I am pleased to present the following by D.J. Manly. His commentary about writer responsibility is spot-on regardless of what genre you read or write, and if you’ve read his work then you know he follows his own advice.
D.J. is an accomplished writer of m/m romance, whom I respect and admire a great deal and I am thrilled to no end that he has given me permission to post this.
I have hired myself out for the day as a blog s**t…thanks to all of you who decided to take me on!
I’ve been sick with a bad cold for the last few days, something rare for me. I haven’t contracted any virus of any kind for the past two or three years. This one more than made up for it. I lost my voice…scary…for someone who teaches…my poor employee has been running the office…in between receiving instructions from me via telephone in my barely audible voice. She’s wonderful.
Somewhere in my haze of cough syrup and Tylenol, emerged clarity. I’ve had nothing to do except be sick which means I’m restless as hell, given my usual 70 hour work week, including writing. And although I did manage to do some writing, I mainly goofed off.
I discovered that sometimes goofing off produces….clarity? I said that already, didn’t I? And D.J…will you please get to the point some poor reader sighs! Well…given my busy life, I rarely have time to just leisurely browse the internet, and as I did, I began to ponder (dangerous when I ponder)…the questions of ethics, and social responsibility. As an educator, I’ve always been conscious of the power I have to (and I have to be careful with which verb I choose here or I’ll get strung up)…sway, enlighten, manipulate, educate….it all depends on who is doing the talking and your take on what they’re saying I suppose…but I don’t think anyone would disagree that a teacher has the power to influence the thinking of their students for the good or the bad.
Well, as writers, we have that power too, and not just those kinds of writers who wrote our high school history books…but also those of us who write fiction. With power, comes responsibility, something often forgotten by those in higher places but that’s for another time when I catch something. Remember that list of guidelines publishers have when you sign up? We all know what they are so I won’t bore you with the details…some of legal like…others just good taste.
I don’t take the fact lightly that many, many people read what I write all over the world, and that some people don’t analyze every detail in a book like I do. University trained my brain to think that way but most people read my books for leisure, to be entertained. Some of my readers write me and tell me they learn things also.
They may learn about social practices or customs in places they know little about, or new laws pertaining to this group or that. Sometimes they come to see love between people of the same sex from a new perspective if they’re reading this genre for the first time, or they become more conscious of discrimination in their own environment. For me, it’s a fringe benefit. Although I write primarily to entertain, all books have a setting, a time period, variables which interact with the characters. It is what helps to drive the plot forward. Characters have social class, race, nationality, history, issues, and so forth. Any self respecting author who takes their craft seriously must commit to doing their homework before they write a book. You don’t write a book set in Montreal, Canada and say that “John is staring dreamingly at the C.N. Tower.” Ah…the C.N. Tower is in Toronto. That said…let me ask you, would you describe the beautiful wedding which took place in the deep south in the 1940s between a man of color and white woman? No, because someone would tell you that what you are describing would have been impossible in that time. You may write about the love between this man and woman and make the story about how they long to be together but can’t due to racism but can you really negate the history that some people had to endure by pretending in your book it never existed? No, you can’t because it shows a blatant disrespect for the culture or history you are borrowing from. And that’s what bothers me the most. We can’t pretend that it’s fine for two men to walk down the street kissing in Saudi Arabia where that would bring a death sentence? Why? Because people actually die there. It’s not fiction. It’s not a fun story. Make your story ring true or create your own perfect universe. Call it Zanazel, for all I care, and make it homophobia free!
Some people reading this right now are asking themselves what in the world is that guy getting all worked up for? Why can’t I tell my story anyway I want? It’s just a story, not real. As a writer I can make anything true. But to me, it really cheapens the craft of writing to tell a story within a backdrop that rings false. At one time, electronic books had little respect and in all fairness, I’ve seen some books out there that I have to shake my head at. I have no idea why these books were published in the first place. But I also see some phenomenal writers in this industry, and you know who you are… :)….and these writers do have social responsibility, they are conscious of what they write and the power they have. These writers make me proud of my craft. They enrich it and they elevate writing to more than just another story. Those of you beginning, please, do justice to the culture or the situation you set your story in. You don’t have to be one hundred percent accurate but either know your backdrop or change it. It’s just an element of good writing and shows that you respect the power you hold.
If you want to be a serious writer then be conscious of the messages you send in your stories. And we all send messages whether we know what they are, or not. Unfortunately you can’t just write a story without including some reality, and if you’re going to put it forth as reality, make sure you’ve done your research, or…make up your universe and create your own reality, that’s a good way around it. Because telling me that the C.N. Tower is in Montreal…no matter how riveting your story is, makes me start to disbelieve all of it. And when I read, I want to believe. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?