My pet peeve in fiction

There are many benefits to being a writer, but one of the best is that you can read books and tell everyone that you’re working. I love that. My husband is stuck in meetings and trying to fix overruns and explaining to various branches of the government why his team is behind schedule and I’m lying in bed reading. Yep, it’s hard work.

The Bow-tied One is an especially cool editor because he sent me over a dozen bestselling books that he thinks I should read. (The message apparently being: figure out what these authors are doing and then do it.)

When I got his package full of books I clutched them to my chest and murmured, “I love this job!”

I’ve read five of them now. I will not tell you the titles or the authors because I’ve pretty much hated them all.

One of them read like a handbook on how to have sex. Seriously, it even gave instructions on how to put on a condom. Is that really necessary? Don’t the boxes come with directions? Unfortunately there were no instructions on how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases; in fact, there was no mention of them at all.

I have to call my fellow writers (for both books, TV, and movies) out on this subject. It’s irresponsible to pretend like STDs don’t exist. According to some research I did for one of my Sierra St. James novels, 80% of sexually active people over the age of 14 years old have at least one STD. 50% of these people have genital warts—which condoms don’t prevent. Ditto for Herpes, which one in five people have. At first when I ran across these figures I thought they couldn’t be accurate. They sounded way too high. I actually even called two STD hotlines to find out what the real numbers were.

And those were fun calls.

Me: Hi, um, I’m an author doing research for a novel and I wanted to ask you a few questions . . .

Them: Yeah, yeah. You’re calling for a friend. We know. What are your symptoms?

Each time, they confirmed the numbers—80% of sexually active people have STDs. I still couldn’t believe it so I called my obstetrician. And yep, he confirmed the numbers too.

If 80% of people had any other ailment (and there is no cure for many STDs) we wouldn’t be silent about it. We would be warning people night and day. But when was the last time you read or watched any story where this issue was addressed in any fashion?

James Bond? Yikes, I hate to think what he has. Sam Malone of Cheers? Even worse. I’ll admit that one of my favorite TV shows ever is Frasier and I can’t count how many different women he slept with during the show. All with no consequences. That is not real life, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is.

And then there’s AIDs. How many millions of people has that killed? I have a friend who’s a drug rep and does work in some of the African nations. In one of the countries he visited, 40% of the population had HIV. That’s almost half the people.

Look at the houses on your streets. Think of the people at your work, at your classroom, that crowd at the football stadium–can you imagine if 40% of them had a deadly disease?

That could be our nation if we aren’t careful, if we aren’t responsible, if we don’t let kids know that yes, they too are at risk.

Okay, this blog has gone on for too long. I’ll let you know the problem I had with the other books next blog.


My pet peeve in fiction — 18 Comments

  1. You’re lucky to have a job that requires so much reading. My teenagers are the reason my reading list is so long. I have all the books I want to read and then all the books I read so I can keep up and screen a little of what my kids are reading. It’s so sad that so many books written for teens are so full of garbage.

  2. There is definitely a trend for YA books to start acting like adult books. My local librarian and I have this discussion often. Like Stephanie I am also reading some of the books I allow my 15 YO to read. I run across books that have good points like voice, POV, characterization, and detail like the last one I read; but have too much adult topics. It is a sad commentary on the modern world we live in.

  3. So….your editor wants you to write more about having unprotected sex? Must have been somewhat of a graphic novel!

    It was almost too much for me when Jessica imagined Jordan with all that war paint on his chest–heaven forbid going beyond a kiss!

  4. He knows me well enough that he knows I won’t be putting anything graphic in my novels, he just wants me to stumble on a magical secret for book selling success

    In truth, I’m not sure he’s actually read any of the novels he sent me.

  5. Janette, I agree. At the Rutger’s conference, one of the speakers talked about our responsibility as young adult writers to give the youth hope in a future worth living by being honest in our writing. Writing about sex without consequences is irresponsible writing.

    I do love that reading is such a perk of our profession!

  6. I was enjoying a YA book recently, until halfway when the main characters sleep together. And then I kind of cringed and zoned out.

    Why, oh why, do so few fictional characters ever show the horrid consequences of premarital sex??

  7. Those are startingly high numbers, Janette. I had no idea. But yes, I agree with you and was actually thinking about the same thing just a couple of days ago. The entertainment industry is great at promoting promiscuity without ever pointing out the excruciatingly painful and ofttimes deadly consequences. I’m sorry the Bow-tied One made you read those books. You’d think he’d know better by now.

  8. Dave Barry has a non-fiction book called how to make little people with items around your house. needless to say i did not pick it up.

  9. Yep, I read tons of YA to keep up with the market and I think the same thing all the time. And when I hear other YA writers talk about it, all they can say is that there needs to be more books about teens and sex so they can *process* it or some other such nonsense. “Because kids are doing it and there’s no stopping them we need to portray sex realistically.”

    Yet STD’s are left out of the equation.

    If adults/teens REALLY knew the consequences of sex, abstinence programs wouldn’t be so pooh-poohed.

    Makes me crazy.

  10. Ewww! That is so gross! And its sad how the age for doing these things keeps getting pushed down. I have a friend who just moved to my town a couple months a go, and her best friend was pregnant at 12.
    It’s really sad. Everyone acts like theres no consequences and its all good, but its not.
    I picked up a book the other day, and it was like reading porn. It is so sad. Why do authors write like that? Because we don’t want to read about it!

  11. What bothers me isn’t just the lack of STD information, but what about how pre-marital sex can actually taint a soul and future relationships? Casual attitudes about sex causes a whole lot of pain –and not just the physical kind. It’s intricately tied to our entire beings; one can’t help but be affected emotionally, mentally, and (obviously) physically when engagin in sex. It’s simply impossible to eliminate any one of those three facets, and those who say they can mean they were A. abused or B. desensitized.

    Yes, the consequences of pre-marital sex is definitely watered down (which makes no sense to me except it would make people…what? Uncomfortable?). This is one reason I really like your books, Janette.

    And you know? Even though the statistics say other-wise, I really think people would be surprised at how many teens are NOT having sex. And if they do? They don’t talk about it with pride. At least none of the kids I grew up with did. It was a big secret and most were ashamed…

  12. Thanks for writing this post. I’m on the Cybils committe for Middle Grade fiction, and I’m finding that this irresponsible attitude towards sex and its consequences is filtering down there, too. Moms and dads have “friends” moving in and out of the house like going through a revolving door, and the responsible adults the kids’ lives aren’t. And the moral of the story is usually that the kids have to learn tolerance and acceptance and understand that this is the way adults live.

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