Sunday, March 13, 2011

Social Messages in Writing

It’s no secret I began writing because of the events of 9/11. Like most who watched the slaughter of nearly 3,000 innocent people, I was outraged by both the calculating brutality of terrorism demonstrated that day, and by the many worldwide Muslim celebrations that followed. In my innocence, I could scarce begin to understand their depth of hatred, and found the only effective outlet for my anger was writing.

I wrote and wrote, spilling 160,000 words of vitriol across hundreds of pages. That took about five years—and produced Kill Zone, my only novel that has not been published. The book had a strong social message, but not at all subtle. It was therapeutic, but not saleable. It was also my primer on writing, my first sad attempt. Now that I’m past the initial outrage and have learned a couple of things, I have tried to re-work that novel several times. It still needs help. I’ll continue to re-work it, but my point is that social messages need to be inserted carefully and with finesse. You can’t hammer a reader over the head with your opinions, no matter how much you might want to.

In the process of venting rage on the pages of Kill Zone, I found I loved writing. It was kind of addictive, a place to go to find peace of mind and harmony of soul. I eventually set Kill Zone aside and tried another venue, Sci-Fi. My Sci-Fi trilogy (The Judge, Infinity Quest and The Empress of Tridon) came together much faster, and xoxopublishing.com accepted the novels for publication after Ronna Gage gave me some sound advice. So where do social messages fit into Sci-Fi?

The most blatant example is, of course, Star Trek, which included a Russian crew member at the height of the cold war, and depicted women and blacks in responsible and highly technical positions. Even the first black-white kiss on TV came out of that series. The show presented a positive image of the human condition at a time when the news was full of racism, war, and social strife. It had a very upbeat social message, but it wasn’t at all subtle about it. Still, it was extremely successful.

When I set out to write my Sci-Fi trilogy, there were several social messages I wanted to embed in the story, but I wanted to do it gently. The number one message was a carry-over from Kill Zone: fanaticism in religious context causes extreme problems. In fact, the overarching theme throughout the trilogy is the human struggle against the forces of religious fanaticism. The message will not slap anyone in the face, but it is definitely there.

Beyond that, I looked into the methodologies used by Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini during their rise to power, and followed those concepts in the rise of the villain, but again, it was subtle. The villain, Marid, needed to be seen as both benevolent and evil, to the point it is difficult to tell which he really is. Everything Marid does is self-serving, but is presented in a way that can be perceived, at least in from some point of view, as being for “the good of all”, even the destruction of his own home planet.

On a different scale, the hero is somewhat flawed (although the heroine isn’t), and he spends much of his time learning that the “easy path” isn’t always the best path to follow. The message is that individual power should not be abused, and it was fun to put together situations where the hero (The Judge) took the wrong approach just because he could. Of course, his choices eventually land him in exile in Alaska and bring the wrath of the Iblis to earth, but hey, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

At the most fundamental level of what a “Judge” is, I incorporated many social messages. Judges can turn the evil within an individual against itself, and they do. A child abuser kills himself with the handle of a toilet plunger (he deserved it), an armed robber shoots himself in the leg and dies, high school bullies are put in their place, etc. Each encounter where judgment is issued reflects a social issue and a moral solution.

As the trilogy develops, the social messages get more universal. All-out war breaks out between “good” and “evil”, even though it’s not completely clear the “evil” is really all that bad. The heroine tries to understand God from his point of view, but just can't get there. Religion, which is seen as causing devastation throughout history, is eventually forbidden across all universes, and the heroine conceives a higher purpose for her people.

I also attempted to address the “creationism” vs. “evolution” argument through much of the trilogy, settling on purposefully guided development but for Marid’s specific advancement.

After completing my Sci-Fi trilogy, I wrote Aftermath Horizon, a contemporary fiction follow-on to Kill Zone. The entire novel is a social statement—all of it. It depicts the futility and ultimate result of religion gone wild, but offers hope for a bright future. I believe it is my best novel by far. I mentioned above that I am re-working Kill Zone. As it turns out, that novel will likely be broken into two novels, making a contemporary fiction trilogy that ends with Aftermath Horizon. As with my Sci-Fi trilogy, the social messages are ordered so that more minor ones occur in the first novels, and the major ones at the end.

