Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Does crime fiction contribute to violence?
By Sandra Parshall
Benjamin LeRoy, publisher of the independent press Tyrus Books, worries that the hardboiled crime fiction he publishes may be contributing to gratuitous violence in American society. He is addressing his own concern by moving Tyrus away from offering crime fiction exclusively and introducing general titles among its 10 annual frontlist publications.
LeRoy said in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly that the change was inspired by the string of mass shootings in American schools and public places. “I look at what we’re doing, what we’re saying. What are we putting out there in the public consciousness?” he told PW. “I’ve always been fascinated with how fiction is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s something I’ve wrestled with: if what we’re publishing, if what we’re putting out there, contributes to this gratuitous violence.”
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the four-year-old press is a division of F+W Media. It has 60 books in print, and a number of its crime novels have been nominated for and won awards. However, its bestselling book to date, with 20,000 copies sold, is neither a mystery nor crime fiction but a 2011 “literary noir” novel, Untouchable by Scott O’Connor, which explores the impact of a woman’s death on her husband and son. LeRoy wants to diversify still further, while continuing to publish novels about “people who are outcasts, struggling to understand who they are, where they’re going, and what they’re going to do.”
Tyrus recently released Graphic the Valley by Peter Hoffmeister, a coming-of-age novel with an environmental theme. LeRoy says Graphic the Valley has persuaded him to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature. In November Tyrus will publish children’s book author Betsy Franco’s first adult novel, Naked, described as a magical realism fable inspired by the life and death of sculptor Camille Claudel.
This new direction for Tyrus, and LeRoy’s concern about crime fiction contributing to real-life violence, haven’t received much attention in the mystery community. If Tyrus had a bigger footprint in the publishing world, LeRoy’s comments would undoubtedly be the subject of a lot of discussion among writers and editors. But doesn’t he raise valid questions about what we’re doing? Should we ignore those questions just because Tyrus publishes 10 books a year?
Where do you think crime fiction fits into our society? Do novels featuring graphic violence (usually against women) desensitize us to real-life murder? Do cozies that make light of murder persuade readers that killing can be clean and lots of fun, with no lasting consequences?
How much responsibility do writers and publishers bear for the effect of our books on readers?