Saturday 5 January 2013

Best Fan Mail Ever

I thought I'd share this email from a reader [edited to reduce spoilers]:

I really think you are one sick disturbed person. I was fine with King of Thorns until I got to the chapter about ****. I got to the part about where **** was in the cart and then flipped the pages. Unfortunately I read the sentence "*******************************" 

That sentence is seared into my brain and has given me nightmares. It might be fiction but it is just horrible. There is no excuse for this sort of thing. The torture of an innocent  animal. ***************************. You could have found a different way to make you point. I took the book straight back to the library. I will never ever read another book by you as long as I live. I dont know where all this darkness comes from with you but you are 

quite obviously disturbed. I don't care if you are with 10 kids and 5 dogs. Sick sick sick.

My reply: "Excellent choice, ma'am."

The mail above was interesting to me for several reasons:

i) It embodied the Hollywood advice: slaughter as many co-ed teens as you want, but shoot a puppy and your film is toast.

ii) It brought home to me how differently people's imaginations are wired. Indeed how people without an imagination can mistrust those who have one - failing completely to understand how an imagination works.

Imagination 101:

The innocent animal (I don't recall ever claiming it was innocent mind you) was made of words. It didn't really suffer. Just because I can imagine bad things happening doesn't mean I have done or want to do those things.

Later additions on the subject:

From an Amazon review:  "until the infamous dog scene, which was so horrific I never want to read another word written by this author. I've read umpteen horror novels that haven't kept me awake like that scene."

Forum quote: "An early scene with the young Jorg and his dog almost had me putting it down, and I'm from quite a good horror vintage with a strong stomach."

From a Goodreads review: "I really liked the first book, but couldn't get past the dog torture scene early in the second book so I stopped reading. It is a shame, because I do like the story, but wow, that was horrifying and made me ill and I don't want to risk more of it, so I tapped out."

But here's the main thing:

Torture is horrific. If you read about the torture of a human and it doesn't make you feel sick, sad, and a little dirty, then either it's badly written or it's an indictment of how desensitized we've become.

Contrary to common belief there are no torture scenes in Prince of Thorns, and none (save the non-human one this post concerns) until Emperor of Thorns.

I've never written a torture scene to titillate. I expect the ones I have written to have an impact, and they are there because the constitute important moments in Jorg's life. Life changing moments that are responsible in part for who he is.

I never intend to write torture porn (like Saw I, II, III etc). I don't expect the reader to keep putting the popcorn into their mouth while it happens.


  1. That scene was horrible, but it was also very effective and incredibly well written. It had me uncontrollably crying, and it also gave me another look at Jorg's childhood, just in case I didn't believe that seeing your mother and brother brutally slaughtered would screw someone up as royally as it did Jorg.

  2. Won't somebody please think of the word puppies?!

  3. Presumably this person is a redundant animal rights activist who has ended cruelty to animals, and without anything better to do now rails against imaginary ones being hurt?

  4. That scene had me wiping away tears, I don't mind admitting.

    My wife had to ask me why I was laughing so hard.

    1. :)you know you fond that perfect comment when the laughter of that voice in the back of your mind is causing you small aneurysms.

  5. I am still yet to relate to these people who continually make claims about the unacceptable level of violence in your books? I'm starting to feel like a desensitized arsehole, because none of these scenes even caused me so much as a pause.

    But I agree, it's imagination and words. Just because these things aren't pleasant doesn't mean they don't happen and they shouldn't be written about. It's the mentality that got Harry Potter banned from religious schools ... writing fiction about witches doesn't mean you think they exist or advocate their heretical ways.

    I just think these people must have been reading a whole lot of My Little Pony previously.

  6. Oh man. In these kinds of situations it always surprises me how people make the baseless distinction between "innocent animals" (in this case a dog), and, let's say for example, pigs.

    Then again, I shouldn't be surprised that this coincides with a lack of imagination.