I have also completed the first two novels of a dark paranormal comedy trilogy consisting of The Substitute, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! and The Training Bra. Even in comedy social issues can be addressed. As with the Sci-Fi trilogy, the social statements start low-key in The Substitute, but become extremely strong by the end of Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! That doesn’t mean I’m up on a soap box beating readers with my opinions. What I tried to do was call attention to many issues critical to women that I believe haven’t been aired enough, and even though there is always a comical twist in Miss Havana’s actions, the problems she encounters are so shocking, yet so real, that they are impossible to miss.

Okay, by the time you reach this paragraph, you’re probably wondering if I write anything just for the fun of it. Good question. I’m not at all sure. The Substitute comes close, as does Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! Readers laugh all the way through those novels, but still get the message. I believe that’s the best I can ask for—to entertain, yet still call attention to issues that we, as a society, should address.

Here are a couple of examples from Aftermath Horizon to demonstrate insertion of social issues into the storyline:


In the silence of that abandoned building, a structure specifically constructed to propagate knowledge, I’m struck by the irony of it all. Without places like this, without the accumulation of knowledge, we might still have a world. Without the knowledge to engineer a foreign life form, people would still exist. My body stiffens with rage as a surge of righteous indignation and anger flashes through it, and for a moment I’m paralyzed by revulsion and hatred. So senseless! So stupid! What gave the Islamists the right to play God? Did they REALLY believe killing everyone would purify the world for Allah, or get them virgins in Heaven?


I see it and believe his interpretation is correct. “Kind of ironic, isn’t it? The same ability of mind that allowed mankind to eradicate itself twice before us permitted man to evolve into us. Unlike our predecessors, we don’t exist because of a fluke of natural selection, but by the intentional design of man, the first people genetically engineered to survive in a world toxic to all previous humans. How many times, David? How many times do you think that has happened?”


Aftermath Horizon and my Sci-Fi trilogy are available from http://www.xoxopublishing.com/, and most are on Amazon.com as well. The Substitute is available in PDF from http://www.solsticepublishing.com/ and in Kindle format on Amazon.com.

Thank you, Sweet and Sexy Divas, for having me here today. It’s always fun to talk about the issues that drive me to write, and social issues are very much at the top of the list.


James L. Hatch







Tina Donahue said...

How right you are, James - writing is addictive. Your novels are wonderful. Keep writing. :)

Michael said...

James, keep going. I am pulling for you.

:) I always enjoy reading your excerpts and your messages are spot on!

Continued Success fellow XOXO author... :)

S.Lira aka Michael M/Rawiya/BL

Sarah J. McNeal said...

The more you write, the more perfected your skills become so keep at it.
I did not know that 9/11 got you into writing but I'm always the last to know.
I love science fiction. I like it filled with technological possibilities that seem real because they're based in truth. Good science fiction has a social message. In my opinion, that's what makes it one of the best genres in fiction because it predicts an outcome for humanity if things don't change from the path we're on.
Great blog, James.

Redameter said...

You are right about Star Trek it was way before it's time, and much welcomed. It is perhaps one of the few shows that was so before it's time that could possibly be accepted.

I write social issues into my books, but usually with a subtle hint of it. For instance,Jodi's Journey is about a woman who sought abortion during the 1800's just before it was taboo legally, yet morally already taboo.
It also tackles the "coward" and makes us see that sometimes cowardise is not what it seems.

Good luck with your endeavors.

Love and blessings

Delaney Diamond said...

James, I write for entertainment, but I also insert issues that are important to me into my stories.

I created a charity for women called Second Chance Closet in my first book, and I'm playing with the idea of having a character in a future book work for an Innocence Project-like organization. It's appalling to me that so many people have spent tens of years in prison for crimes they didn't commit. I can't imagine the level of despair and frustration they feel.

Great post!

Fiona McGier said...

James, that is why sci-fi fans are always referred to as "cult audiences", or "geeks". Whereas most people don't like to think at all, they think a lot about the problems that plague humanity, and they try to suggest solutions with their writings. Roddenberry was a moralizer ahead of his time...a tiny thimble-full of his ashes is forever floating in space now, along with some of Timothy Leary, and others. They finally got to go into outer space.
Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

Great post and I love your writing style. I already have "The Substitute" and I'm enjoying it. I think I'll be adding more of your books to my TB list.
G W Pickle

Grace Elliot said...

Its strange how people discover writing for so many different reasons, but so often it is as a form of therapy for the writer - myself included.
Grace x