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Why is "normal" good?

Lethal Fetish is now available (via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Pen-L) . And real controversy may be hot on fiction’s heels! The day after the book was released, my publisher asked whether it should be tagged as “containing adult content” (to warn/discourage youthful readership). This had never occurred to me. The question was whether parents would be upset if their kid read a story involving sex (violence is evidently okay). The concern was not hypothetical; another Pen-L book generated one-star reviews and angry comments because the main character, a teenage boy, briefly kissed another teen boy.

Now then, any reader has to figure that Lethal Fetish has unwholesome elements upon reading the title, glancing at the front cover, and perusing the back cover (“As Riley questions social norms, he has no doubt that he must work closely with people he finds repulsive—but oddly principled—to infiltrate the secret cell devoted to a bizarre fetish involving insects which has been driven underground by a holier-than-thou district attorney.”). While I write to tell good stories, each of the Riley mysteries also raises an abiding philosophical question: Where is the line between justice and vengeance (Poisoned Justice) and who belongs in a place (Murder on the Fly)? Lethal Fetish asks: What does it mean to be normal—and why is this a good thing?

I decided against the "adult content" label because sex is merely a means to the end of the story’s deep question. The story is radically universal and worth engaging by all ages. The social judgment of those who we deem abnormal happens in every adolescent (and adult) setting. I hope teenage readers would be led to consider how they perceive and treat kids who don’t fit what their peers deem to be “normal.” Riley's struggle with sexual alternatives in the early '80s, mirrors our struggles with those not like “us” today—our fellow humans who are transgendered, disabled, or mentally ill.

Sure, the story has sex and violence, but these are part of life—as the noir genre so powerfully reminds us. I've avoided explicit imagery because it's far more powerful to provide the shape of the action and let the reader fill in the details (perfectly normal). The psycho-sexual practices I chose were important to the Riley series given the entomological theme, but they really just "stand in" for the challenges that we all confront when judging those who differ from ourselves.

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