Thursday, December 20, 2012

When Fiction Is Too Close To Reality

In the past few months, I've considered taking one of my earlier novels straight to the Kindle and eBook marketplace. It's not that I cannot find an agent; if I had the time apart from a full-time teaching job, I would invest it in just that. It's the subject matter of the novel that makes it a difficult sell, I think. It's not about vampires or an adventure full of harrowing events, nor is it a romance or a sci-fi survival story. And even though I have felt ready to tackle this new foray into publishing, I want to take a step back.

This is because my second novel, Redemption, is about a school shooting. I wrote it about four years ago, and it was inspired by the events of Columbine. I can still remember that day in April 1999 as I watched the television monitors of my college cafeteria, students streaming out of their school. When friends asked what would make other teens do such a heinous act, my first response was, "I'll be they were bullied, and this is how they were retaliating." It was the truth, as investigators would find out in the ensuing weeks and months. As a teacher, I know students are bullied. I also know that what happened at Columbine was wrong.

And so a few years later, I had the idea of writing a novel in which the protagonist meets a mysterious new student, one who seems to know a lot about others and who says that he is there to prevent a massacre from happening. The protagonist is doubtful until he is shown visions of what will happen. The book addresses the topics of cliques, bullies, and how teens react to it all. As the protagonist races to stop the event, he learns that it is more difficult than he intended. Hatred burrows deep, and once the seed is planted, it roots itself in the heart.

In an effort to capture an authentic teen voice and test it out, I had students read the manuscript and give advice. That's the great thing about teens... they're gut-wrenchingly honest. If they don't like something or it doesn't make sense, they will let you know. Fortunately, many of my readers loved Redemption, both males and females. I found that it was leading them to have conversations about the topic well after they read it, and parents told me that it affected their teens deeply. I think it's because it doesn't come with a happy ending. Just like in real life, we can't always stop the bad from happening. And like in real life, choices have consequences.

This year, my new students have asked to read it, having heard about it from their friends. But in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting, I declined. Eventually, I decided to let them read it, but only after having contacted their parents first. All of the parents have been supportive of their teens reading it, agreeing that it is an important and serious topic.

Yet with the recent events in Connecticut, I have realized that it's not the right time to release this novel. While the events in the book are not the same as what happened in Connecticut, it is too close to reality. Perhaps the time will be right eventually, and I will be able to share the story with a wider audience. But until that time, I must wait until the day when the plot will be closer to fiction than fact.

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