WARNING: DREAMWATER (especially the character of 11-year-old pirate Ned Low) contains content that many viewers may find offensive or traumatic.
Literature and art prepare you for life. In fact, the old tagline of PBS used to be: “To help you cope better with the world around you and with your own life.” If you’ve had a rough life, you may find solace in the violence you find in literature and art. You may say to yourself, “I’m not alone. I thought it was just me.” If something has happened to you, you may get a memory flashback if you read a novel or a poem, or a history book or see a painting or a movie. However, you might get the very same flashback from a mattress ad, or a sofa ad, or an image onscreen of a woman or a man passing through a dark doorway or, as in the case of veterans, a sudden, loud noise. I have witnessed little kids getting traumatized by the mermaids being mean to Wendy in Peter Pan and sobbing over the seeming impossible length of the stairway to Cinderella locked in her room that the tiny mice must travel with the huge key in order to rescue their friend. To the small child, Cinderella seemed doomed. The child was still sobbing heart-wrenchingly after the movie had reached its happy ending. You can never tell what will traumatize someone or cause a flashback of trauma.
When I was abused, I didn’t even know what was happening to me until I saw it in movies and read it in books. I was thrilled to find the information on the page. So, when I read that some college students – college! – were asking for trigger warnings on the literature they must read - I laughed! Ha! I couldn’t wait to get to college to read the most realistic literature! Already, in high school, I had read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which the main character, Jake has been wounded in the war. Our teacher did not hesitate to inform us of the nature of Jake’s injury. His penis had been shot off. In Jakes’ words, “I supposed it was funny. I could feel everything a man could feel, but I couldn’t do anything about it.” (I’ve also had the honor of teaching The Sun Also Rises on to a high school seniors and my class was extremely grateful to be treated like adults.) In high school, I also read Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé which led me to Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings; both were a revelation. And William Faulkner’s Of Mice and Men, which led me to his novel, Sanctuary since I would read, not only the assignment, but all of the author’s works. I couldn’t wait to get to college to read D.H. Lawrence or Henry James, Dickens or Tolstoy, Shakespeare or Virginia Woolf taught on a level that was adult and truthful. I needed to read what could happen as much as what had happened. If a man, woman or child has suffered from it, I can at least read about it and know about it.
Ned Low is a vicious, savage, sexually active 11-year-old pirate. One of my readers complained to me that kids are not that sexually aware at eleven. That Ned would have been, I’m quoting, “the hero of his gym class.” I asked another friend about this and she just shook her head, “Oh, no! We were at it much earlier than that!” Readers and friends aside, Ned Low is modeled after a neighbor of mine, the boy across the street, son of my mother’s best friend, my stalker, my would-be rapist from whom I escaped many times, whom you will meet if you read my next novel. Ned Low, one of the cruelest and most violent pirates who ever sailed the seven seas, also existed in real life without being modeled after anyone. He was also a romantic who fell in love with a girl and married her in Boston. She died and he never got over it. In Dreamwater, Ned Low, though cunning and terrible, though only 11, also falls in love with a girl whom he marries, with whom he makes love, giving him some redeeming social value and making him all the more interesting to us.
Bret Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho using real life crimes as his models for the crimes of his character, Patrick Bateman. Nevertheless, Ellis has been blamed across the media for the crimes that were in his novel and for the light-hearted tone with which these crimes were committed. In Australia, American Psycho is wrapped and sealed in cellophane. Ellis is thrilled.
When William S. Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch, an obscenity trial ensued that cost his publisher, Grove Press most of its revenue and pretty much closed the publisher’s doors. One of the questions in the trial was this: “Is Burroughs advocating this sort of behavior?” The response: “No! Of course not!” If human beings do it, writers must write about it. Keep silent, and abusers will be empowered by secrecy.
There are no more publishers like Barney Rosset of Grove Press. Generous, he bought homes in the Hamptons, before the Hamptons were the Hamptons, for his employees so that they could all hang out together. Brave, he took a plane to Cuba to secure a few chapters of Che Guevara’s historic journals. Smart, he foresaw the social value of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto before anyone else did, even Andy Warhol, who was a genius of artistic foresight. (Solanas, homeless at the time, is also famous for being the woman who shot Andy Warhol.)
Ned Low is also modeled after real life sex slaves in the 17th Century when child abuse and child prostitution was rampant. However, we cannot blame the 17th Century. In Dreamwater, because Marblehead is such a marvelous place, nothing truly bad happens there in the 1995 chapters, however, bad things are happening everywhere and not even Marblehead is completely safe. Every day we hear about more and more horror stories, mostly on the most horrible of all sources – the daily news. Literature cannot keep up with the horrors of real life. Jackie Collins, who writes about Hollywood behaving badly, once said, “Oh, I could never write the complete truth about what goes on! Even I have to tone down reality for my books, no one would believe it!” Just last week, on Law & Order, Special Victims Unit (sex crimes and child welfare crimes) Sargent Olivia Benson rescued an infant from a pornography ring. You might not believe that is possible, but I recall a modern real life crime against an infant that would make you question the existence of God. I intend to write about it, as it is my duty to write. And if bad things make you question God, don’t bother. Question yourself and mankind and mankind’s God-given free will.
Ned Low clears a path before me that I must walk. Even if it means I must bear the anger and sneers of others passing me on the street or in the café, “She’s the writer who wrote that book!”
If you can’t take Dreamwater, then don’t read the next one. It happened to me, it’s true and I was just a little girl. I have earned the right to write about it. Read if you dare! TRIGGER WARNING! DLSV!