So I got this question on Formspring yesterday: How do you feel knowing that some people may have the wrong idea from your books and start drinking/smoking BECAUSE of them? I have probably received similar questions a half-dozen times in the last few years. At least one came from a relative of a young person who ended up in a place like Aspen Springs. For her, it was all because her niece (or cousin, or whoever) read Impulse, and later attempted suicide. I understand her anger.
I understand that when you lose a loved one to drugs or suicide, you start asking questions. Placing blame where you can, especially if you can find someone to blame outside of your smaller circle. But this is what I believe. Books don’t drive people to suicide or drinking or drugs. Personal circumstances do. And, always, those things involve choice.
When I’m asked a question like that, my hackles rise. My answer to that Formspring person was that if someone reads books about Kristina, and then aspires to be like her, that person has a problem. No, what I said was, “that person is warped.” My readers come to like Kristina. Want to help her. Want to hope for her. But 99.9% of them understand she is NOT who they want to be. Here is a girl who has everything. A family who loves her. Friends who care for her. A brilliant future. Yet, she chooses a path she knows is self-destructive. CHOOSES it. Choice. And not only choice, but informed choice.
Any stable person who reads those books will come away thinking they do NOT want to be Kristina. I have received testimonials from literally tens of thousands of readers who told me my books made them consider their choices and want to make better ones. If a handful of readers see Kristina’s partying as something they want to do, well the fact is, they’re probably already doing it. All they want is justification. If they read Impulse and choose suicide, they have missed the message of the book—that there is always a tomorrow that trumps the pain of today. And to miss that message, they are already in the darkest place imaginable. But the book didn’t put them there.
I don’t know what people like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy chose as reading matter. If they happened to read books about serial killers, I guess it’s not out of the realm of possibility that those books made them say, “Hey. I know what I aspire to. Serial killing!” And, you know, it’s also possible Jeffrey Dahmer read a book about cannibalism and decided he wanted to taste test body parts. But were the authors of those books responsible for the twisted choices of a few madmen? The books didn’t make them crazy. They were already there.
If you read Helter Skelter and decide you want to be Charlie or Tweak and decide you want to be Nic, or Bell Jar and decide you want to be Sylvia, or Crank and decide you want to be Kristina, well you are already most of the way there. And to the relatives of Charlie, Nic, Sylvia and Kristina, the blame lies within personal choice. Not in the pages of books which examine the truths of humanity. Authors cannot—dare not—sidestep those truths.
Even if we were to write nothing but pretty, little romances where everyone ends up married and living happily ever after, someone who reads those books would fall in love, get married and later get divorced because that's life. And then the Formspring question would come: How do you feel, knowing your books cause people to get divorced?