I explained that I usually enjoy the research, which inspired a fresh round of shudders. "Ugh. Don't you wish you didn't know about it?"
I was about to explain that in fact, writing about the dark side of the human condition can make it seem less scary. But I stopped myself. Because when I really thought about it, I realized there are things I've stumbled across in the course of doing research that I would much rather not know about.
The subject of when violence crosses the line into gratuitous territory is a perennial source of debate for mystery groups. I generally don't participate. While I can't sit through a slasher film, and rarely read horror, even the most explicit scenes of most thrillers don't unsettle me. And that's not entirely due to the fact that I've become desensitized (although that's probably part of it). What always crosses my mind when I read diatribes against that level of violence in books is this: if you only knew. Honestly, I have no idea how homicide investigators sleep at all, considering the things they encounter in the course of doing their job.
When I was writing BONEYARD, I immersed myself in everything I could find on serial killers. And believe me, the reality is so much worse than anything depicted in fiction. I made the mistake once of mentioning a tidbit about Bundy to my husband over dinner. His fork froze over the plate, and he gave me a look I'd never seen before, saying, "Please, don't ever say anything like that again during dinner. Or ever. I don't want to know."
On The Daily Show the night before the Inauguration this week, Bush's press secretary Dana Perrino appeared in a taped segment during the show's final moments (and no, I'm not making this up) and donned a pair of sunglasses. Holding up a replica of the memory-erasing device immortalized in Men in Black, she said, "This will just take a minute. Please focus on this spot." It flashed, and the segment ended.
There are times that I want that device. Terrible stories pop into my head at inopportune moments, flashes of the very worst people are capable of. So maybe my friend was right. There are things I'd rather forget.