Creative writing, violence and Virginia

Scanning the headlines on the Drudge Report in search of the latest news about the massacre at Virginia Tech, I found a story so disturbing that I started a Forum topic about it. According to an AP story by Adam Geller, the gunman was a senior English major "whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service." Faculty were concerned about him, and the chair of the English department said, "Sometimes in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative or if they're describing things, if they're imagining things or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this...She said Cho was referred to the counseling service, but she said she did not know when, or what the outcome was."

It sounds as if the faculty acted appropriately and didn't overstep their boundaries. Did they fail to exercise due diligence in warning of possible violence? How could they possibly know? English teachers aren't psychologists, and psychologists are by no means foolproof either. For those of us who write mysteries that include violence, this is a truly perplexing issue. I could blog endlessly on the subject, but I still need time to sort out my feelings.

My own novels shy away from overly graphic violence. In Mood Swing, the victims are discovered after the fact. In Eldercide, on which I'm now doing the final edit, I describe murders directly from the victims' and the killer's viewpoint, but the murders are relatively painless, even gentle. But I do enjoy scenes of violence in others' novels, and I liked Tarrentino's and Rodriguez' Grindhouse. We all have a shadow side in the Jungian sense; in a few, it takes over in the light of day with tragic consequences.

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