  7. Reminds me of a line from one of my favorite songs " we're sung to sleep by the trees and kill the children"

  8. Dear Mark,

    You have all my symphaties! You know I love your book, so this might not be objective to the subject, but I have also read Joe Abercrombie's Books (all of them to be true - German and Englisch) and although his world is fantastic to drown, in yours is my favourite and I would recoment someone like this best-fan-mail-ever-writer to NOT read books, they can't stand. And it isn't like your bookdescribtion is something along this line: A innocent, lonely boy, who tries - naturally peaceful and without violence - to find the destroyer of his favourit playcar. If it was then such nonsens-email would be justifyed - and i wouldn't have read it - , but his story isn't nice and he isn't either! You didn't even try to hide it, no you remind us every now and then that he isn't only a broken boy but a "criminal" who "choose" - more or less willingly - his own path. So to all those people out there: If you don't like a book or can't stand the impact it MIGHT have on you: Don't read it!
    I think you did a great job - even better then Joe and different1 That's clear - and I wouldn't want to miss it for the world. It really kept me hooked throughout - even now, for the 6th time in Germen/English! So don't bother with these silly things and continue to bath in the sunlight which should shine on you, because of you outstanding antihero!

    Read you!

  9. About the whole Abercrombie comparison, I read his First Law Trilogy, which actually were the first fantasy books I read in English (not my first language, you see), and I can see the comparisons, namely the dark and gritty world, and amoral characters, but it ends there, really. In terms of prose they're worlds apart, while Mark's writing is beautifully concise, Joe tends to go on and on, which at times gets a bit tiring. No to say he's worse, just different.

    About that e-mail, man, I don't want to get all psychological here, but I really think that says more about the reader than the book. Speaking for myself, that scene didn't upset me much. I love animals as much as the next guy, but compared to real acts of brutality towards that I've witnessed, it wasn't that awful. Even in the context of the book, there were other scenes in both Prince and King that touched me a lot more.

  10. I didn't find the darkness of Jorg disturbing - and the prose was fantastic, just beautifully written and crafted. The trilogy is an absolute masterwork.

    On the general point though, the trend to move fantasy away dragons and on to the gritty reality of torture is not one I'm completely happy about. It's not the violence, or the sex, or the sexual violence, it's the complete lack of censure that bothers readers. Fantasy, like Crime Fiction, used to be comforting stuff - the goodies won, the murderers and rapists were punished, usually. Now the fashion may be to present a grittier, more 'realistic' world, but hyper-reality is not the primary reason why people buy fantasy, is it? I know ugly things take place every day - and I know people get away with them. Is it somehow wrong to want to read books where there are good people defeating evil?

    I think some writers are in that state of wanting to do the 'experimental album' - to try new things and produce darker and more adult stuff. It's always the same progression,for some reason, perhaps because the writers or musicians are just getting older, or because dark is always seen as deeper than happy. Always.

    Readers though, may not have read the genre to death, the way those writing it often have. Some of them would be perfectly happy with more Feist Magicians, or more Hobbs Liveships. They want good stories first and foremost, and great characters, not necessarily combined with stomach-turning viciousness.

    Dark heroes have always been interesting. Laddoes like GRRM and the writers of Breaking Bad have shown you can go a long, LONG way before people put the book down, or turn off the TV. Even so, this feels like a fashion, where style and shock value is held higher than content. Not in the Thorns trilogy, by the way. That was so flipping good, it undermines my entire argument. Abercrombie is a case in point though. Please address all angry replies to Mark Lawrence. He loves getting them.

    As the wheel turns, I hope we won't go back to dragons and Valheru, but will retain the triumph of good over evil as a central theme of the genre. Subverted is fine for a time, but you have to have something to subvert, or it all disappears up its own fundament. I look forward to a Sherlock Holmes type character in Crime fiction - who can't solve a single damn murder. But I don't expect him to become the standard bearer for the genre.

  11. I love this series, love Jorg, and I've been disturbed enough by some of the stuff to have actual nightmares - Gottering... It scared Rike so I'm allowed!

    But the poor dog... sorry, I can watch and read about the horrible things people do to other people, but when it happens to dogs it tends to stay in my head longer.

    Awesome series though, I hope they do a HBO series on it one day

  12. Her anger was misplaced. Clearly she should have written an angry letter to Jorg's dad instead. :)

  13. "I expect George Martin would get a hundred a day if his email was available."

