Thriller 101

Thinking about Theme: What does it mean to be socially conscious?

January 30, 2023 David Season 3 Episode 0
Thinking about Theme: What does it mean to be socially conscious?
Thriller 101
Show Notes Transcript

Solo-Social Consciousness

David Gwyn: [00:00:00] So do you think about theme when you're writing? Do you make decisions in your plot to ensure you're making some point about the world we live in? Do you even need to. If you're anything like me, you spend countless hours thinking about character and plot. 

You probably pour over craft books and think critically about your pacing. Maybe you story grid or you story genius, or you saved the cat. But what do you have for theme? And do you need to have anything? I'm David Gwyn, a writer, querying, a finished manuscript while writing a new project and trying to navigate the world of traditional publishing along the way. 

During this new season of the podcast, I'm asking agents, book, coaches, and authors about the best way to write a novel. If you want the experts secrets, this is where you're going to find them. Last time on the podcast. I talked to debut author L girl, about what her experience was like while working with her literary agent. 

And what we can expect from this important relationship.[00:01:00]

Elle Grawl: just because a project maybe isn't working now doesn't mean that it won't ever be able to work. So if you can just push through to the next project. That's like a newer, fresher thing to get you excited about writing. I think as long as you can power through the next idea each time, don't give up on those other ones.

David Gwyn: That interview is linked in the description. If you want to check it out. 

Today. I want to talk about writing books that resonate with the time we live in. For some of you, you may think that this doesn't apply to your writing. Respectfully, I think you're wrong. But let me explain. I like to think about social consciousness as an experience of shared social identity, basically. 

What is our society's identity. How do we as a society function and more specifically for you, how does the world of your story exist in relation to the social issues in the quote unquote, real world? 

During today's episode. I want to [00:02:00] explore some of the ideas authors and agents and editors have shared with me about how to write a book that is. Aware of the social issues we face in our society. After all. The greatest books we've ever read are often so great because they tell us as much about ourselves and about our place in the world, as they do just entertain us. 

So while we talk all the time on the podcast about how to write a compelling book and whether or not to outline or how to find an agent. Today's episode is going to be a little bit different. 

Recently, I got to talk to author, Aaron, Phillip Clark. He's in. International thriller writers, award nominated novelist, and screenwriter. His most recent series is inspired by his experiences in the LAPD and was published by Thomas and Mercer. We talked about his popular series and how he thinks about the social justice aspects of his story. 

I asked him what he thinks about as he's writing his books. Here's what he had to say. 

Aaron Philip Clark: Well, I think a lot about the [00:03:00] characters. So I always started there and I think there's a universal quality to Trevor Finnegan. And you know, while folks may say, well, I don't identify cause I'm not a cop, or I don't identify because I'm not a black male.

Or I didn't grow up in California, Southern California. But I think there's a universal quality. That exists within how he interacts with his father and how he deals with past trauma and the death of his mother, and all these things that people can can understand and relate to. And that's kind of where I start.

And then the themes, I think, emerge from, in his case, how he operates as a charact. 

David Gwyn: Aaron is insanely talented and has such a cool background. His episode will be out sometime next month. So be sure to subscribe to the podcast if you don't already. So you don't miss that. But for the purposes of today's episode, I want to highlight the way he uses imperfect characters to highlight the complexities of life. 

Putting your [00:04:00] characters in difficult positions makes us as readers find out what they're really like and what they're made of. By putting your character in a position to make a moral judgment you can do so in a way that reflects your values and the way you maybe want to see the world. So be critical about your use of character and be cognizant 

of the stands you have your character make. Aaron tells this really cool story about his uncle, who was a police officer and how he talked to guy off of a bridge using Michael Jackson. It's a great character study in and of itself and reflects in many aspects the way Aaron seems to think about building his characters. 

