Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Fiction, or Politics


Hi, Terry Shames here. This week we are talking about politics, and whether we tackle our country’s increasingly strong political polarization in our books. 

 I am outspoken on social media about politics. More than once I’ve had a reader tell me they think I should keep quiet lest I lose some readers. Sorry, but if lose readers over what I consider the most important issue of our time—our continued existence as a Republic--so be it. 

 But what I do in my personal life on social media is not equal to what I do when I write fiction. I write to entertain and explore. And I enjoy reading those authors who do the same. If they stray into didactic territory, I can go along for a bit, but once they cross a line into preaching or author intrusion, they leave me behind. Or I leave them behind. Either way, I think that breaks the writer/reader connection, and I, for one, won’t go there. 

 Polarization in politics is not new, although the current version seems more radical than it has been in over a century. Using my fiction to talk about people and their issues seems more useful than taking a political point of view in novels. 

 I write about a small town in Texas. As a political lightning rod, it doesn’t get much “hotter” than Texas, especially if you are a woman. Merely saying that I write books set in Texas sometimes brings an uncomfortable reaction from prospective readers. I picture what would happen if I wrote overtly about politics in my series. I imagine coming home to find people with pitchforks; guns; and vats of tar and feathers, milling around outside my house—whichever way I would pitch. That isn’t to imply that I am a both-sides-ist. Anyone who knows me knows I think Democrats, however imperfect, are the party of people who are serious about solving problems, and that Republicans, however perfect, are the party of cruelty and greed. 

 So, now that I’ve enraged 40% of the readers here, I will repeat that I don’t tackle politics per se in my books. I do tackle social issues: greed; religious hypocrisy; the poor treatment of veterans in this country; gun culture; sexual abuse; racial issues; and police corruption and brutality. 

The bottom line is that we all write in a political atmosphere whether we do so overtly or not. And I’m not just talking about writers in the crime-writing field. But in particular, we write in a genre in which the police are frequently corrupt, incompetent or indifferent; in which the justice system has little regard for the truth and/or has little interest in the despair of those who run afoul of the system; in which religious leaders turn a blind eye to abuse; in which male domination is a given; and so on. To the extent that writers shine a light on these issues, they are writing about politics. Writers who tackle domestic abuse, for example do so with the understanding that such abuse continues, sometimes with the tacit approval of the police, and often without sufficient laws to punish such abuse, the result of political indifference. 

 There’s another angle to this, though. I’ve read more than one thriller in which the protagonist disdains legal means for attaining justice, in favor of vigilante justice. I root for them because they are on the side of the injured. It’s a case of the ends justifying the means. And that’s a slippery slope. 

I have had to put down books in which the writer obviously has a political ax to grind and s/he has the characters carry the political water, mouthing political stances that have little to do with the book’s plot, and everything to do with the author’s opinions. Not that I don’t stoutly defend their right to espouse those opinions, even if I abhor them. But it makes for poor fiction reading, at least for me. So I will continue to tackle hard subjects, but I’ll let real life or non-fiction serve the political arena.

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