By Barbara D’Amato
Here is another in my long list of worries about what I am doing and why: Shall I include my political views in my books, and if so, how much?
The question, which is always hanging someplace in the back of my mind, came forward a couple of weeks ago. Two of the various mystery and writing listserves included messages of annoyance at specific authors who were too political, or, in these cases, “too Democrat.” The posters claimed that the books spent too long making a case for one political point of view. In one case, the politics was called gratuitous.
I won’t name the authors involved, except to say that they are both well known and I like their books. These were recent publications.
Suppose you include strong political opinions? Do you lose readers? Some, I suppose. Well, maybe you could give your opinions to one character in your book and a contrary political view to another character. Does that even-handedness take care of the reader who objects to your real views? And should it? Aren’t you more honest letting it be clear where you stand?
Of course, you can slip your views in subtly. Show the evils of the Whosis and the virtues of the Whatsis. Like Dickens showed the evils of the workhouse. But is it as simple as show-don’t-tell? I don’t think so. Readers are not stupid. If your cruel Texas sheriff is also a bigwig in the Republican Party and thinks family values means keeping down folks who aren’t “our kind” – well really, how mystifying is that? In a long-ago book, Hardball, I explored, if not pushed, the idea that our drug laws may be causing the drug problem. The competing views were expressed by characters, not the narrator, but my opinion was probably clear.
I kind of like having an author fervently try to convince me of something. But I suspect most readers don’t. And I suspect most writers worry as I do about how far to go with their personal views.
As writers, ultimately we should be ourselves. Many years ago, when my younger boy was in middle school, a teacher became worried that he was reading some iffy books. She meant sex and violence. My response was that if he was reading I was in favor of it. Reading takes you into the mind of another in a way nothing else can. It is truly broadening.
And yes, I think fiction is a force for Good.
But still, how far do you go?