Saturday, March 3, 2018

GRINDING AXES


When I’m reading a novel, nothing annoys me more than an author who interjects his or her own prejudices and/or politics into the narrative.

Except, of course, if I’m the author.

Truth is, I can’t help myself. I have a lot of axes to grind, and where better to grind them than in my thrillers and mysteries. In everyday life, when I spout off, it’s usually after the second martini, and everyone stopped paying attention to me midway through the first. But in a novel, after I’ve presumably hooked my readers with a few murders and sex scenes, I can usually say something that I think needs to be said. Hey, it’s a free country.

In various books, I’ve taken aim at Wall Street greed (like shooting fish in a barrel), as well as  academic elitism, the publishing industry, the media, unethical politicians (there may be a bit of redundancy here) and the sports establishment.

I try not to overdo it. I’m not writing polemics. I fully understand that most of my readers are more interested in other things (see murder and sex, above). And an author must pick the appropriate time to slide an opinion in the story. For example, it would be highly inappropriate for a couple locked in a steamy sexual encounter to stop what they are doing to reflect on the mid-term elections.

“Oh, God,” she moaned, writhing in the sweat-soaked satin sheets.

“Yes,” he gasped. “Now they will try to impose tariffs on aluminum.”

“Oh, God,” she screamed in ecstasy.

“Beer cans are made out of aluminum!” he shuddered.

 And I recognize another danger, of course. Sometimes I have to give a character an unpalatable opinion, usually in a conversation. Such conversations define the character as a racist, a bigot, a chauvinist, a sexist pig, ax murderer (as opposed to ax grinder), pederast, serial killer, or even a Red Sox fan, in ways that I assume (hope) the reader doesn’t associate with me.

 My protagonists are basically moral people, who usually know right from wrong and are offended by injustice. (I say “usually” – one of my characters is an assassin, but he only kills bad people.) When they offer an opinion, you can be pretty sure it’s one I hold.

Interestingly enough, some of the villains in my books (not the ones preceding the Red Sox fan above) also have a moral code, and I like them to express it on occasion. In fact, I think a societal pariah’s righteous indignation is a very powerful arrow in an author’s quiver.

Bottom line: If you are occasionally tempted to insert your own feelings into a narrative, succumb to the temptation. After all, you are what you write.

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