Most markets include a set of no-nos in the their guidelines. You've seen the lists.
No gratuitous sex or mutilation.
No violence against children.
No sexual assault unless its central to the story's plot.
No gratuitous torture/abuse of animals.
And don't get me wrong, I agree. If I ever undertake the immense task of editing a speculative fiction magazine, I'd be damn sure to assert my preferences in taste and content as I sifted through the submissions.
And yes, those suckers on the list above would make my guidelines.
That said, I turn on CNN today and see another high school shooting. Last night's Law & Order featured another teacher/student sex scandal (with a neat twist, I'll add). You can't go a day here in Florida without hearing of another sickening sexual scandal (a panhandle prosecutor recently hung himself in his cell after being jailed for allegedly flying to Michigan to have sex with a five-year-old).
I only mention this because I read a pair of excellent short stories last week. David Nickle's "The Mayor Will Make A Brief Statement and Then Take Questions" was published in #33 of Chiaroscuro. Outside of the great title, Nickle executes a tight experiment with form and pens a short, unsettling story.
And it involves the death of a child.
Granted, Nickle handles this artistically. This one's a chiller, not a gross-out piece, and there is never any explicit violence portrayed against Nicholas. It goes without saying that this doesn't commit an offense against the provisions above, but it does touch on the death of a child.
Then there's Kurt Dinan's award-winning story from Chiaroscuro #34. "Longtime Gone" is substantially more explicit (though I won't say it's any darker than Nickle's story--just different) than the story cited above. It deals with kidnapping, and I really like the pacing and organization. I think the narrator's descent into madness and obsession is deftly handled, and I like the psychological musings at the preface of each snippet of prose. They communicate a sense of numb, helpless grasping that must accompany such a devastating loss.
Great story, but another that deals with violence against children.
I don't stray into this territory. I'm not saying I won't at some point, but the soil in my garden right now isn't set up to support a decent harvest there. Maybe after we have kids, but even then I'm a bit skeptical.
Scary things happen to kids. I know it. I just don't write about it.
I read Brian Keene's Ghoul this summer and I was a bit turned off when a central pubescent character was sexually assaulted by his drunken mother, only to have a monster pluck his head in the third act and throw it at the kid's best friend. Sheesh.
So let me ask you guys. What do you write? What's off limits for you as a reader? Comments welcome below...