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5.27.2009

Writing About Misery

We're nearing the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and, in my estimation, one of the more surprising outcomes since that horrific event is the dearth of creative reflection about what happened that day.

There have been some good stories and novels about 9/11 (Paul Greengrass's United 93 is one of the more emotionally arresting films I've ever looked at; I'll muster the stones to look at it again soon), but not nearly as many as I would expect. Years ago, in a literature class at Mt. Hood Community College, I predicted that 9/11 would be a literary watershed--that some writers would use the event as a catalyst to carve out a career in storytelling. I thought we'd get serious anthologies, horrific anthologies, interstitial anthologies. I thought we'd see a much larger cultural fingerprint.

And I think the only thing I can point to as to why this hasn't transpired is that our culture is still collectively sorting through the healing process. There are political pressures, of course. But the emotional wounds are still fresh, and I'm not sure if that'll be changing soon.

I read and write horror stories because they interest me, but the reason they interest me is that the stakes are often highest in these pieces. Take the recent swine flu scare. We've had a bunch of fatalities in America as a result of the H1N1 virus (but not even an eyelash of a fraction of as many as the media would have you believe).

For the families of those who died, this thing is the apocalypse. It is the rider on the ridge. But for the rest of us it's a segment on the evening news.

That is until our temperature spikes and we have to call into work...

So will magazines see a flood of swine flu stories? I think they will, and that's because of that perfect media-forged handle, but also because we can collectively wring our hands about something as innocuous as the flu bug. It feels a little more...manageable than the scope and enormity of the attacks of 9/11.

The same holds true, though to a lesser extent, with the North Korea nuclear tests. We've accepted the unpredictable nature of the nuclear reality we live in, so of course swapping nucs will worm its way into our stories.

My point is that the horrific, I guess, is just a matter of degree...

That said, what qualifies as horrifying?

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