Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Taboo Subjects

Anxious in Austin (soon to be Provident in Prague) writes in...

Are there any subjects for writing samples that might be considered taboo? I don't mean so much in genre, but, well, to get right into it I recently wrote a short story about a necrophiliac that I've gotten a lot of good feedback on. It's not that gruesome or anything, but I do recognize the fact that people in general are disgusted by the subject. I consider myself a more experimental writer and think I'll be rewarded for my creativity. I'm not looking for you to man-fact, but I'd be interested if you thought there were certain topics that a writing sample should steer clear of.

Also, I really dug the excerpt of The Winged Girl. How far along are you?


AiA and PiP: I'm going to state the obvious here (and I'm going to use two colons to do it): If it's good writing, it will help you, no matter the subject material.

My students have asked me this question about their writing too, and while I'd never use the word "taboo," my observation is that there are two areas that are most problematic: Writing that somehow celebrates racism or child abuse. Notice that I say "celebrate" instead of "explore." It's hard to get involved in a story where the main character is a racist or a child abuser.

(Yes, I know. I'll look forward to the comments about Lolita and I'm sure hundreds of other novels. My point is: It's difficult, not impossible).

As for necrophelia, Cormac McCarthy and Brad Watson, among many others, have explored this topic very successfully and in very interesting ways. My Man-Facting take: Your story sounds interesting. If you truly believe that it's some of your best work, send it. For better or worse, it will get the attention of the committee. If you apply to 8-12 programs, my sense is that it will stand out in a positive way more often than negative.

Good luck, and let us know what you decide. I'd appreciate, as always, other comments.

Re: The Winged Girl. Natalie and I are getting along smashingly this summer. She's trying to "nail" her female Photography teacher and the teacher's brother, she's spying on a newlywed couple every night, she's trying to get a friend a date, and she continues to converse with Toby the Talking Tiger. Soon she'll be competing with bicycle couriers in San Francisco, trying to locate a mid-rate painting, and hanging out with a character known as "The Bug." Thanks for asking.


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