Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Mirror For Society and Safe Sex

Social Issues, and how they influence my writing

Every single day I find something in the news that should shock me, but I'm seldom surprised by what I read. Likely because I'm one part cynical former journalist, one part realist, stirred occasionally but seldom shaken.

I have some friends who choose to turn a blind eye to what is happening around them. They don't watch the news, seldom watch tv at all, vote according to the encouragement of their minister and try to remain shielded from the ills of society. Much as I love those friends, their choice to shut their eyes to the world and its problems perplexes me.

The day I was returning home from my grandfather's funeral I stayed at a friend's house enroute, one of the ones I refer to here. I hadn't heard about what had happened, and she refused to let me watch the news in her home.

It was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing.

I remember all too well the feeling I had on the morning of 9/11. Kevin and I were up, the news on, we heard about the preliminary reports of the first plane and actually watched live on the news as the second plane crashed.

Those are the moments that do shake you. They hurt. The thought of hundreds of voices crying out with their last breath as their lives are ripped out of their hands and cast into the unknown... It's a hard thought to bear.

But these incidents are also some of the most reaffirming moments in our lives. The ones that give us hope. Because instead of looting buildings, black, brown, white, rich, poor, unemployed, workaholic - all shared that profound grief. People put their differences aside. The boundaries no longer mattered and for a brief window in time, we saw people reach out and help strangers, house the homeless, comfort the grieving, heal the wounded.

Kevin and I went to Tunisia not long after 9/11. Many thought we were mad, but it had a profound impact on us. The people who would come up and clasp my hand and in broken English thank us for still coming.

Read: thank us for not blaming them.

I know that there are many reasons people write. For each one, it differs.

For me, much of my writing has to do with coming to terms with the problems in the world today. My way of staring into the face of evil instead of running away, and trying to understand it.

I'm one of those people that believes we don't find solutions to our problems - personally or as a society - by turning a blind eye, whispering a prayer and hoping things will be okay.

Most of you reading this likely know that I just signed a contract for the publication of my manuscript, Suspicious Circumstances. I was asked if I built my plots around social issues or just incorporated them into the story.

The answer is both.

When I wrote Suspicious Circumstances I had some very specific issues in mind. Detective Tymen Farraday and reporter Lara Kelly have to deal with their prejudices and put aside their misgivings to work together. Overcoming - or not overcoming - preconceived judgments is crucial. One of the other themes centers around personal responsibility - how people with the same general background can end up going in radically different directions. This is subtle, but an underlying issue that involves peripheral characters, as well as a main one.

Forgiveness is also a key issue. Not just the ability to forgive others, but to forgive yourself.

And acceptance.

A lot of this came about because of my own thoughts on these subjects, struggles I've had in the past working through these topics in my own life. But for fear of this turning into a chapter-length post, I think I'll have to save expounding on the storyline for my website - which I'm now redoing. For so long it seemed that Terms of Redemption would be my first book out, but once it became possible that SC would lead the way it was hard to know how to design the site.

Because as James is about to discover, they're very different books.

I know that writers write to entertain, as personal therapy, because they're compelled to - perhaps feuled by some 'god' complex in the genetic code that makes us want to create - but I also write with the hope that the reader will have a moment where they think about something. Sometimes, its not much more than a "mindfuck" - like when I write short stories. I wrote Write To Kill for one reason: when I worked with mentally challenged adults we had one man in our group who should have been a functioning member of society, but he'd been stuck in a care facility for handicapped people because he wasn't adopted as a child. The result was that he had learned how to function and behave in every respect like the other people he was with - though technically there was nothing wrong with him. He'd been socialized to be (forgive me, it's so hard to be PC) low-functioning.

So, was my character insane? Even I'm not sure. Writing the story was just my way of posing the question.

Why do you write? What do you hope that people take away with them when they're done the book?
Or, you know, the usual entertaining comments!

And, in the interest of promoting good health, I bring you the SAFE SEX DRESS!

John Rickards' evening gown inside-out?


Bernita said...

Are those what I think they are?
Neon pink and purple and green?
I'm sorry. If anyone waved something in those colors at me, I'd run.
It would not be safe sex, it would be "not on your life, boyo! Get away from me!"

Sandra Ruttan said...

Isn't that the safest sex of all? I can hear the high school teachers now, "Just say no."

(and run like hell!)

Trace said...

It's funny, Sandra. I don't write with a particular social issue in mind, but for some reason they always emerge anyway. Freaky.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Maybe just because writers pay attention to society, particularly in our areas of writing?

Trace said...

I think we have a need to process, figure things out that we don't understand. The things I write about are usually things that disgust and/or terrify me.

I know that partly it's me trying to face that fear and understand why and how some people can be so fucking horrible.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think that's a really good point - you take what shocks you and then you put it into fiction, where you can address it "safely" and look at it and how it affects others and how they deal with it.

I don't know if we're always working towards answers, but I feel like we're asking questions. How will you cope in a world that's this way sort of thing - and can you? Is it possible to see horrid things and still be human, not be tainted?

Trace said...

Exactly. We're asking questions. Trying to understand and see how different people deal with situations. It's true that people react in different ways to things.

