Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tackling big issues

Sigh. This election did not turn out the way I had hoped. My husband tried to cheer me up with his calm, rational optimism, but I would have none of it -- sometimes a person just wants to be upset. Anyway, how are you doing? Are you okay?

I wanted to blog today about tackling tough issues in one's writing -- something that seems in line with the current political climate on a multitude of levels. And when I say, tough issues, I don't mean craft shit like plot, characterization, setting, etc; I mean tough issues such as racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism. You know the fun stuff dreams are made of.

I'm currently working through the hardest book I've ever written, a YA mystery set in 1995 featuring a M/M pairing. It's my passion project, but it's also a beast to write. I wrote 75K words and then realized I lost sight of the story (my mystery threads practically cannibalizing the book), and I started over. Now, I'm 50% through and while I think the story is structurally better, I'm still struggling because if I'm going to write a mystery featuring two gay teens in the mid-90s, then there is no way I can, nor should I, glaze over the blatant homophobia prevalent in that decade.

I mean, the 90s was a period where we used "that's gay" as freaking slang (I was guilty of this). Where words like faggot and homo were thrown around without any regard. Where politicians actually called gay people "morally weak." I purposefully set my book in 1995 so I could tackle some of these issues. But, I also have to make sure I don't bash my readers over the head with a point. There's a balance beam one must walk in writing fiction, careful not to tip over into the Preach Pit or on the other side, Way Too Subtle. I'm striving to entertain while making my readers empathetic and thoughtful, and communicate my message and themes.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you tackled or plan to tackle a tough issue? And what were your concerns?


Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I think I may actually overthink this because I always agonize over it. I feel a duty to tackle social issues in my books. I've always been worried there will be a backlash but there never really is. Or maybe I'm just not popular enough. Hell, I wrote a foreword for BRAINEATER JONES explaining the thirties weren't exactly the most enlightened time and I didn't feel right sugarcoating it. I was also particularly worried about some of the religious stuff in THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO. My impression so far is that the book reading audience is smart and willing to go along with you where you take them. And I guess the flip side of the coin is if you write something that does turn out to become the super controversial flavor du jour, at least people will be talking about it, right?

Carrie Beckort said...

Shattered Angel is about human trafficking. It was very difficult to write. I hated doing the research and learning what I did, yet I'm so grateful I went through that education. It's a subject many of us wish we could pretend doesn't exist, or only exists in other countries. We want to believe it's not something that could happen to us or our children. But the truth is that it could, and is, happening everywhere. Many of these trafficked girls turn to prostitution later in life because that's all they know. Then society treats them as if they deserve everything bad thing that happens to them because they 'chose' the life. My goal was to show human trafficking in a very ugly way through the eyes of someone who a very empathetic character. Based on reviews I've received, I'm pretty sure I hit the mark. I've even had readers tell me they started but couldn't finish because of triggers. From the start I worried it would be too difficult of a book for many people. I stopped writing it twice, trying to see if I could go in a different direction. But it was meant to be written the way it was. It was a risk, but it was one I new I had to take.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Right. And we can't write about historical time periods and sugar coat the nasty shit. I overthink it too. And agonize because if I'm tackling this, then I better do it right.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Human trafficking is a horrifying reality, but bravo for taking it own. I can't imagine having to research that, but I commend you for shining a light on something so heinous and under-reported, as well.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Thanks for your post Kimberly, I think the most difficult part of writing honestly is that it is powerful. I always worry that I will offend someone, and I usually do. The interesting thing is how someone interprets your thoughts. I also notice when I bend my work in one direction a random person will have a totally different interpretation I never considered. I say be brave, write it as authentically as possible, and let go of the rest. It is impossible to guess where all your readers will go with your work. Thanks for the post, it made me stop and think about the impact of our writing.

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