I've been distressed by the tragic shootings in Virginia, and the latest story I've read is the most disturbing yet. According to Adam Geller of the AP, the gunman was an "English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service." The head of the English Department said, "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative...or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

Of course the greatest tragedy is the immediate loss to the victims, their friends and families, and all the students at the school. But undoubtedly this underlying theme about creative writing will play out in the press in weeks, even years, to come. What will it mean for mystery writers in terms of suspicion and censorship? We can only stay tuned and hope...

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I hadn't heard about this side of the tragedy in Virginia until just now. In as much as one can take anything away from this event beyond horror and shock, it's an interesting development.

I guess anyone who is capable of something premeditated like a massacre (I'm assuming it must have been -- one doesn't gather an arsenal if one isn't planning on using it, no?) is going to inevitably leave signs of that capacity in things they create; be they musical, visual or literary.

Perhaps more disturbing - for this community - are the implications of the following question: Which came first; the murderous nature, or the disturbing creative writing? Which one informed the other?

I'm reminded of this story from a few years back: Murder novel becomes true crime with author's arrest
If you believe the Bible, the murderous nature came first. Cain and all. I'm sure other religions have their own takes on this, too.
In cases like this, that often seems to be the difference between a tragedy that happened and one that might have been. It's the kids that slip through the net, who show the signs of a troubled psychology but for whom there's no around to either notice or care. The investigations afterwards often show a catalogue of oversights reaching from the police to schools to social services to 'society in general', but how many more times does someone find help from those same agencies before they reach the end of their tether?
I'm glad you mentioned this Jon. As I mentioned earlier my husband works with college students-if this young man's writing was that disturbing, and the professors were left questioning his stability, then they had a duty to either a.) recommend to him that he seek counseling, or b.) do as Jon did and contact administration or possibly the student's advisor and let them meet with the student.

When I first heard about this shooting I had a feeling that at some point there may come a reference to the student being let down by either the persons responsible for referring him for counseling or the counselors themselves. It's still early in the media reports, things may change and this report may end up being questionable-but in the end, I don't think his writings will end up being a case for censorship. It will be another case of a young person desperately needing help and not getting it.
The gunman's creative writing may look more suspicious now simply because we're trying to find logical connections to the senseless event. I'm optimistic that the tragedy won't reflect badly on mystery writers because mystery fiction emphasizes the puzzle over the crime. Crime fiction itself often shows clear lines of morality even if the characters cross them.

Regardless how realistic our fiction, our behavior and actions carry more weight.
Let's hope we don't ever push anyone over the edge with our fiction.
I say this in all seriousness, without any intent of snark. But how many people who who write disturbing creative writing never go on a murder spree? The answer, I'd guess, is on the same order as the answer to the question: how many Koreans never go on a murder spree? Millions. Probably millons upon millions.

No doubt the writings of this fellow will provide insight into his actions, but they aren't an indictment by themselves of dark writing. Disturbing writing is often some of the most important done. It can illuminate and enlighten, grapple with demons, and reveal truths not easily faced, but which nevertheless need facing. For many who write dark and disturbing work, it may be the only way they can confront their own darkness. Sometimes it's grautuitous, but often it may be theraputic.

One problem with this fellow may not be that he wrote disturbing stuff, but that he didn't write enough of it.

I would add that for myself, that mandatory counseling may not have been a bad idea. At the same time, yes, I made it through, as did all the folks I knew who were similar.
Serious question, Bill: What do you think made a difference so that you didn't go off the deep end?
Well, it's hard to say how close to the deep end I was. When I say counseling wouldn't have been a bad idea, I don't mean to say I was perched on a razor's edge. But there are decisions I made as a young person that I might not have made, resulting in a different and perhaps easier path in my life. Maybe.

What I can say for sure is that at crucial times in my life I've had friends step in and kick my ass, or simply be there. I've also dug into my own mess. I wrote. I still write.

One thing I wasn't was isolated, except when I tried very hard to be. And even then, I would let the determined get through to me.

Probably not a very satisfying answer, but it's one of those questions that could take hours to answer if I were to really give it justice. And who wants to sit through that!?
Word. I just hope none of the people who go, "oh my god, he wrote all this disturbing stuff, we should have gotten to him sooner" never read me. Or Tess Gerritsen. Or Cormac McCarthy, or Louise Ure, or Ken Bruen...
The latter, if they're in my class, usually get A's.

Heh. Good on ya. But I still worry. I remember after Columbine how a student who wrote a horror story that featured his teacher and his classmates getting eaten by zombies or axed by a serial killer or something actually got locked up for two weeks before a juvenile court set him loose. And it's happened more than once:




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