It is an easy cliché to criticize violence as a part of our collective storytelling—but that is a gross over-simplification.

“I believe that there are two types of violence we encounter as readers, as audience members,” says Cynthia Bond, author of Ruby.

“One exists for the purpose of moving the plot of the story along, to direct the audience to the next highlighted point. The second type of violence is a kind of documentation. It comes with the belief that some stories cannot be told without walking through a doorway, without witnessing the horror, without breathing in the pain.”

Fictional characters may feel real to you, but they mostly go along with whatever you say.

“If you want to put them in some close calls and tight spots,” says Maddie Dawson, author of The Opposite of Maybe, “they just fall into line.”

“You can boss them around and rain endless torment down on their heads, give them bad bosses, difficult romantic partners, unwanted pregnancies—and then sleep easy at night knowing that you’ll never be responsible for their therapy bills.”

According to Cesar Millan, star of the hit show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan, energy is a truly universal, interspecies language.

“Energy is a language all animals speak without even knowing it,” Millan writes.

“Including the human animal. What’s more, all animals are actually born knowing this language instinctually. Even human beings are born fluent in this universal tongue, but we tend to forget it because we are trained from childhood to believe that words are the only way to communicate.”

For anyone who places value on books, an occasional purge can bring on a mild existential crisis with flashes of anxiety, guilt and regret.

“Yet even the most sentimental book lover must, at some point, clear space for more books,” notes Julia Serebrinsky.

“My moment of book purge liberation came when I was getting ready to donate my modest collection of Sylvia Plath biographies to a local library. Anyway, as I leafed wistfully through one of them I discovered a long lost portrait of my mother, sketched by an old friend, a portrait we all loved and presumed lost. I took it as a sign and a calling.”

“My favorite summertime hobby was stunning ants and feeding them to spiders,” reveals Gillian Flynn.

My point is not that I was an odd kid (although looking at this on paper now, I worry). Or that I was a bad kid (here’s where I tell you — for the sake of my loving parents — that I had enjoyed happy wonder years back in good old Kansas City).

But these childhood rites of passage — the rough-housing, the precocious sexuality, the first bloom of power plays — really don’t make it into the oral history of most women. Men speak fondly of those strange bursts of childhood aggression, their disastrous immature sexuality. They have a vocabulary for sex and violence that women just don’t. Even as adults.

Powerful in the first writers I discovered was the naked South—primal black swamps, heat mirages, peach blows, moss-hung oaks, laurel slicks—the land itself, a sense of which every southern writer was spoon-fed, along with grits, smothered quail, and chess pie.

“The body of southern literature has warmed me all my life,” writes Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun.

“Having moved back to the South after a lifetime in California, I’m immersing myself in contemporary writers. As I did as a teenager, I’m taking notes, ready to learn how this verdant, haunted land continues to shape the writers who love it.”