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People Die

People die in my books.

In An Ordinary Fairy, someone dies near the end. In contrast, American Fairy starts with a character's death, and all the story revolves around that unfortunate occurrence. Plain Fairy has one death, and Someday Fairy has several.

Authors are callous like that. We kill people with a few keystrokes more effectively than Jack the Ripper with his scalpels and then move the story on, seeking our next victim. Sometimes our targets had it coming. Often, they are sacrificed to the gods of literature for the author's own selfish reasons. Sometimes we use a knife or a gun. Sometimes we use the perennial favorite, cancer. I particularly enjoyed killing off one character who was based on a real person I didn't like.

My conscience is not comfortable with this deadly tendency of mine. I fear I've fallen victim to the siren call of modern media success: sensationaism, melodrama, extremes of danger and emotion portrayed for entertainment or shock value. Books, television, cinema, even YouTube - all have weakened our respect for the dead and dying. We see death portayed many times each day in every form of media that we touch. I fear we've grown so accustomed to the false death we see in the media that we don't know how to handle the real thing when it strikes us directly.

My wife and I lost a dear friend this week. Tom suffered two strokes two years ago and never fully recovered. He was able to walk after many months, with a cane and a special brace. He never regained use of his right hand, his good hand, but did fairly well with his left. While his mind remained sharp, he lost much of his communication skills due to a condition known as aphasia. While he could speak, his words were sometimes mismatched, as when he told his wife Karin he would like some more mascara when he meant tea, as a result of watching TV - the last thing he'd seen was a cosmetic commercial.

One thing that did remain intact was Tom's wonderful sense of humor. When he asked for more mascara or created some other word mashup, he laughed.

The Death Angel who had hovered around Tom for so long finally took him earlier this week when he quietly collapsed at home from cardiac arrest. We weren't surprised, you can't be when you know someone as frail as Tom had been. Disappointed, yes, that such a fine, intelligent soul had been taken away. Distressed with ourselves that we had put off that last visit, were too busy to fit it in. Concerned for Karin, who was too far away to hug.

Yes, people die. How we deal with death when if confronts us should be defined not by media portrayals, but by our hearts.

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