Get angry – and write about it

Anyone who’s read much of my fiction probably has a pretty clear idea of which way my political winds blow. My readers, in fact, will likely know about that part of me better than my social media followers, because I prefer to not get political on Facebook or Twitter.

Why? Especially in a time when we should add our voices to the international calls for justice and equity?

Mea culpa. I probably should use my social media platforms to express my disgust with so many recent and current events, but I don’t for one reason: I don’t think I do it well. The brevity of social media postings flummoxes me; I really just can’t say everything I want to say in so small an amount of space. I envy those who can make a cogent, effective statement in 140 characters or less.

When something makes me angry or sad or scared, I want to explore both my feelings and the source of those feelings in detail. I need to write at length, to dig in, to make others understand what I’m feeling and maybe – even, just a little – understand what caused those feelings. I believe that fiction should first and foremost take you on a magical ride – because the entire act of writing, of putting your thoughts and feelings directly into someone else’s mind, seems like an act of great magic to me – but there’s room for other stuff, too. Do you want to enlighten your readers as well as entertain? You can do that. What if you want to share your political views?

Here’s where far too many readers and writers will tell you that you can’t do that. I’ve heard it my whole life: “I hate stories that get preachy,” or, “It’ll make the story pedantic.”

Sure it will…if it’s badly done. But if it’s done right, it can be a powerful statement.

While I can’t talk about the intimate writing experience of other authors – I can’t, for example, tell you exactly how Margaret Atwood’s anger at the way men often treat women inspired The Handmaid’s Tale, or how Gabino Iglesias turned his feelings about the American immigrant experience into his magnificent Coyote Songs, or how Victor LaValle flipped Lovecraft’s racism on its ugly little head with The Ballad of Black Tom – but I can tell you about how I use my own feelings and reactions to create that preachy and pedantic fiction.

When I read one too many stories about the terrible abuse that too many children suffer, I wrote about a beaten-down little girl who finds solace in imagining Frankenstein’s monster as her friend.

After reading a book about my favorite architect Paul Williams – who happened to be an African American working in the Los Angeles area in the mid-twentieth-century, and who frequently was denied entrance to the very neighborhoods he’d filled with exquisite houses – I used Williams as a character in a story and let him have the voice to address those inequities.

I have a particular dislike for the way we’ve allowed our wealth to be concentrated in the hands of the very few, and so I’ve written about the very rich as depraved, inbred monsters, as those who have literally stolen their power from the land, and as cultists who treat their hard-working domestics as little more than property.

I’ve gotten hate mail upon occasion, sure; but I don’t see that as a bad thing, I see that as a total victory. One story in particular, a fairly overt pro-choice piece, has engendered a number of ranting e-mails (usually signed with names like “John Smith”, which I’m sure is a 100% real name because hey, these guys wouldn’t be cowards hiding behind fake names, right?). But you know what else that story has engendered? The respect of editors like John Skipp and John Joseph Adams (both of whom have purchased it), and more financial return than three of my novels.

The point of all this is: don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t address political evils or social commentary in your fiction (and, in fact, you might question why they’d suggest that). If something going on in the world makes you angry (and there’s plenty of that around nowadays), WRITE ABOUT IT IN YOUR FICTION. Sure, if you’re one of those lucky wordsmiths who can make a great social media post about this same stuff, go for it…but consider that you might just reach a wider audience and do it more effectively if you surround your message with a compelling, well-written narrative.

Be bold. Get angry. Write about it.

And if you get some pissy blowback, add a notch to your pen, grin, cash the check, and write another piece of fiction to add to your pedantic and preachy resume.