I was at the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles booth at the L.A. Times Book Festival at USC over the weekend, selling my new novel WHITE HEAT, as well as several anthologies in which stories of mine appear. I've been going for several years, though this is the first time I've had a novel that was all me to sell. So that was exciting.
And it's always nice to socialize with both the public and my fellow Sisters…and Brothers in Crime. To see people I haven't seen for awhile and meet new fellow crimesters.
But the main objects are to increase the visibility of Sisters in Crime and, of course, to try to sell books. So why would I try to talk someone out of buying my new novel that I want as much attention and word of mouth as possible for?
Early in my time at the booth a woman came by and talked to me about the various anthologies and the novel. We had a nice conversation about the books and other things. And she seemed interested, but ultimately didn't buy anything. I didn't think anymore of it.
But awhile later she returned with a young man in tow. He looked to be about fifteen and it appeared from their conversation that she wanted to buy the novel for him. I was happy that she'd returned and wanted to buy a book.
However, since the book was clearly for her son I felt like I had to say something about the content.
To give you an idea of what the book is about here's the blurb for it: WHITE HEAT is a mystery-thriller that takes place during the 1992 "Rodney King" riots in Los Angeles. P.I. Duke Rogers finds himself in a racially charged situation. The case might have to wait.... The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece – during the 1992 L.A. riots – and that's just the beginning of his problems. And while he tries to track down the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from the dead woman's brother, Warren. He must also confront his own possible latent racism – even as he's in an interracial relationship with the murder victim's sister.
On the surface the story is a mystery-thriller. But it also deals with the harsh realities of race and racism. And in doing so some of the characters use extremely offensive language, from the F word to various racial epithets. Reviewer M2 says this of White Heat: "'White Heat' is a tough, tersely-written book featuring tough, complicated, and not always lovable characters who might push many readers to the very edge of their comfort zone. But it's honest and it's real, and it doesn't pander to its audience by providing pat or phony answers to the many complex issues it raises."
And while I want as many readers as possible and want people to enjoy the novel on both the plot and deeper levels, I felt I had to warn the young man's mother about the various intense aspects of the book. The choice was hers and she ultimately chose not to buy it and I lost a sale.
I don't believe in censorship of any kind, but this was, in a sense, self-censorship. When it came to someone as young as this kid I felt it was my obligation to tell his mother and let her or them make up their minds. I'm not sorry I told them and maybe someday he will read it.
What would you have done?