At some point in writing, every author has some tough decisions to make. What genre is my book? Do I include sex? Do I include lies? What about violence? While some of us intend for our writing to take these paths, it’s not so easy for others. Take me, for instance. I was raised in the innocence of the 1950s. You trusted your neighbors, you could hitchhike to town without fear, sex was whispered about, not shown, and if you lied you were punished. End of story. I remember begging my parents to go see “Gone With The Wind” because I had read the book and my friends were going. My father gave me a firm no. It’s too grown up for a young girl. I cried, to no avail. Today’s world isn’t like that. And we have all changed.
My soon-to-be-released novel, INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders, has many tags. Circus, mystery and historical fiction to name a few. I have had a hard time deciding how to categorize it. The book is a much-researched work of fiction that involves the pre-Civil War wagon circuses and the nomadic Gypsies who roamed America entertaining people. So it is Historical Fiction. Part romance – coming of age story. Mystery too. There are some strange things happening in the circus and Inzared and Paytre (the elephant handler) are trying to decide who is at fault. It’s a book about Gypsy life and customs. What about targeting the Young Adult category? Enter my dilemma.
While I know that many of today’s youth are beaten over the head daily with sex, lying and cheating, and violence, I would like my writing to be a break from all of that. Even before I started thinking about sales genres, I didn’t automatically include scenes of that nature. However, when I stepped back and took a good look at my work I wondered if omitting the things that are now part of everyday life would work against me. So I returned to the manuscript to make some changes.
The story begins in 1843 in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. The protagonist, Bertha Mae Anderson, is a sixteen year old girl who longs to travel and see the world. Instead, she was born into a hardscrabble life and has to work hard alongside her Ma, Pa, and brother Ezra to eke out a living from the unforgiving land. They have animals, so of course Bertha Mae has seen them mating. The family lives in a ramshackle log cabin, barely one large room with a loft and she has heard her parents making love in the night. So she is matter of fact about it and doesn’t give the topic much thought until she falls in love.
Violence is not an everyday occurrence in Bertha Mae’s world. While the family must kill deer and wild animals for food and butcher others, again, it’s a part of living in that day and time on a farm. The Anderson family lives a good two hours from the little town at the foot of the mountain where they do their trading. Neighbors aren’t close. People work for what they need and robbery and violence are not the norm. Naive, yes. But life was different then.
Lies don’t roll off Bertha Mae or Ezra’s tongues. Their parents are God-fearing honest people and teach their children to be the same. There are no televisions or radio. Entertainment generally is in the form of a barn raising and a dance and potluck when the work is done. Tommy Ray Anderson, Bertha Mae’s father, teaches her to play guitar and she accompanies him while he plays his homemade fiddle on their porch after chores. However, there are times when Bertha “withholds” the truth, such as when she climbs over the split rail fence and drops the basket of eggs she has just gathered. When her Ma asks about it, Ezra steps in and takes a licking for her, saying he teased her. Inzared and Ezra both know that if they are caught fibbing they will endure the willow switch, so I’m sure a few little white lies were told that I didn’t even hear about!
Worried that my story will be too “tame” and no one will want to read it, I went in and added a little sex. And it’s not blatant, hit you in the face sex, either. It’s soft, sweet, and makes you use your imagination. Alluded to, not acted out and described in every steamy detail. I also added some violence. There is something going on behind the scenes at the circus and not everyone is happy in the Gypsy clan. There are a couple of fistfights and a few “damns” thrown in here and there, but I again decided not to go the heavy-handed route and left out other expletives, although I’m sure they were probably used. Lying has been part of society throughout the ages. I added a little of that, too. I had to, because it’s part mystery, you see.
I tell you all of this because I wonder if other writers have these problems? Any comments? Only time will tell if I have made the right decisions and kept sex, lies and violence to a minimum in INZARED Queen of the Elephant Riders. Can today’s hip generation relate to a simpler time when life was black and white? Will it perhaps give them a break from all the sex and violence that is everywhere we look? I did go to great lengths to flesh out the narrative with rich details of circus life and Gypsy folklore. I’m still at this moment unsure whether or not to target the Historical Fiction or Young Adult market, but Inzared will let me know. She’s sure had plenty to say thus far!
When we were kids and told a lie some parents threatened “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.” My link for today is a short video on how people in Inzared’s time made lye soap. Hope you enjoy it.