explored the genre that is your stomping ground. I know how popular and competitive it is..I applaud you for persistence and success.

Thanks for the support and gentle pushes…
Hoping new launch is uber-successful..

Ralph

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Jami Gold August 14, 2015 at 9:08 am

Hi Ralph,

Aww, yay! I’m glad you’ve found it helpful! 🙂 Thanks for the kind words and wishes!

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