    Ha. George's email is available (if you hunt for it enough online). I don't know how many he gets a day, but on his blog recently he apologised for having about 3,000 unanswered emails in his inbox. And this is after a massive hard drive failure took out several thousand more unread emails a couple of years ago :)

  14. All the things you blog about and write in your books touch me on a spiritual level and I haven't even raised a hand against a puppy. They just make me laugh before I go to bed but that doesn't mean I'm automatically a person who is plotting something bad and neither are you. Fiction stays fiction, it is there to tell us about things we'll never witness or do. Rich imagination is a treasure and that's why I give you all of my respect because your stories literally send shivers down my spine.

  15. Absolutely a horrible scene to read! Justice embodied the innocence we knew was taken from young Jorg. And this is also exactly what I've learned in and out of film school. Killing people by the hundreds or thousands in a movie is one thing, but if you kill one dog, there's hell to pay.

  16. I have a dog, she's a huge source of joy in my life, Mark, yer fine. It's weird, you've got untold numbers of deaths, probably billions in the very long history of the Broken Empire and you get the most heat for the dog?

    Let us know if you get anymore, cause really "think of the children"

  17. The first time I heard of the Prince of Thorns was a comment stating something like "this book is errible! After reading the first chapter I was so disgusted I had to put it down! Full of rape violence and needless torture"
    Obviously I had to buy the book!
    Anything that makes that impression in someone must be well written, and you bet your life it was :-)
    Hated the dog thing, but making a reader FEEL is a great skill.
    BTW Abercrombie IS a handsome fella

  18. I can understand the sentiment that one doesn't much care for writers coming up with special ways to say "horrible things are horrible, and they are indicative of horrible wrongness". It might be different things for different people, and to a different degree (one can also put it away, and come back to it in a bored moment).

  19. I wish to thank you for your awesome books, I have only read the first two and I have just started the Emperor of Thorns which im already excited about i have never written to an author before but i just had too because they are fantastic so thank you and i hope you bring many more books out

  20. Re that scene: I love dogs. I was reading peacefully, about to fall asleep when I got to that scene, stopped, thought that maybe it'd be better to wait til the morning, but went on anyway. Finished it, dragged my dog to me and cuddled him hysterically. Dog feared for his life and backed off the bed. Husband woke up, so I cuddled him instead. He put up with it longer than the dog, then he fell asleep. I was awake the entire night and upset the next day.

    It was an effective scene. Broken Empire is superb, but when I do a reread I will skip the scene, with apologies. RIP Justice.

  21. To quote one of you above me, 'great writers make you FEEL something'...and that particular trilogy of books really made ME feel! And the prose of the writing...pure art! Just AWESOME!

  22. We are human. Our daily lives are unfiltered and contain every emotion. When I read, any genre, I absolutely need to have emotion tied to the story. I do not live in a land of pixies and unicorns, so I do not only experience 'positive' emotions and when I read, I do not need or expect to only ever come away thinking happy thoughts. The entire trilogy explores some very dark facets of the human psyche, it revolves a round someone who has experienced almost every evil a human can (and dished out more than his fair share too). A story with such a dark theme absolutely must leave the reader feeling uncomfortable at times, it must make them question and wonder, it must have moments where the reader is forced to explore and understand some very nasty concepts or it is simply a 'story'. I WANT a story to leave me speechless at some moment of horror, not through voyeurism or some inner sickness, but because when I do, it is absolute proof that the story is told in such a way as to place me in the situation, rather than seeing it through the eyes of a narrator. That horror I felt proved that I was reading something special, from a special imagination, not some diseased individual living out his own fantasy on paper

  23. Society in general has become far too easily offended. Jorg is not a golden a hero. He is not a shining paragon of virtue. This is not a Disney fairy tale. If that's what you expected, then you picked the wrong book. LOL

  24. While I do agree that any act of cruelty towards an animal is degenerate, I'm pretty sure that the person who wrote the email initially to the author was chomping on his quarter pounder burger when he sent it and then bought some chicken McNuggets after he returned the book to the library. If the reader thought the book was that horrible to imaginary animals here is the link to the documentary Earthlings: Enjoy! :)

  25. Huh. I read the first book.
    Disgusted? Sick? No.
    Not my favorite, I liked the other series more....but having a character do something awful, well and? This happens in the real world too....doesn't mean the reader nor the author is secretly a serial killer or something, its a tale..the tale has bad people in them...or bad things happen. Geez, look at GOT. Not a lot of complaints there...OMG look at all the slaughter, cruelty and such...nope. And BTW I am a woman.