Tag Archives: controversial ideas

Touchy Subjects

A very good friend, who also happens to be a member of my family, is in the finishing stages of a book that has taken him five years to write.

Now, that doesn’t sound like any time to a lot of writers, but he’s done this living on the edge. The edge of poverty, the edge of sanity, the edge of grief – almost every edge you can imagine.

His motivation is the message he wants to spread. His muse is God.

It’s a very touchy, personal subject he’s writing about and the audience he’s targeting is narrow: abortion within the 19 – 25 year old age group. To top it off, it’s fiction.

He’ll never make the money he needs from this book if it’s ever published. Every agent and publisher he’s approached has turned him away. His subject material has made him a publishing pariah.

The author is sixty years old and has never had any experience in the subject matter. However, he says he feels led to preach, I mean write, about this hot ball of wax topic.

When he discusses his book with me, I keep my opinions to myself except when I can be constructive about the mechanics of his writing. The content is his own business.

He is a good example of writing outside the box. He is writing about issues he is only familiar with through research; he has no firsthand knowledge in the area.

Of course, how many writers have the very personal knowledge in the area they’re penning? In my case, I’ve never held an AK-47, I’ve never been to Austria, and I’ve never been a man in the military. Yet, my main character has all these attributes and more.

There is often a message, hidden or blatant, in good writing.  Without a lesson, the story will leave the reader feeling empty.

What leads you to the topics you read? What leads you to the topics you write? Do you write far from your personal field of experience or do you keep it closer to home?

J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and about thirty works-in-progress.

Current enthusiasm is co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch

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Filed under books, fiction, life, writing

The Best Thing About Being a Fiction Writer Is . . .

When the conference was over, Laz gathered the handouts and picked up his notebook and walked out of the assembly hall into the brilliant Carolina midday sun.  Everett emerged from the darkness at the same moment and the two old friends found themselves walking together.

“So what did you think of the conference, Laz?”

He shrugged.  “You first.”

Everett laughed.  “That pretty much answered my question.  I’m about the most idealistic person I know, but I have to tell you I got a little tired of the ‘high-and-mighty’ tone of the speakers.”

“All of them,” Laz agreed, nodding.

“I guess there’s something wrong with me,” Everett continued.  “They were saying all the right things and I know I was supposed to agree.  Intellectually I’m pretty much right with them.  Only . . . well, it’s hard to put into words.  Somehow all that righteous indignation put me off.”

“They were self-conscious,” Laz said.

 “Self-conscious?  How can you say that?  They did nothing but brag about themselves and drop names for the whole two days.”

“I mean they were self-conscious not in the ‘shy and embarrassed’ sense, but in the ‘I’m going to put myself in the limelight so you all will admire me’ sense.”

“Ah.  Yes, everything they said showed they were mostly conscious of themselves.  I think that’s it, Laz.  Despite the fact that I agreed with them almost completely in principle, their constant ingratiating attitude just sapped all my enthusiasm.  Listening to all those speakers pat themselves on the back, I got to where I thought this was a bragging contest.”

“You know what I kept thinking, Everett?”

“What?”

“I kept thinking, ‘This is why I’m a writer.  This is why I write fiction.’”

“. . . What do you mean?”

“Well, I feel just as strongly as all those speakers did—and pretty much in the same way.  And maybe I want to express some of my strong ideas.  Only, when a person gets up and makes a speech about a controversial issue, half the potential listeners have already tuned him or her out.  And two thirds of those who are on the same side as the speaker are only listening to hear things they agree with.

“On the other hand, when you write a story—if you do it right—you can draw in any reader.  You can express your ideas either in what your characters say or in what happens to your characters and how they respond.  As a writer you have the ability to show a realistic grasp of both sides of any controversial issue.  Most public speakers forget there are two sides to any issue because they’re so busy trying to prove their side is the valid, important one.

“When you write about a controversial issue, you don’t have to make it the center of your story to express it fully.  You just work it in.  For instance, when I wrote The Medicine People, I deal a lot with the quiet underlying bigotry Native Americans and Western European descendants still harbor for one another but never express out loud.  And while it was essential to the story, it didn’t overwhelm the novel.  Stories have the power to make an issue live in the mind of the reader the way a speech never can.

“And the best thing about being a fiction writer is, you don’t have to brag to get your point across.  The best writer is one whose reader gets absolutely lost in the narrative and—oops!  Watch out for the curb, Everett!  Are you okay?”

“Yeah.  Just clumsy.  What were you saying?”

“I don’t remember.  Let’s go get lunch.”

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday, both published by Second Wind Publishing Co.

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Filed under Lazarus Barnhill, life, writing