You’d think a traditional mystery writer would know how to keep her nose clean. And yet every book I write contains elements that someone, somewhere, finds objectionable.
Usually, I can anticipate the problem spots. In CLOVIS, I figured it would be the UFO theme, and, yes, the talking cat. "Is this a mystery or science fiction?" people wanted to know. "Is this another cutesy kitty book? " "Do you believe in UFOs?"
In BELEN, I knew I’d catch some flack about the religiosity vs spirituality theme. And guess what? The worst review I got for that book came from the Salt Lake City Tribune. Coincidence? I’m just sayin’ . . .
With THE SOCORRO BLAST, I thought people would object to the idea that our current national paranoia squirts out, in unbecoming ways, even in small towns.
But . . .
An early ARC reader identified another potential problem. She wrote, "You realize, of course, the trouble you’re going to get into with the bulk of the organized Jewish community over this novel!"
Um, no, I hadn’t.
She went on with: "This is the first that I’ve seen a Jewish character telling it like it is, and ‘they’ are going to have a big fit! . . . expect the usual comments: anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, self-hating Jew, etc. etc. . . ."
I was stunned.
Sure, Sasha has major issues with her cultural and religious identity. She’s absolutely merciless in her reaction to one of her nieces, so much so that the woman can seem like a caricature. And, it’s true that Sasha and her mother have a very difficult time respecting that her sister has embraced a much more conservative form of Judaism.
That’s the point of the book!
EVERYONE has prejudices and intolerances.
It’s also a fact that we’re often hardest on those nearest to us, those we’ve known the longest. All this emotional baggage we carry becomes magnified during family crises.
On the surface, SOCORRO is a traditional, amateur sleuth mystery.
It’s a fun and interesting read.
Many people will leave it just at that.
But the truth is, I want it to be more . . .
I want it to make readers think about our personal and societal biases/fears in this post-9/11 era. I hope SOCORRO has more depth, more potential for discussion, than my first two. So, I asked UNM Press to include reader questions at the back of the novel.
I’ve even gone one step further. My sister (who holds a PhD in education) and I developed a webquest project for college students and book clubs to explore these issues in depth. While the project is in its infancy, I planned it as a supplement to the book from the get-go.
You can probably imagine my first reaction to the warning from that kind mystery reader.
It was sorrow.
I’d missed the mark, gone too far.
Then I thought about what it means to be a writer. I thought about WHY I wrote THIS particular book. I looked at the letter from New Mexico’s First Lady, Barbara Richardson, that she sent along with her blurb. In it, she wrote: "I thought the manner in which you brought in the discussion of such issues as discrimination and racism was very thought-provoking. You make the reader aware of feelings that possibly lie very close to the surface of one’s own emotions."
Wow. Mission accomplished.
Now, I’m clear. I was true to Sasha’s character and her development. I was true to her story.
My questions today are:
1. Why do some fiction writers bother taking risks with subject matter in their works?
2. Do all writers do this on some level?
3. Why not play it safe, try to make everyone happy?
4. Can you think of any examples of writers who’ve taken risks, who’ve spotlighted something a particular group of people would rather not face?
This should be an interesting discussion . . .
THE SOCORRO BLAST goes on sale this Wednesday. I can’t tell you how excited I am!