Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's so funny bout peace, love, and...cannibalism?

So. Apparently cannibalism is bad.

I mean, of course it's bad. It's gross; it's squick all around. But apparently, cannibalism is one of those things that You Should Not Put In Books either.

I'm currently over halfway through the third Downside book (which I am extremely happy with, yay!) and my Bad Baddies are really starting to crystallize. Of course they've/he's/she's (no spoilers here!) been around since the very beginning, because that's the way I roll it, baby. But now we're exploring the BB more intimately. And one little character trait I had in mind of this particular/these particular BBs was that they occasionally enjoyed sitting down to a nice meal of other human beings.

Perhaps it's because I was seventeen when Silence of the Lambs came out--the book, which I read before I knew a movie was coming, and then the movie which I saw the day it was released--this didn't seem to me to be that big a deal. I mean, clearly it's yucky, but not horrifyingly, shockingly so.

Especially when you consider that Hannibal the Cannibal was and is so, so popular.

Especially when you consider that, for example, vampires are so sexy (yeah, you might not think so but I sure as hell do); and really, while drinking blood isn't exactly the same as actually eating flesh, there are distinct similarities. And while I know there are people who find vampires gross for that reason, there seem to be a lot of others who find the idea more of a turn-on than a turn-off. I freely admit I fall into this category.

And that's not even touching on the fact that, of course, one of the greatest heroines in urban fantasy is Mark Henry's Amanda Feral, who eats people, and whose latest adventure was just released yesterday so you should go buy it!! And while you're at it, but Mario's and Anton's books as well, of course.


I have recently been informed by several people In The Know that cannibalism should be avoided. It's not a big deal; I'm not complaining or anything. But I am, well, a bit worried. Make that a lot worried.

Because, um, there's a little bit of it in the second Demons book. I don't want to spoil it (no pun intended), but it is there. It's ritual cannibalism and clearly presented as such; a gesture of respect, a continuance of something, a transfer of power, all that and more. It's there. And while I had a concern when writing it, I felt fairly confident that I'd made it and the purposes for it clear enough that readers would understand it and not be too horrified; that it would equate largely with vampiric blood-drinking. I made several mentions of ancient tribes practicing ritual cannibalism. I made one or two oblique references to Communion and transubstantiation (Yes, I'm fully aware there is a difference; please do not think I'm equating Catholicism with cannibalism; I'm simply pointing out that there is a similar form of ritual to which people don't give a second thought, really). I make it clear that this is a very distinct, once-in-a-lifetime sort of ritual and is not a part of the everday lives of any of those involved.

But I have to admit I'm still worried.

I can't do anything about it now; there's no way I can remove it because it is such an important part of the events of the book. It's the lynchpin on which the entire last act of the book spins and is the basis for several Important Discussions and Events. But given that DEMON INSIDE has a darker spin overall, and given that cannibalism is apparently a real taboo... I am concerned. Quite concerned.

What do you think? If a character you like performs such an act--once-in-a-lifetime, remember, with deep ritual meaning; one symbolic bite, say--would you be sickened? Would you find it difficult or impossible to continue seeing that character in the same way? Would you throw the book against the wall and decide I should be committed? Would you question the sanity of a character who didn't condemn the act, who didn't decide s/he couldn't possibly contemplate even speaking to that character again?

Give it to me straight. I can take it. Sigh.


Zita said...

Well, but, ritual cannibalism is different from just regular chomping on people, right? And, as you said, there are a lot of writers writing about zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc., and they're all mentioning eating people, so I wouldn't worry overmuch if I were you. I mean, look at Jeaniene Frost's Cat & Bones series and the ghouls she writes about...

synde said...

I say it's all fine. yes it's squick but it's supposed to be squick. It's a novel for f*(&&^K's sake. And ritual cannibalism is just's practiced throughout the world even now.
Maybe im sick..who really knows?

-Kelly Meding said...

I'm going to give you the answer everyone hates: it depends.

It depends on how it's used within the context of the story and pre-established rules/conditions of the world. It depends on when it happens (having a new heroine chomping down on Thigh Tartare in the first chapter of a debut series, for example? Ick).

It also depends on the skill of the writer. There are some authors who could write about almost anything and I'd read them without question.

Nicole Peeler said...

I think as long as you're eating babies, it's fine.

Then it's Swiftian and obviously an hoooomage.

Seriously, whatever you do in Demons is going to be AWESOME. AS LONG AS YOU RELEASE IT INTO MY CLUTCHES SOON!!!!!!!

Do you realize how long I've been waiting? ;-)

AND all the friends I've given it to are all pissed off. They're all, "Dude, where's the fucking sequel???" like it's MY fault.

