Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts

12 December 2023

Parenting Choices Can Drive Crime Fiction Involving Minors

I've addressed before the benefits of writing crime stories involving children and teenagers. Simply because of their age, they could lack good judgment, be more willing to engage in risky behavior than an adult would, and not have sufficient experience to foresee the consequences of their actions, among other issues. As such, they could be useful for a crime-fiction author.

But parents can play a large role in what minors do, and this also opens a lot of opportunities for authors. You've probably heard the terms helicopter parents (for parents who take an overly active interest in their children's lives) and free-range parents (for parents who take a more laid-back approach to parenting). Depending on what you want your child/teenage characters (and your parent characters) to do in your story, you might give the adult a parenting style that is more controlling or more easy-going or somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. 

Helicopter parents
For instance, imagine parents who keep their son home on weekends to keep him away from a bad crowd. The boy could rebel, which opens up many opportunities for crime stories. Or the boy could follow the parents' rules and become a victim of bullying by kids who make fun of him for being so obedient, which also opens up crime-story opportunities. Or the boy could pretend to follow his parents' rules but sneak out and wind up in a whole different kind of trouble than the parents were trying to prevent. Again, crime-fiction opportunities galore. (Of course, the boy also could stay home and study a lot and earn a full college scholarship and live happily ever after, but that's not really useful for crime fiction.)

Free-range parents
On the other end of the spectrum, picture parents who are easygoing with their children. They give their kids slack, thinking overly protected children could rebel (see the prior example) or could fail to learn how to deal with problematic situations because they never got the chance. These parents could want their kids to learn self-reliance. They could want their kids to have the carefree childhood they remember themselves. Or they could be bad parents who simply don't care what their kids do. Or they could care but be overwhelmed by life and unable to oversee their children as much as they should or as much as they'd like. There are many reasons a parent could have a laid-back parenting style--good reasons and bad ones--and there are just as many potential consequences for the child/teenager characters. Once again: crime-fiction opportunities galore. (And once again, kids of free-range parents could exercise good judgment, never get in trouble, earn full college scholarships, and live happily ever after. I'm not saying one parenting style is better than another. But stories in which nothing goes wrong don't sound like crime fiction.)

My use of free-range parenting
I've made use of easygoing parents in several of my stories. In "Wishful Thinking," I have tweens explore a haunted house. They needed parents who didn't micromanage them for that plot to work. Similarly, when I was writing my newest short story, "Real Courage," I needed certain things to happen for the plot to work (including an unsupervised party), things that wouldn't be believable if the teens weren't given freedom to screw up, so I created a neighborhood of free-range parents. I also made use of free-range parents in my story coming out next, "Teenage Dirtbag." That story I set in the 1980s, when (it at least feels to me) teens could often get away with a lot more than they can today.
So if you're considering writing a crime story involving children/teenagers, keep in mind that what the kids do can largely be influenced by the kind of parenting style at work in the minor's home. Parents can make just as many mistakes as children can. We crime writers should take advantage of it.
I'll write more about "Teenage Dirtbag" when it comes out. For now, if you'd like to read "Real Courage," you can buy issue 14 of Black Cat Mystery Magazine or, for a limited time, you can read "Real Courage" on my website. Just click here.
As this is my final post of 2023, I wish you all happy holidays.

12 May 2017

Two Writers—And a Third in the Making?

  Family Fortnight +   Leading up to the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you the fourteenth in a series about mystery writers’ take on families. Settle back and enjoy!
by Art Taylor

Earlier in our Family Fortnight series, Brian Thornton asked his wife Robyn to contribute a post about being married to a writer—a terrific and insightful essay all around, ending with Robyn inspired to start writing herself. I'd already planned on getting my wife, Tara Laskowski, involved in my post, but in our case, Tara and I are both long-time writers—which at times may seem double trouble (more on that below!) and at other times may give us at least glimpses into what the other person is going through, whether that's a burst of creative energy (needing time for ideas to play out, for the imagination to indulge itself) or a stroke of self-doubt (needing support and encouragement).

Art and Tara at Malice Domestic, April 2016
Tara and I first met at George Mason University, where we were both working toward our MFAs in creative writing. We were in fiction workshops together, sharing and commenting on our respective stories, and it was our mutual admiration for one another's work that led first to friendship and then to more. Since graduation, we have both been very fortunate with the generous attention our writing has received, especially in more recent years—and even recent days. Since my last post here at SleuthSayers, my story "Parallel Play" won the Agatha Award for Best Short Story, and in recent weeks, Tara's collection Bystanders won the Balcones Fiction Prize and her story "The Jar" was named by Wigleaf among the top 50 flash fiction stories of 2016. We're grateful on all counts, of course, but while friends and acquaintances have sometimes complimented us how how easily we seem to navigate being writers alongside managing day jobs and raising our son Dash, the truth is that behind the scenes... well, let's get straight to the interview.

