A Bridge Too Far: Taboos in Fiction

Thanks to all the wonderful readers for their enthusiastic reception of SHADOW WIZARD! Just because it’s so squee-worthy, here’s a fabulous Reddit Gush about the book. Made me very happy!

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking about limits. How far is too far in your writing? Is there anything you find taboo?

I think these are two different questions. I mean, they’re literally two different questions, but I think the consideration of what is “too far” for me vs. what I find taboo are not the same at all.

George R.R. Martin once told me about one of his favorite writing exercises to assign when he teaches workshops. He’d ask the students to write about the worst thing they ever did. Some, he said, were clearly fictionalizing. And others couldn’t seem to come up with anything that terrible – which he figured for another sort of denial. But the point of the exercise was to demonstrate that all people – and thus all characters – can do really awful things. I mulled this over, and the conversation has clearly stuck with me, and I’m pretty clear that I do have places I won’t go in my writing.

Some of the reactions to SHADOW WIZARD that I’ve seen remark on how awful some of the high houses in the Convocation are. In fact, some readers tap out on the world altogether, because it is so dark. I want to show in my work what absolute power does to people – it’s a recurring theme for me – so perhaps I’m not so different from GRRM in that perspective. I have shown sexual abuse to the point of rape on the page, so that’s clearly not too far for me. I won’t show the death of a child or an animal-friend, however. That’s just because it’s too much sorrow for me.

As far as taboos, however… I have a workshop I sometimes teach on writing sexual tension, and I delve heavily into taboos, especially as they apply to sex. In short, taboos exist in society for good reasons – they are instilled in us as children to protect our health (no dessert before dinner) and safety (don’t touch the hot stove) and later they come from our larger communities to protect us all (murder is wrong). Because taboos are so deeply ingrained in us, breaking them releases a huge amount of emotional and spiritual energy. It’s freeing to break taboos – which is why breaking sexual taboos (which often don’t exist for very good reasons) can be so healthy.

The great thing about fiction is you can break all the taboos you want to! It’s exhilarating for the writer and the reader. There’s a reason we love kick-ass characters who kill with glee and ease. That releases the same energy in us as breaking the murder taboo, but without social or personal consequences. So… is there anything taboo for me in fiction?

Probably not.

First Cup of Coffee – October 3, 2022

How I handle self-published projects vs. trad-pub targeted projects with my agent, my sugarplum of a midwinter holiday novella, and shaking my cane at publicists these days and how they’re promoting books.



First Cup of Coffee – September 30, 2022

I’m waxing philosophical today, talking about the flow of Tao and what it really means to be without desire. Also about embracing strong emotions, which power us to attain those things we desire.



First Cup of Coffee – September 29, 2022

It’s release day for SHADOW WIZARD!! My audiobook narrator says it’s her favorite so far, so that’s awesome. I’m also talking about taking audiobooks wide vs. ACX exclusive and which platforms I’m using and how.



Jeffe and her Iconic Scene

 

SHADOW WIZARD releases tomorrow!! Preorder price of $4.99 will be good into tomorrow, then it goes up. (Along with my grocery bill, alas!) The audiobook is being recorded now and should be available in about 2 weeks.

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking: Do you have an iconic scene that inspires your writing?
I think most of my stories arise from certain pivotal images. For most every book I’ve written, I can almost certainly identify what the core image was. It’s more than visual, however, and feels more like a snippet of a moment: a character in a situation. For a long time I have had an iconic scene. I started drawing it when  was a little girl and it’s found its way into any number of stories over the years. I’ve never quite felt like I fully wrote the story of it, though it’s haunted me less recently, so maybe I’ve come close enough for it to leave me alone.
The scene:
A woman stands on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Waves rise in whitecaps, dashing themselves against the rocks below. A wind off the water blows back her hair and gown. She’s waiting…  Perhaps for an enemy to arrive on her shores? That’s my usual feeling. Sometimes a large wolfhound is with her. Sometimes I think she’s a sorceress, other times a queen.
If you’ve read a lot of my books, you’ll probably recognize ways that this scene appears in various forms. I might’ve finally worked it out of my system with the Forgotten Empires trilogy, although it still didn’t feel precisely like that iconic scene. Maybe I’ll wend my way back to it someday!
For the time-being, however, I’ve been in the marshes and woodlands with the denizens of the Renegades of Magic world. SHADOW WIZARD takes us to a new high house (if you’re familiar with the Bonds of Magic trilogy), and increasingly wild adventures. In this book, this snippet of a scene is one of my favorites:

She flung herself against him, embracing him with fierce tenacity, face buried against his neck, her chin digging rather sharply against his collarbone. For a slender, barely-there wraith, Seliah possessed a surprising amount of tensile strength. And she smelled of water in the moonlight, her tough, tense, thin little body vibrating with spiky silver magic, her breasts surprisingly—and distractingly—soft and full pressed against his chest. He couldn’t help a tiny fantasy of how it would feel to be buried inside that intensity, to have that passionate body surging against his, embracing and engulfing.

It’s never going to happen, he told himself firmly.

Are you sure? part of him whispered back slyly.

Yes. Ruthlessly banishing the image, he refused to touch her any more than he already had. Holding his hands out, even more awkward than ever, he kind of waved them around as he waited for the hug to end.

It didn’t. Instead she held on, a buzzing bundle of intoxicating magic and tempting woman. Jadren tried patting her back, thinking maybe that would satisfy her enough to encourage her to go away, but she only purred, snuggling closer, like a cat who’d found the one cat-hater in the room and had no greater goal in life than encamping on his lap forever.

First Cup of Coffee – September 27, 2022

SHADOW WIZARD is uploaded! I’m back from mini-break. And I’m discussing why I buy my own ISBNs, how they work, and a bit about false economies in running your own self-publishing biz. Also: a Starbucks odyssey.



First Cup of Coffee – September 23, 2022

I’m running on fumes a bit, but I’m nearly done with this book! Ruminating on choosing titles from earlier in the alphabet, picking Dedications when you’ve written a lot of books, and good news from Amazon!



First Cup of Coffee – September 22, 2022

Discussing my revision process today, how it works for me and what I learned about it in writing this book regarding revising with more than two POVs. Also a tidbit on what NOT to do with review requests.



First Cup of Coffee – September 20, 2022

I’m ruminating on characterization today, especially of beautiful/privileged women, with a particular focus on Nic from DARK WIZARD and how she changes over the series. Thus, there may be spoilers.