How do you feel about controversy in fiction, if you don't mind my asking?
Let me come right out and say this: I hate offending people.
I really do. I have a compulsion to see that everyone around me is calm and happy. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a middle child. The peacemaker. Or if I’m just a natural born pacifist, but I always strive for harmony.
Sometimes that urge equates with me being a wimp. At times I’ve walked away when I shouldn’t have--in these cases it's almost always when I’m the one whose ideas are threatened. I have a much harder time standing up for myself than I do standing up for others, but I’m working on that. On standing by my own opinions.
How does this translate to my writing? Well, I second-guess a lot. I'm often tempted to delete anything that might rub someone the wrong way. Too racy? Cut. Too violent? Cut. Too controversial? Cut, cut, cut. The problem is that you can cut the life right out of my manuscript this way.
Think about it. If we only wrote stories about characters who made safe choices, who never lashed out, or cursed, or crossed a line, how dull would our stories be? It would rob us of one of the best parts of reading—experiencing, from within safety of bound pages, that which we will never say, do, or see in our ordinary lives.
Not to mention that fiction is art, and when has art shied away from controversy? The answer is never. Art opens minds. It pushes us to think bigger. What if Holden Caulfield had been a sweet-natured, well-adjusted kid? What if Marcel Duchamp hadn't plunked down a urinal in a museum and called it Fountain? Some of our most lasting works of literature and art are just that--lasting--because they blew people's minds. Great art is like metal forged in the hot fire of controversy.
In my more inspired moments, I believe the real tragedy is to create a work that sits there like a pile of oil paint, or a collection of words, and does nothing.
(Of course, art has more functions than expanding our thinking. It can entertain us, it can be beautiful, it can please us, etc.)
I know some people disagree with the choices I make as a storyteller. I respect their right to disagree. I don’t expect homogenous opinions. That will never happen. Show me two people, and I guarantee we could find a hundred things they see very differently.
What I hope for is that my right to speak is respected in turn. What I hope for is that to create something that gives a reader pause, and perhaps challenges them to reconsider their own views for even a brief moment. What I hope for is something more than nothing.