Susanna poses an intriguing question about how authors approach their political beliefs in their writing. I was thoroughly tickled and pleased with the intelligence of our readers on Edith’s blog about the weather—hardly a political topic on the face of it but apparently a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Weather, who woulda thunked it?
Admittedly, the opinionated Irish in me never met a political argument she couldn’t jump into with both feet and fists flying. But as an author, I have two major responsibilities—first, to my readers to give them a wonderful, romantic story that will warm their hearts, and second, to my publishers, to produce a book that will earn out all that nice money they advance me against book sales. Politics can easily infringe on both responsibilities.
But politics are part of history, part of the lives of our characters, and a major driving force of the world around us, as much as we might like to think otherwise. I would happily write wonderful tales skewering the wrong side and promoting my side, and all my friends who agree with me would cheer me right on. But such a book would only present half a picture, wouldn’t it?
As often as I scream that 90% of the human race are bloomin’ idgits, the truth is, every person, like every villain, is the hero of his own tale. Every one of us sees the world from our own unique perspective and strives to move about in that world in a manner that we think socially acceptable to the people around us. So if I’m writing about the real world, I have to give each character his or her own unique perspective, whether or not it agrees with mine. It would be a boring place if everyone thought like me!
Don’t get me wrong—my opinions are strong and my themes will reflect them, but I prefer that readers think about them and make up their own minds. The human race being what it is, it’s destined to repeat history unless we learn from it. So I use history as a platform to present my arguments. Readers who want sex and a love story will get great heaping mounds of it, because I sincerely believe love makes the world go around and loving our neighbors is the path to peace. So that’s always going to be my dominant theme. Readers who want history will get it as accurately as I can portray it, given that I’m currently writing history mixed with fantasy. But it’s my choice of subjects that give me away to readers who dig deeper.
Which leads me to why I’m writing about the era of the French Revolution. The only part of it that Americans seem to know about is the Bloody Terror, which was a horrific eighteen months of out-of-control judgment wrought by men with their own political agendas who would be called terrorists today. The Revolution was far, far more than that. In actuality, the first two years of overthrow were nearly bloodless, brought about by the economic bankruptcy of an entire nation. I won’t go into all the details of what led to the educated middle class standing up as one and shouting for change, but what they saw was a gap so huge between rich and poor that anyone with a modicum of compassion would cry to end it. It’s that microcosm of history that fascinates me,stirs my imagination, and gives me story ideas to chase.
But as Susannah and other wenchlings have asked, how does a writer keep her own personal opinions out of the story? I can only speak for myself. Obviously, I have an opinion on the Revolution and what it reflects today. But my opinion is pretty irrelevant in the scope of things. I’m just a romance writer. That’s what authors have to keep firmly in the front of their minds. We are not preachers. So what I’ll be trying to portray as I satisfy my intellectual curiosity about this piece of history is both sides of the coin—rich and poor, powerful and not. And since I have little sympathy with greed and stupidity, I’m portraying the “wrong” side of the debate by using my very sympathetic, but haplessly arrogant, heroes <G>, who just happen to be living in isolation, unaware of the harm they’ve caused until confronted with it. Each individual will have their own take on problems and must learn their own lessons, even the “good” guys. I’m hoping readers will come away with the feeling of a rollicking good story with a bit of something meatier to think on, if they like.
I think it’s a perfectly entertaining challenge, for instance, to match a suffragette with a hero who thinks women are good for only one thing. Romance is about resolving conflicts, after all. It may be tough to sympathize with a guy this thick-headed <G>, but if an author does her job properly, the reader will see why the hero believes what he does. And by sympathizing with his plight, we’re made to see the opposite side of the coin, aren’t we? Seeing both sides of an argument is what we need to do to resolve our issues. Understanding, and not proselytizing, is really what an author’s job is all about.
How many readers prefer to leave today’s world behind and disappear into the imaginary ones of romance? And what about those of you who prefer historical fiction—do you want a real slice of life with big, problematic issues, or do you just want the personal issues that lead up to the bigger issues? I know as a writer and reader, I prefer social issues to politics every time. How much do you think one reflects the other? Or is that an essay question? <G>