Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Musings: Issues and their place in literature

When you write, there are inevitably some bits of your own life that seep into your work. While nothing I've written is directly based on either myself or anyone else I know, some of the characters and events I've written have been inspired by real world experiences. For example, I chose to write Phoning It In because I worked in a call center when I was in my 20s. I have a partially completed manuscript about a young woman who is a teacher because I wanted to write about the experience of teaching, to give readers a feel for what it's like to be in a teacher's shoes.

The one thing I don't want to do, though, is write a book that makes a reader think, "Oh, there goes the author, getting on her soapbox." I've read books like that, and I don't particularly enjoy them. As with anything, YMMV; sometimes I read a book and don't think it's particularly preachy, while other readers think the author is beating the reader over the head with the message, and vice versa. Since we all come at literature from our own perspectives, the issues dealt with in a book may have more or less impact because of our own experiences with those particular issues. I'm sure we all have those moments where we talk about a book with someone else and think, "Wow, how could they not see the author was saying X and Y? It was so obvious."

Given all this, I think that writing specifically about a particular topic can be one of the most nerve-wracking things to do. There are certain things that are important to me: education; equality for everyone regardless of gender, race, or sexual preference; social justice; etc. Sometimes I do tackle these issues obliquely in my books. Sometimes, as with Creators and Contributor, I tackle them a little more head-on. The worry in writing about certain issues is that they may be alienating to some readers. While I'm perfectly fine with the idea that my books just won't be for some people--just as some books aren't for me--I want to write books that might help someone step a bit outside their comfort zone and maybe walk away with a new perspective.

After all, I think this is essentially what books are for. True, we can choose to read books that fit only within narrow parameters that are comfortable for us, and that's fine. I'm not someone who thinks there's anything wrong with reading purely for entertainment. But we can also choose to read something that might challenge our own notions a bit. The books that have had the biggest impact on me are the ones that make me think more deeply about an issue, books like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I read a lot of books and enjoy many of them, but the ones I'm most likely to recommend to others are the ones that stick with me.