Art Taylor: We talk sometimes about navigating our various day-to-day roles and responsibilities, but too often that “navigation” seems more like steering a foundering ship through tempest-tossed seas. (This sentence is, of course, the most creative writing I’ve done in a while.) Can you give folks a glimpse into our writing processes? How do we accomplish things as two writers in the same household, parenting a five-year-old and more? 
Tara Laskowski: I don’t know. How do we? Do we actually accomplish anything? Sometimes I feel like we are super-hero bad-asses. Other times I feel like we are fumbling and failing. I suppose that’s part of your tempest sea, right? The up-and-down motion of the waves. Sadly, I get really seasick, so this isn’t boding well for me…

Ok, writing process. Well, you have the summer and winter breaks in between classes to do massive crunch time writing since the academic year provides a challenge. I have a 40-minute train ride to and from work each day to try to fit in my work. I guess that’s how we’ve been managing it, with a few luxurious-seeming writing retreats and an occasional “I need an hour to do this thing” on the weekend request. It all feels very piecemeal at times, but it seems to be working for us, right now anyway.
Earlier this week here at SleuthSayers, Melissa Yi wrote about her children telling her, “Mom. You don’t spend enough time with us” and “You’re always on your computer.” Do you get those questions or feel that pressure as well? And if so, how do you deal with that—by which I mean both deal with the question and deal with it internally, emotionally, etc.?
Oh yes. That is a horrible guilt. Every time I pick up my phone to check something with Dash in the room, I hear the "Cats in the Cradle" song start playing in my head. That is a constant struggle. So much of what we do is device-related. It's not even just writing—although I often suffer from "novel head" where I'm working on a scene or thinking about a character while going about my normal daily life. If I have a second, I usually am reminded of something I need to put on our grocery list (which is on my phone) or someone I need to email back. Or we're talking and we can't remember who wrote that song or what the weather is going to be like the next day. The worst thing Dash ever utters to either of us is "Come play with me!" when we're doing something on our phone or computer. I think we try with varying degrees of success to put the phone away, but it's definitely not something that either of us has figured out how to conquer. Would you agree?
I would—and you’re right that it’s not just writing but everything. I still remember a small epiphany back during those first couple of years, when I was teaching online classes and evening classes so I could take care of Dash during the day. I had ended up in a middle of a tense series of emails with a student complaining about a grade, and I felt this urgency to keep responding. Even though Dash and I were out at a playground and Dash was pulling at me to pay attention to him, I kept peck, peck, pecking at my phone and—and suddenly I realized that the email could wait and that in the long-run this student wasn’t going to remember me or the class, but that the little boy in front of me…. well, short-term, long-run, he was the one who meant the most. I put the phone away, and these days I put it away each evening until after Dash is in bed, just to keep my attention centered.

Shift in focus now. The year that Dash was born, I read a story—a Derringer Award finalist—that was about the abduction and then return of a child, and even though references to abuse were only hinted at instead of explicitly depicted, the story was nearly crippling to read. And yet, not long after that, I wrote a story myself that was about a child in peril and a parent’s determination to protect her son and about the anxieties of parenting in general. How has your own writing or your reading changed since Dash was born?

I am a huge horror fan. Before Dash, I’d watch pretty much any horror movie, even the torture porn (though it was never my favorite). After Dash, that changed dramatically. I still love the genre, but I can’t read or watch anything that involves kids or even something very domestic (think Funny Games). I trend more toward the supernatural scares now, I guess. Part of it is just some parental instinct, I think—you can’t help but project yourself on the things you watch/read, and you certainly cannot bear to think of your child being in harm’s way. But more than that, I’ve realized how senseless some of the kid stuff is in horror. It either seems like a cheap device to get an emotional reaction out of the consumer, or it is just badly done.

I’ve also found that I write more about kids now that I have one. I was always hesitant to put children characters in my writing because I didn’t think I knew them well enough—knew how they thought, acted, etc. (See my above gripe about this being badly done.) But now that so much of my life is interacting with these little people, I feel like I have a slightly (slightly!) better understanding of how they work. And that is: they never want to brush their teeth, they never want to put on their shoes, they never want to take a bath, they never want to get out of the bath, they never want to go to sleep, they never want to get up in the morning. So they are, basically, just like me.
Dash at his first writing conference:
Bay to Ocean, Maryland, March 2016
I can’t recall if it was after I'd been away at Malice Domestic one year or after Bouchercon, but I do remember the evening that we caught Dash sitting up in bed, his stuffed animals arranged in a semi-circle in front of them, and each of them with a book tucked next to them. “We’re at a conference,” he told us, when we asked what he was doing.

And then there was the time he tried to explain to his preschool teachers that he’d been at a book launch over the weekend, and he got frustrated when they didn’t understand the phrase. (“You bought a book and then had lunch?”) How do you think it impacts Dash’s life to have two writers as parents?
I think Dash will either completely embrace reading and writing as his life or he will rebel against us and do something completely, utterly different. I do not care. I mean, I care a little; obviously I’d like for him to be a lit geek. But as long as he has a passion for learning and creativity in whatever form that takes—computers, math, fine arts, dancing, video game design, dinosaurs, baseball—I’m cool with it. I hope that in seeing how passionate we are about our craft, Dash will understand the importance of keeping at something even when it’s difficult, even when you fail sometimes. That’s all I ask.