This past near has been interesting for me, nostalgia-wise, as Engen Books has been re-releasing my original 10-part urban thriller series as Coral Beach Casefiles with some wonderful covers by Kit Sora. As such I’ve been taking the time to go back and tweak and adjust some goofs in the original texts.
There’s some things you can only write when you’re young I think, and last month and this month were a very anxious time for me because they saw the release of Ghosts of the Past and Ignorance is Bliss… both of which have plots which revolve chiefly around children in peril, and one in which said child meets a (spoilers) very bad end.
This is the type of thing I would rarely do today, and even looking back on it I find it… squeamish. Have I lost my edge? I went back a re-read these books with a kind of half-grimace, because all I remember are the outcomes… but then I remembered, these were actually half decent books. I actually started to like the writing again and get back into the mindset.
All this begged the question for me: why was this plot necessary for young me? Why do kids die in fiction?
The easy answer is: because of Stephen Spielberg and Jurassic Park.
No, really. Specially, this scene:
This entire sequence, and a few others in the film, was a huge cultural moment for my generation. Despite being a movie about wonder and science and thrills, any scenes with the children were essentially horror movies where we constantly feared for Lex and Tim’s lives… and they lived.
And because they lived, when this seminal work was copied — because of course it was — they also often featured children in peril, and those children in peril didn’t die. These were handled with such repetitiveness and by such inferior directors that all the tenseness was now gone. It became a trope: you no longer feared for the fate of the characters, because you knew they’d live. It was a foregone conclusion. To the point that it was mocked as a plot point:
This is how fiction works. There’s a renaissance, a truly original idea, and then there are copies. Once the copies become prevalent enough there a parodies, as if in answer to those parodies there are deconstructions, and then after its been thoroughly worked over there are responses.
I think Ghosts of the Past and Ignorance is Bliss are responses* to the paradigm that was started in Jurassic Park and movies like it: stories where the tension was gone because the fate of the characters were always known. I think kids die in fiction for the same reason Gwen Stacy died: to shock readers out of complacency and get them to wake up and realize nobody is safe.
And, after all, it is all fiction.
Ghosts of the Past and Ignorance is Bliss are both out now, with the rest of the Coral Beach Casefiles series releasing throughout the year.
Matthew LeDrew is the author of the bestselling Coral Beach Casefiles series, the Xander Drew series, and the Infinity series. He is the publisher at Engen Books, the largest producer of genre fiction in Atlantic Canada.
*(I say they are ‘Responses’ because I don’t think they’re quite up to the stuff of Deconstructions. Good stories, better than I’d remembered, but not quite to that level.)