Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's all talk talk

The other day I read an author's blog where they stated their opinion about an unfolding news event. They were pretty clear where they stood on the issue and that brought up an interesting question. It was obvious to me that this writer felt so moved to write what she did, that it didn't matter the consequences of her actions. Would people feel any different toward her and her writing? Would they pass it off as just a rant or would they think twice the next time they went to pick up one of her books?

As writers (and the arts community in general), we're looked to as advocates of culture and spokes-folks for our society. After 9/11, the most outspoken voice was Bruce Springsteen and his disc, The Rising. When events unfold in our world, writers, authors, artists and musicians help us understand what's happening.

But where do we draw the line? How do we, as writers, express ourselves without offending people and thus losing readers? If I come out on one side of a political or religious discussion, some folks will agree with me and some won't, but is it so important for me to state my opinion that I'm willing to lose readers? I could very well ostracize myself from my fellow writers as well. Should we shy away from those topics that can turn incendiary in an instant? Or do we face the taboos and drag them out into the light, shining our own truths on them? As writers, our readers sustain us (in a financial sense) and keep us writing. Should we think of the consequences of our words before we post them for all the world to see?

My first publisher told me to start a blog and get on MySpace (remember that?) and get a website up, but don't write about any issues that could cost me readers. But some of these issues are quite complex and deserve to be discussed. Unfortunately, as I've seen with a recent news event, when people get passionate, they can get loud and when they come from the heart, they don't always think before hitting Publish or Send.

This is a problem with our electronic society. In our social isolationism, it's okay to say whatever you want because it's online and somehow, the consequences don't matter. But before I digress too far...

Conversely, in my next book, I can discuss any social issue and use my characters to come down on whatever side I choose. I can work out my own issues through my characters and call it fiction and it's all right. Of course by the time the book gets published, the issue could be history.

So where's the balance? If I tell you my political leanings, would that change whether you read my books? If I spoke out about religious issues, would you consider it inappropriate or justified because I have a right to speak? Can you separate the writer and his books from the writer and his opinions?

How do you handle discussing fiery topics on your blog or Facebook or wherever?

Gary . . .


  1. I think an artist (painter, writer, musician...) can expect to piss some people off in his or her career. That's the risk and the right of creating art.

    Now when it's not part of the art, that's harder to draw the line. But I don't think anyone should hide their political or social views out of risk of losing one or two readers here or there.

    Besides, if you're infusing your work with your personality, as you should be doing, you're probably not going to appeal to those people anyway. So why hide it in real life?

  2. Interestingly, I had someone "friend" me on MySpace because she loved my first book. When I saw her profile, she was so far in the opposite political direction that I was glad I hadn't posted any of my political ideology.

  3. I don't think the actual topic bloggers choose to discuss matters so much as the way they discuss it. I'm all for a good debate on the pros and cons of an issue, but when I see a blog entry with (say) the words, 'Those [insert string of foul words here] on the other side of the political fence' etc, not only do I skim over that entry, regardless of which side of the fence that person's on, I lower my opinion of that blogger. If he/she keeps posting rants like that, I stop reading that journal altogether.

  4. Gary, it depends wildly on how the controversial subject is being discussed. Is it thoughtful, intelligent commentary, or emotional, ill-conceived rambling? I've seen writers expect to build a readership base while calling people who disagree with them "Nazis", "communists" and "KKK members". Well, really, if someone called you those things, would you buy their books? Of course not.