Stop writing such good books, unless you plan on releasing them five minutes after each other. ;-)

synde said...

Stace..I agree with the way Nicole it is your fault!

Anonymous said...

Well, it's Urban Fantasy, it's not real life,& it's a story! For me, it depends on how good the author is at getting me lost (where I don't know what's going on in the real world while I'm reading) in the story. I've read books I never thought I would read because the author is such a good storyteller!

Kooritsuki said...

I'd say I agree with Kelly. It depends.

As much as I love the idea of vampires, for example, if the author chose to write his/her "feeding" in a very gruesome manner, I would be repulsed by the character. But when it's written in a way that is... romantic or whatever you call it, it's quite attractive. And I think the same thing goes for cannibalism.

If it's written well, there should not be a problem whatsoever.

Gareth said...

Nope not got a problem although you might also have fun if you look at the origin of the word Karnival, might also add some flavour. LOL

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Zita, yes, it is very different. I love the way you phrased that.

Ha, Synde, I know you're sick; you hang out with us! :-)

Yeah, Kelly, I know it depends. I just wondered if it was an auto-know for anyone, you know?

Lol, Nicole! That was such an awesome little essay, wasn't it?
And I'm sorry!! Only 5 months to go! It wasn't my choice pleasedon'thitmeanymore!! :-)

Thanks Anonymous! Yeah, there are a lot of things that factor into it, I'd just hate to think I shot myself in the foot. :-)

Right, Kooritsuki. I guess there's cannibalism and cannibalism; hopefully I have whichever one doesn't turn people off, lol. But yeah, I'm a fan of the bloodsuckers but wouldn't necessarily like it if it was protrayed in a really gory or twisted way either.

Oh, neat, Gareth! Thanks!

Yeah, I was really surprised, everyone, because I thought it was...not common, but not so uncommon as to be really bizarre. Like I said, I'm just hoping everyone is as open-minded as you guys! :-)

Jackie Ballway said...

Honestly, it depends on the character. I would buy it more if Greyson did it than Megan, but either way it wouldn't make me throw the book into a fiery pit to cleanse it of its demons.

Queen of the Damned was probably the first book I read with cannabilism, and it was done so well that my stomach barely gurgled before it was over. So as long as you don't have "the blood and rubbery intestines dripped down her chin to pool in her blouse" or something of that nature, you should be fine. : )

Carol said...

On a personal level, for myself, I cannot read anything about cannibalism. I just can't. It sickens me way too much, and I tend to completely avoid it when I know about it in advance. I don't see it as comparable to vampires and blood-drinking, though I have heard that comparison made before. I guess it being flesh is the distinction for me.

Shoot, I guess I'll need to get a heads up from you before I read the book. :)

Thom said...

There's also the fact that you have the followers of Valentine Michael Smith ritually consuming his body at the end of Stanger in a Strange Land, and that book was so popular that hippy geeks in the sixties were going around talking about things they "grok".

If the disciples of a fake sci-fi messiah can eat human flesh, who are we to judge?

Skarrah said...

There's plenty of people eating in books. I've read books where demons, werewolves, humans and witches eat human flesh (not all in the same book of course!) It's no biggie if you ask me.

Yes, they ate someone. It was gross. But in the chapter before somebody had their face ripped off and worn as a hat. Don't hear anyone whining about that and throwing the book away in disgust.

Mark said...

I think "people in the know" seriously underestimate reader's tolerance for tough subject matter. Armistead Maupin's More Tales of the City uses ritual cannibalism as a plotline and it's played out with a lot of humor and melodrama. I think I'd expect the same from Megan.

Jaye Wells said...

Aw, c'mon, what's wrong with a little peat* every now and then?

Seriously though? I wouldn't think twice about it. Unless it was being used as an obvious device to shock and offend, then it's just lame. And you're anything but lame, Stace.

*That's short for "people meat" for those playing along at home.

December/Stacia said...

Lol, Jackie, yes, gratuitousness does make a huge difference, doesn't it? :-)

Well, Carol, send me an email when you buy the book and I'll tell you which page to avoid!

Lol, Thom! I'll use that argument next time. :-)

Right, Skarrah! How is it any grosser than some of the other stuff? I just don't get where the line is, I guess.

Yep, I have all those books, Mark! Well, except for the last one, which I'm on the fence about getting. Have you read it? Apparently it's more of a novel than the others. Anyway. See above. I just don't get where the line is.

*blush* Thank you, Jaye! Yeah, I just don't...I mean, it's a book, it's not even like seeing it in a tv show or something. So I do feel a little better now about the book, anyway.

Nicole Peeler said...

Dude, Greyson can eat me ANYTIME.

