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?


Sheila Connolly said...

I agree that what we see on television or in movies (and to a degree, what we read, if we have a vivid visual imagination) can desensitize us to violence and the sight of blood and mangled bodies.

But I have to counter that with the concern that my mother and other parents expressed way, way back in the 1950s--that watching all those shoot-'em-up westerns would make us children violent as adults. Maybe that was the start of it, but I have never hit or shot anyone, despite watching every western available.

As an aside, I once pitched a book to Benjamin LeRoy at a New England Crime Bake years ago. His comment? Make it more violent and darker.

Sandra Parshall said...

Tyrus does specialize in noir crime fiction, so I'm not surprised by his response to you, Sheila. But what they publish is also of a high literary quality.

Alice Duncan said...

Interesting post. I suspect TV plays a bigger part in influencing society than do books, but what do I know? Absolutely nothing, is what.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Sandra, remember when Stephen Kimg withdrew one of his books from publication? I think it's the only one of his that's out of print, and he won't allow it back in. It was about an unhappy kid shooting up a school and was found years ago in the locker of an unhappy kid who did shoot up a school. King says he doesn't think the kid did it because of his book, but he won't have it out there to help feed into the school shooting violence we've had.

Sandra Parshall said...

It's astonishing how violent a lot of TV shows are now -- and not just the cable shows. I have a pretty strong stomach, but some of that stuff makes me avert my eyes. I avoid reading books in which crazy serial killers torture and eviscerate women. Far too many crime novels of that sort are being published. And sexual abuse of children is making a big comeback in fiction after slackening off for several years.

Pat Browning said...

I agree with Alice. I put the blame on TV and violent video games. I'm not into video games and I almost never watch TV -- too many rude, crude and just plain ugly programs. Reality TV? Whose reality?

As for crime novels, I lean more and more toward cozies. If at all possible I avoid serial killers/rapists, child molesters, women abusers and other sick, sick, sick killings. Who needs that? In the real world, today's newspapers are full of such stuff.

Some of our best writers deal with those subjects and I'm a World War II buff. Those novels can be full of violence, but they have the benefit of being removed from today's problems. History is history -- I can accept that.

Pat Browning

Pat Browning

Unknown said...

I doubt that crime fiction plays much of a role in contributing to violence. I read it all the time, as well as a lot of people I know. So far, none of us have killed anyone.

Violence in movies, in music or on television may play a small roll, perhaps even the news media in their coverages.

A bigger roll, in my opinion, is the violent video games like Pat said. They desensitize players to the concept of committing violent acts. There are age guidelines on these games, but very few parents pay any attention to them. It's easier for them to believe that 'all the kids are playing them'.

But, all (or many) of these things are also in other countries that don't have the violent acts that we do here in the U.S.

What we have, that other countries don't, is an organization like the NRA that heavily promotes guns ownership, including high powered and semi-automatic weapons - while at the same time contributing heavily to political campaigns. Our political leaders won't listen to the majority of their constituents, who want stricter gun laws while they are so busy stuffing their pockets.

Carole Shmurak said...

I have to wonder what the evidence is for this. Are any of these school shooters even READERS? Like Pat, I'd look at video games, and the movies aimed at adolescent males, which are notoriously violent.

About TV: there's a lot of junk, yes. But I think we 're in a Golden Age of TV right now. Anyone watching The Newsroom? The Good Wife? Downton Abbey?

Jeri Westerson said...

I highly doubt that the books he publishes are being consumed by those elements (teens and young adults) that might be influenced.

Benjamin LeRoy said...

I tried to address all of this in this comment section, but I've exceeded the character limit and subsequent revisions can't seem to garner Blogger's approval.

My response can be found on my blog

Would love to continue this conversation, as I think it's an important one.