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The Violent Life of a Crime-thriller Writer

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As an author of crime-thriller fiction, I've occasionally been asked about violence in my novels. Typical questions range from, why is so much violence in your books? to another, more personal one: Is violence part of your personality or is it totally contrived for your novels?

First, some observations are in order.

A quick look at our entertainment is revealing. Movies, TV ads for films, and a great deal of television programming (think Breaking Bad; The Sopranos; Homeland; and Dexter) are saturated with violence, blood, murder and threat of imminent danger. This appears equally true when perusing the best seller lists for books (The Hit by David Baldacci; Never Go Back by Lee Child and many other novels); when watching movies (The Hunger Games, Pacific Rim, World War Z); or playing video games (Grand Theft Auto; Manhunt; or Postal-2). Much of our visual entertainment involves graphic violence: roiling balls of flames emanating from fiery explosions; bodies flying through the air; the staccato rattling of machine guns and other assorted depictions of bullets, bombs, riots and mayhem (Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises; Zero Dark Thirty; and Argo).

As a psychiatrist, I'm aware that violent--even murderous impulses--reside within all of us. You see this side of human nature when watching news items about riots, street violence and the many wars being fought on a daily basis in our world. You certainly see curiosity bordering on bloodlust when people rubberneck while passing an accident on the side of a highway. It's evident in an attenuated form in certain sporting events such as mixed martial arts (which is skyrocketing in popularity) and other sports such as boxing, hockey, football and wrestling contests. Violence is not unique to our times; it is evident when you read some of the world's greatest literature (The Iliad, The Odyssey, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five; Richard Wright's Native Son; and countless other novels both present and past). Violence abounds in virtually every beloved opera plot, and in the works of the great Greek playwrights (from Aeschylus to Euripides.)

One need only look at the foul arc of history to see the central role wars and violence have played since human beings first populated the earth.

To pretend violence isn't part of human nature is disingenuous. Violence sells, and there's a good reason for that. It taps into something primal--some deep and elemental core--in all animals, and we human beings are not exempted from our biological legacy. While most of us can curb any violent impulses we may feel, we still manifest an innate curiosity about it, although some are repelled by the graphic depiction of violence in books, films and other entertainment forms popular today.

The potential for violence lives within all of us, and I'm no exception. Violence in my novels is contrived--it's pure fiction--but reflects a core truth about human nature. It's never meant to be gratuitous, but rather serves the story. Additionally, I hope, it conveys something about the moral dilemmas we face when living our lives.