We're an analytical bunch, writers, aren't we?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Deep. And hopefully not as disturbing as that dress!

Erik Ivan James said...

I am not analytical and that is a flaw that has caused me problems in both life and business. I tend to be far more macro than micro along with emotional and spontaneous. My writing, then, tends to reflect how I feel about, or react to, the world's events around me. I do attempt to stay "informed" but unfortunately, sometimes, my reactions can be very strong and not received very well by those who are analytical. One more personality flaw of my many.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

I write because if I don't, I'd pull my hair out. Can't explain it. I write on many topics, but mostly enjoy humor because there's just too much seriousness out there.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Yep. More or less what Dana said. If I didn't write, I don't know what else I'd do.

I can't explain it, either.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think you're born to write.

You might be born to do other things too, but writing is in the bones.

Shesawriter said...

Every time I have a pity party and start to consider giving up writing, I then ask myself one question: What else are you going to do?

What else indeed. There's nothing else I *can* do. Or *want* to do. So there you have it. The shortest debate in history. This "conversation" usually lasts for all of thirty seconds, then I go back to feeling sorry for myself until the muse comes out of hiding.


JamesO said...

I'd like to be able to write stories that don't seem to preach, or be too heavily laden with symbolism, but which stay with you and change the way you look at the world. I don't think I've cracked it yet, but you won't know when I do - that's the whole point.

I remember flying home from Seattle just after 9/11. The crew on the 747 outnumbered the passengers, most of whom, alarmingly, were obviously of Arab descent. I got talking to some of them, and they all said the same thing - they were leaving America before the reprisals started. Some of them had already received death threats or been spat on in the street. These were young professionals in the main - PhD Students, Engineers, Junior Doctors - and they were heading home to Iraq.

In retrospect, they would probably have been better off staying in Seattle.

Boy Kim said...

Ok. The blog background is black. Approved.

As for that dress... I have two comments.

1) I'm sure I said I like my tops to dress in rubber, not... oh never mind

2) She's a damn fine looking woman. Do you have her phone number?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Tanya - nice to see you!

You're right - we're writers, and we must write. It is our lot in life.

James, isn't it sad? Terribly sad. The prejudice, the fear - a small group of people tarnished life for millions.

Kim, I suspect you can get her at any clothing store. And her boobs will never sag.

Boy Kim said...

Do you think she'll be available on mail-order? I'm a tad-ette nervous in shops.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You know, this really begs the question - when will we be able to clothes-shop in a drive-through?

I look forward to that!

S. R. Hatcher said...

Sandra-Great news about your contract for Suspicious Circumstances. It's always good to hear when others "make the deal."

I write,,,,,,because I have things to say, stories to tell, I like playing with language, words, phrases. I'm definitely influenced by what is happening in the world. It would be hard for some things not to influence your work as they swirl around in your mind. Sometimes these ideas/opinions merge in with your writing thoughts.

Look forward to reading your book when it comes out.

S. R. Hatcher said...

Sandra-Great news about your contract for Suspicious Circumstances. It's always good to hear when others "make the deal."

I write,,,,,,because I have things to say, stories to tell, I like playing with language, words, phrases. I'm definitely influenced by what is happening in the world. It would be hard for some things not to influence your work as they swirl around in your mind. Sometimes these ideas/opinions merge in with your writing thoughts.

Look forward to reading your book when it comes out.

Sandra Ruttan said...

sr hatcher - miss southern comfort, right?

Thanks for the warm wishes and encouragement. And it is interesting to hear why people write. I've always written something, for reasons you've mentioned, but I think my post sums up why I'm so passionate about mysteries.

Evil Kev said...

A profound and thoughtful post.

It made me think and reflect on those moments that define us as individuals and as a society.

I think that is one of the highest compliments that can be paid to a writer, to evoke reflection.

Good work.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Is someone impersonating my husband?

Mark Pettus said...

Sandra, most long posts lose me halfway in. This one didn't.

Your story reminds me of a conversation I had with a fellow editor recently - its hard to stay in denial when you're a journalist. Reality keeps slapping you in the face.

By the way, as much as I'm in favor of safe sex, I'm not sure I want to see my daughter wearing that dress. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Mark, nice to see you!

Thank you for the compliment - I'm usually rather wordy. But I also never edit what I throw up here, which is likely not a good thing!!!

LOL about the dress - scary, isn't it?!

And yes, reality does keep slapping you in the face. Journalists have a high rate of alcoholism and divorce. Sad, really.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I write suspense and thrillers...I write to entertain, to make people's hearts beat faster, to make them want to turn the page...and lastly to satisfy!

The that like one of them dispays where you can pull off as many as you want...Yikes..OMG!

Ya' know...when I was in my twenties...Oh, I shouldn't say this...I had a...a boyfriend...who surprised me in a darkened room with one of those glow-in-the-dark-thingys...I broke out in hysterical laughter...hmmmm never saw him again!

E. Ann Bardawill said...

I was going to say something terribly profound, but caught sight of them leather chaps up thar, and my train of thought derailed.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes, hot buns is always welcome to post here!