Fantasy author Ty Johnston is touring the blogosphere this month to promote his new e-book novel,Demon Chains. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb, and Ghosts of the Asylum, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online at Smashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his blog tyjohnston.blogspot.com.
One of the things that drew me to James Grenton and his blog is his insistence on writing with a social message. As a fiction writer myself, I don’t usually tackle such issues directly, but occasionally I do. I tend to be more philosophical with the thematic backdrops of my writing, preferring to study broader emotional, mental and sometimes spiritual issues.
The big reason I’m not as direct concerning social matters is I don’t feel comfortable enough that I can pull it off without beating the reader over the head with my message. If readers feel they are being lectured to or preached at, they will run away by the droves. And that’s understandable, especially because when we are reading fiction we are most often reading for fun and escapism, not to be fed someone’s opinion. Frankly, don’t we hear enough of other people’s opinions on a daily basis in the news and online?
But some authors can pull this off. They can weave a social message, one of conscious, into their plot without raising the hackles of readers. Really good authors can do this without the readers even realizing it.
James Grenton is one such novelist. I’ve read enough of The Somali Doctrine to be assured of this, and I’m looking forward to picking up Black Coke. I seethe with jealousy. I wish I could write that well, and maybe some day I will.
When a fiction writer has a social message to offer to modern readers, it must be done so delicately. Fiction is entertainment, after all, though that does not mean it can not rise above the trappings of mere recreation.
Some of the greatest novels and writers who ever existed have written fiction with a strong social message, though we do not always take notice.
Obvious examples are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. These two novels are so connected with the message they send, it would be almost impossible to separate them. Just about everything Charles Dickens wrote had a noticeable social message.
But there are other classics which are not generally accepted as containing strong social messages, or the message is ambiguous. What of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace? The deeper elements here are based upon morality, mainly Tolstoy’s studies and beliefs in Christianity, but there are still messages pertaining to war and the economic state of 19th Century nobility and serfdom. What about Hemingway? Or Poe? Do these authors work social commentary into their writings? I believe they do, though again, it’s not always obvious.
Of more modern writers, one of my favorites is the late Ed McBain, also known as Evan Hunter. McBain wrote dozens upon dozens of police procedural novels and other noir-like fiction, but I’ve picked up in each of his novels commentary upon the times in which the book was written. McBain wrote mainly from the early 1950s until his death in 2005, and each decade is represented in his literature, specifically his 87th Precinct novels. Sometimes the commentary is only a single line of dialogue, or a short scene, but it is there.
It seems then, the most action driven, plot oriented fiction can still contain a poignant look at our world. Subtlety is often the author’s key to success in such literature for modern audiences, but if one has a following and knows one audience, the messages can be stronger, more in the front.
To those authors, I doff my hat to them.