Novelist Jodi Picoult wrote an interesting column for this week's Book World in The Washington Post.
She writes about the odd mixture of praise and flack she's received for her novel The Pact, which deals with, among other things, teen suicide. I'll let her speak for herself:
Why, then, would an author risk potential sales by writing something people might consider upsetting? Well, it's probably not for the reasons you'd think. I don't write about controversial issues because I like to be edgy. I write about them because-like my readers-I don't have all the answers. When a moral or ethical question roots itself in my mind, I find myself thinking about what I'd do in that situation. I force myself to turn over every stone, consider the issue from every perspective. I find myself walking down roads that are often uncomfortable: talking to the parents of pediatric cancer patients, for example, who would move heaven and earth-not just stem cell research laws-to save their children; speaking to victims of sexual abuse, who cannot shake the memory years later; asking a battered wife why she still loves her husband; listening to a teen who attempted suicide explain what the world looks like through her eyes. None of this is easy, but it opens my eyes, and I have every reason to believe that's a good thing. For every uncomfortable parent who wanted to burn a copy of The Pact, there is a reader who has come up to me in tears to confide that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Just as different readers are attracted to different sorts of books-mysteries, romances, dramas-so too are different writers drawn to different kinds of books. While I can appreciate a good beach read as well as the next person, I also think there is a place in modern fiction for the sort of book that exercises one's moral compass and asks questions that cannot-and maybe should not-be answered.....Ultimately, the reason I gravitate toward diffcult subjects is that I produce a better novel when I'm personally challenged...
It's one of the better reasons I've read for writing dangerous or challenging fiction, no matter the consequences. My work used to be more theme-oriented, but the past year has been more plot oriented. I guess there's nothing wrong with it, but I'm starting to rethink things and make some plans for deeper stories. I still plan on writing about werewolves and ghosts and aliens, but hopefully in ways more profound. We'll see.