Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the most popular film stars were Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Astaire and Rogers, in particular, danced through spectaculars, filled with music and beautiful people. The Thin Man series also enjoyed success–clever amateur detectives in beautiful clothing, mingling with wealthy people in glamorous places and drinking an awful lot of gin.
Why? The theory has been people wanted to escape their troubles and to be entertained–they didn’t want to be reminded of the difficulties currently facing them.
Or did they?
Shirley Temple rarely seemed to have a mother, and more than once she was either kidnapped or witnessed an auto accident. Ginger Rogers frequently was out of work when she stumbled on the agile Astaire–though dancing with him usually carried her away to a brighter future. And for Nick and Nora Charles–well, murder, mayhem, police and thugs often were the order of the day.
I think of these storylines as I read queries about child abuse, vampires, Mafia tales, spousal abuse, forced abortions and mental illness. Frankly, it hurts to read some of the nonfiction projects that reveal terrible experiences people have endured. I’m amazed by their courage and ability to overcome horrific odds to write their stories. Some days, I want to weep at man’s inhumanity to man as described in these manuscripts.
These stories are important, but I have to read through the filter of a book buyer. Why would I want to read this manuscript? What can I take away from it? Who would benefit from this story? Is this a good time–American-psyche-wise–to tell this tale? How can this story be told in a way that entertains without preaching?
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a novel that “ignited” a war: Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But the main reason it succeeded was she took a timely tragedy–slavery–and built a story around it that touched readers’ hearts.
If you’re a writer with a difficult subject, how can you write about it in a way that sheds light without discouraging the reader? Do you know of any other books that do a good job in this vein?