Deborah Jackson

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What You Shouldn’t Write (But I Do).

In recent years, I’ve heard this phrase commonly used by editors and agents: “nothing didactic.” Or this one, “eliminate the deep moral themes.” Ruled by my defiant nature, (a quality my son shares, although it exhibits itself in his refusal to read, an issue that gives me constant pain) I ignored them.

My books, although laden with adventure, always explore complex issues, deep moral themes and are sprinkled with facts, scientific jargon and hopefully fresh material for kids and adults to learn and grow (as I did, when I researched them). Every learning opportunity for me is another for my readers.

Why would I ignore trends, the voices of experience? Have you ever re-read a book that was superficial, empty, and reiterated old and dreary facts? Have you ever recommended a book that didn’t touch you in some way? You might have said to a friend: “It’s okay. It’s a light read.” You might have even thrust it into their hands so you wouldn’t have to get rid of it yourself. A light read might make it up to the bestseller list—we know who you are—but it won’t be talked about for years to come (unless it’s mocked and scorned). Dracula, however, will never go away. There’s nothing sparkly about real evil.

The Hunger Games fled my shelf recently, (because my daughter lent it to a friend who lent it to a friend, etc.) and I had to re-purchase it for my class, because it’s an example of a book that doesn’t shy away from complex issues: communism/fascism and the importance of that one defiant voice (such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela). A student told me how a friend borrowed The Book Thief from the library, and then someone stole it. ;) No doubt this happened because it’s such a good read: Nazi Germany, death—are those light themes?

Books rich with details of history or science, Wilbur Smith’s Egyptian series or Cryptonomicon, are examples of those that I will not part with (unless someone lends them to a friend, who then lends them to a friend, etc.)

I do write fast-paced, action-packed thrillers. But I still want the book to linger in your mind long after you've read it. I want you to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that the Piri Reis map, copied and recopied over hundreds of years, and originating long before modern ground-penetrating radar and satellite images, displayed all the contours of Antarctica without the ice sheet.” Or something along those lines, but not quite so longwinded. Or you might say, “Cool,” regarding nanobots that could replace heart surgeons. Maybe the description of a cave in Sinkhole will inspire you to visit caves, even those slick with “bloody” bat urine from vampire bats. Or maybe not. But if they will make you ponder the desperation of people caught in the trap of poverty, or the shades of grey to every human being, even apparently evil ones, or the injustice of the past that filters into the present, then I have done my job. Because I refuse to write an empty book. (If you haven’t noticed, generally Book 2 of most trilogies is simply “filler.”) And even if you’re picking up a book to escape the real world, I hope it will still touch you on the journey.

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