Wait a minute, that wasn't even a single entendre, was it?

All right, I gotta go conference.

Nicole Peeler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol said...

Stacia, I will be sure to. :)

By definition, I believe cannibalism refers to people eating people, or, at least, species eating same species. To me, it is not cannibalism when there are vampires, werewolves, or other "supernatural" creatures devouring humans. Zombies, possibly.

All I can say is, the question was asked, so I answered honestly.

Pike said...

I think it's sick and twisted in all the right ways. You're not throwing it in their for shock, it's got plot and ramifications written all over it. It'll make us wince and squirm and read it again just in case we missed something the first time. And now I have to go cook the children - I mean FOR the children. Good god, look at what you've done.

Little Girl Lost said...

I think its sick and twisted and demented and totally delicious and i have a feeling i'm going to love it. if its a ritual thing, please make sure the ritual is long-drawn and takes place often...
my first visit to your blog. loved it totally :)

December/Stacia said...

Hmm, Carol. Perhaps it doesn't quite qualify then! But I mean it quite seriously. If you email when you have the book--it hasn't been printed yet so I don't know what page it will fall on in the book itself, y'see--I will be happy to tell you which page or paragraph to avoid if you like. I don't want to gross anybody out, well, not *really*. Heh.

And I'm glad you answered honestly, thank you so much! :-)

Uh-oh, Pike. I hope the children are still around this morning? :-) Yes, it is a Big Deal and I honestly couldn't see another way to accomplish everything that needed to be accomplished in that scene, you know? It had to have certain ramifications and incite certain very specific feelings and emotions. So there it is. I really can't wait to see what people think of this book!

Lol, thank you Little Girl Lost! I hope you stick around--we have plenty of fun posts here at the League and we all have our own personal blogs on our respective websites as well. And it is rather a drawn-out ritual, and, I hope, a pretty impressive and intense one. :-) Thanks!

April said...

I think I freak out about the big No-Nos more often than most (it's led me to abandon many books). Frankly, I'm oversensitive--for example, I'm probably one of the few people out there reading paranormal romance who does get an uncomfortable reaction to vampires feeding. And Cannibalism is on the list for me, though near the bottom.

Anyway yes, it is VERY dependent on how the writer handles it. I've read books where the "alpha-male" hero with some stupid "Of course you want me, I'm going to hold you still to kiss you even though you've said no" line is enough to make me abandon it. Yet other books, for example the Mercedes Thompson books, have a full brutal rape in them and don't push me to that point. And I, personally, would be far less reactionary to cannibalism than rape.

Maybe you should try to employ some of the techniques people use to write about the other big No-Nos, just in case? I remember reading a good article somewhere about how to write about rape, which would probably translate well to your needs (IE, make sure there is horrified reaction in the book, even if only from witnesses, try to distance the reader from imagining the scene too vividly, etc.).

talshannon said...

Why worry? It's your book. Do what's right for it. I've got human characters who slaughter other humans because they're addicted to vampire bites -- and then take their eyeballs as a memento. My target audience is teens, and so far, they're devouring it!

Nothing is ever "taboo" if it's handled write ... er, right. ;-)

alanajoli said...

Oh, I might find it a little squicky, but it all depends on the context. I remember in one of my anthropology courses in college reading about Christian missionaries who were trying to explain Communion to a group of native peoples (I want to say in Canada, but I don't have the source citation). The whole thing seemed ridiculous to them, because you didn't eat the flesh of your *god*, you ate the flesh of people you'd defeated in order to take their strength for yourself. Duh!

To be fair, if your BBs were cannibals, I think that would mark them down as just really evil, and frankly, I'd prefer that to rape, which I feel too many writers use as short-hand for how horrible their villains are. (Rape can be used well, but it's handled badly--and without compassion--too often for my taste. Give me cannibals over rapists any day.)

alanajoli said...

Just read through all the comments, and it occurs to me that I also read a lot of Greek myth, and guys like Tantalus cut up their kids and try to feed them to the gods... and that kind of thing happens somewhat frequently. It's taboo--of course it's taboo--but it's brutal and f'ed up and it says a whole lot about the person engaged in the behavior (and their punishment gets meted out appropriately at the end). So it could just be a conditioning thing--read a lot of myth and fairy tales, where gods (in the Greek and Celtic myths at least, I think) and giants (Jack and the Beanstalk) and witches (Hansel and Gretel, Baba Yaga) eat people accidentally or on purpose on a fairly regular basis and people getting eaten just isn't so shocking.

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Current roster: Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Sonya Bateman, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Jackie Kessler, J.F. Lewis, Daniel Marks, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole Peeler, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, K.A. Stewart, Anton Strout, and Jaye Wells