On Agenda and Theme
"They say great themes make great novels.. but what these young writers don't understand is that there is no greater theme than men and women."-- John O'Hara
As if hating to write, O'Rourke-fashion, isn't handicap enough, some (not all) of my stories are written with a socio/political agenda and a compatible theme, including the romances.
I don't think this is as unusual as it may sound. Tomes have been written on what motivates writers to write. Sometimes the motive or agenda is internal and reflects the writer's desire for self-expression. But social issues have increasingly found their way into romance novels--homelessness, death and dying, interracial couples, alternate sexual preference, to name but a few.
So why is this a handicap for me? Because I'm bucking the tide of the new orthodoxy. As a traditionalist --a cultural and political conservative-- I'm not really a lover of controversy for controversy's sake; I just think there are some automatic assumptions our culture has developed that need to be challenged now and then, just as the old orthodoxy needed to be challenged.
In Southern Man, I challenge certain presuppositions advanced by radical feminism. I have no problem with strong women (my family's been chock full of 'em for generations), and you won't hear me complain about equal work for equal pay and similar issues. But there are some extremist elements of feminism I strongly object to, some presuppositions I am compelled to challenge. At the top of the list--misandry and its collateral assumptions.
Granted, if you're looking for man-hating in fiction, romance novels probably aren't the place to start. But then, my debut novel, Southern Man, is not precisely a romance. The story opens ten years into the hero and heroine's HEA, and while their pre-HEA romance is important, it's secondary to the plot and told in flashbacks and backstory.
For those not familiar with it (and that would be pretty much everyone on the planet except a few dozen souls), Southern Man is about a corporate executive and dedicated family man falsely accused of sexual harassment, and the grief he and his family experience as a result.
My husband and I created a small indy publishing company, Great Southern Publishing (pretty grandiose, huh?) with the imprint Brasstown* Books, for bringing Southern Man to print. There were several reasons for this. Although I'm not really a control freak, I did want control over every aspect of writing, publishing and marketing this particular story. I also wanted the entire experience under my belt before I opened up the little company to publishing the works of other authors. Heretofore, my publishing experience was confined to periodicals.
But the main reason was something else entirely. Although I believed the story would find an audience among readers, I suspected the social/cultural/political agenda underlying it would not resonate with mainstream editors and agents, so I bypassed them.
If you're going to write to advance such an agenda, you'd better embed it in one heck of a story, and that's what I hope I've achieved with Southern Man. One element that kept me plugging away at this story for about two years, despite my dread of sitting down to a blank screen, was the theme -- appearance versus reality, and how it manifested in the events of the story.
This is a recurring theme in fiction and drama but limitless in its application. From Hamlet to The Matrix, the appearance-vs.-reality theme has joined with fascinating characters and intriguing plot to keep readers and viewers -- and writers -- enthralled. It's equally applicable to characters, relationships, circumstances and events. It's especially intriguing when the appearance is negative and the reality positive, or vice versa. It can also combine with other themes--hope, redemption, courage-- to deepen characters and enrich a story.
Question -- What romance novels have you read with the appearance versus reality theme?
(Named for Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.)