So tonight I was on my way to pick up dinner for my wife and I, when I happened to turn on my radio and started listening to NPR. The show was a retrospective featuring “Tell Me More” host, Michel Martin. The discussion was largely about the effects that the decline of traditional newsprint media was having on public discourse and the distribution of information. As an aspiring author, the decline of printed media in favor of digital media and digital distribution has been something that has weighed heavily on my mind since I first decided to pursue this vocation. While speculative fiction is in no way synonymous with journalism, there are similarities. I’ll get to those in a bit, thought.
In the discussion, we are presented with a rather overly romantic view of the press room of big newspapers as being clearinghouses of ideas. In contrast, modern digital media tends to be far more sectarian and politicized. While the truth is far more complex than this and digital media as a whole is more inclusive of heretofore unheard of viewpoints, I do share some of their angst at the path modern journalism has taken. The demise of a room filled with intellects from different walks of life has yielded a far narrower and exclusive viewpoint than we might have seen even two decades ago.
We are living in a world of niche journalism, where you can find an outlet that can cater to some very specific and very myopic explanations of the world at large and the events occurring around us. Journalism no longer seems to be about expressing the world around us in its starkest, most naked way and instead is allowing the reader to tell the information-givers exactly what they want to hear and how they want to hear it. Even perennial favorites and -for the most part- equal opportunity truthsayers Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are guilty of the little sin of couching their facts in the shroud of humor. I’ll be the first to admit that the world as we know it has ample fodder for sarcasm and parody, but I can’t help thinking that it is far easier to forget a travesty that is expressed with humor than one told in earnestness. That being said, I applaud these two men for finding a way to give us news and reality without falling into rhetoric, a sad aspect of both the liberal and conservative news outlets.
I could go on about this for hours, because I am truly troubled and truly outraged that we -meaning Americans- are so caught up in partisan bile and obstructionism that we are systematically making ourselves both less informed and less equipped to handle the world as it is. If you tell a child enough times for enough years that they are perfect and infallible, they will not only no longer believe otherwise innately but will lack the mental and emotional flexibility to consider anything other than the ‘truth’ you’ve given them. They are as indoctrinated as religious zealots. The same is true for the greater political populace. We are losing the ability to consider and evaluate. It’s not simply a matter of being sure of our positions; its not about refusing to allow others to have their own positions. In Four Theories of the Press, Fredrick Siebert forwarded the idea that free expression is self-correcting: “Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.” We have to strive to protect and ensure that, though. We must be willing to not only consider but also champion contrasting or contrary opinions and positions. We can not be a one-note culture, where we only believe what is easiest to digest. That is the mind-death of our civilization.
So, why the rant on a writing blog?
Well, beyond the fact that I do not think you can be a successful or insightful writer without being acutely aware and concerned with the world we live in and the course we are taking, I also think there is a lesson to be learned within the act of writing and crafting a narrative. I touched on this slightly in my last post, but as I’ve been mapping out my series of novels, I’ve began to find myself bringing in aspects from other genres, some that have even surprised myself. The obvious ones of course would be horror, romance, and mystery. But one of the arcs in my fourth book will come an immaculately coiffed hair short of being ‘chic lit’. As in Sophie Kinsella kind of ‘chic lit’. While a part of me rebelled against the thought of that, it struck me how narrow-minded that inner recoil was.
It is an old, yet very true, axiom that reading is writing and writing is reading. Good writers are also avid readers. Excellent writers read outside of their own genre. I cannot say that I have fared well on that account, but I can thankfully say I have a wife who is both a wonderful editor and critic and an amazing resource for literature I may not be familiar with (she also makes a delicious carbonara, among a million other delicacies). Still, I can’t be afraid of what is alien or unknown to me, what might seem strange or out of place. I must embrace it.
In the framework of the story I will be telling at that point, a little ‘chic lit’ inspired storyline would fit perfectly. It enhances the characters and their motivations at that time. It will be a challenge but I don’t think that is in any way a negative aspect to the endeavor. Being too hide-bound, too traditional, too ‘far up my own arse’ (so to speak) will dull the point of what I’m trying to write. I want this to a be a swashbuckling steampunk saga, but life is not always about swashbuckling and in a world as complex as I am trying to make it, there must be more than steam engines and deck cannons and air pirates. It must be more than just the action. It must be about life in that world, love, and fun. That makes the stakes higher and the peril greater.
It’s comfortable being in a bubble, but the view is always distorted. If you write in a bubble, then the story can’t help but be distorted. In so many venues of today’s life, I think it is high time we burst those bubbles.