So again, be sure to subscribe. So you catch that episode. Okay. Okay. So let's talk about plot and an upcoming interview. I talked to Ausma Zehanat Khan about the book she writes. Ausma the author of black waterfalls, a new crime series published by Minotaur books. It's this really compelling police procedural type novel that blends, social justice and crime in these really amazingly fleshed out [00:05:00] characters. Here's what she said about identifying her story ideas.

Ausma Zehanat Khan: Back in 2020 and we saw the nationwide protest, perhaps the most significant social justice protests in the history of the United States after the civil rights move. And I could see how polarized Americans were, how differently they were viewing what, to me seemed like a very obvious case of police misconduct and police brutality.

And that got me interested in these questions of why policing is so divisive in the United States. And I wanted to write about that, not just in terms of how it impacts the black community, but also how state power Im it impacts the undocumented in this country, how it targets other vulnerable minorities.

Muslims which is my own background, and I wanted to look at how these communities intersect and the kind of solidarity we have been trying to build and continue to try to build. So that's kind of the overall picture of why I've been so interested in writing a, a story like Black Waterfalls.

David Gwyn: So for Ausma, it's really about finding a moment that matters finding a topic or event that has social national or international significance. [00:06:00] And giving it a life outside that context. 

Thematically speaking, she's able to weave wonderful characters into these stories that reflect and comment on the world around us. When we to do this is to think about something that happened in the last few months or even years that totally. I drew your attention. I mean, you would find yourself reading any article you could about this topic. You watched the news when they were reporting on it and you turn to the news off. Once the report was over. Seriously, really think I'll give you a second. 

Okay. Do you have something? Now. How can you fictionalize it? Given the genre, you enjoyed a writing. And there you go. You did what Ausma did with her novels. Again, her full interview drops next month. So. Don't miss it. Subscribe right now. 

Okay, let's run it back. I talked to two authors, two agents, and an editor about. 

Socially relevant writing in past episodes. So let's start with author, Rob Hart. [00:07:00] Rob is the author of six novels, including the paradox hotel and the warehouse, which sold in more than 20 countries. He's going to share what he has to say about how he comes up with the 

plots and themes for his books. One of which the warehouse. Was option for film by Ron Howard? Yeah. That Ron Howard here's Rob. 

Rob Hart: It's always something that really bothered me, you know, the way systems of power are set up to hurt people and keep people down. I mean, even you know, I wrote a, a sort of like a private detective series called the, the Ash McKenna series and in the fifth book of that series, I, I was writing about the heroin crisis.

And even though there are very street level books, I made sure to point out that, you know, all of the onus for the heroin crisis is really on the shoulders of people like the Sackler family and like these rich people who decided they wanted to make money on opiates and, drove this crisis into existence.

Because I think that's something that we don't. Think about enough is how large [00:08:00] corporations, large businesses, billionaires, like they really treat us like the food they need to eat to grow bigger. And, and we're not always cognizant of that, that, that, that's always something that I've wanted to write about, cuz it's just makes me angry.

And I like writing about stuff that makes me angry. 

David Gwyn: So what makes you angry when you look around at the world we live in what pisses you off. Right about that at the very least writing angry will help you keep the fire and ensure you make it through the draft. Plus writing with theme in mind can sometimes even help you make plot decisions. 

Alright next let's hear from Josh Stallings. Josh was a really cool interview and, and even more interesting guy, we talked a lot about building characters that reflect the world around us. Specifically in doing it in a way that is respectful. 

But through this funny story about buying a prostitute breakfast, he shares one of his most valuable insights into how to write socially conscious narratives. Here's Josh. 

Josh Stallings: And had breakfast, you know, at three in the [00:09:00] morning with a prostitute who was out, who's a street walker. And said, Do you wanna have breakfast? And she said, I, I, I, yeah, no, I'm kind of tied. The night's done for me. I said, No, we're not sex. I'm talking breakfast. So getting to know real humans gave me somebody to think about when I was writing it, to hold my stuff up against, Is this real, isn't it?

You know what? That where you can go. If she saw this, would she be okay with the way I portrayed her? It puts some, it puts some of my own skin in the. Like, not that, then she will, cuz I will change enough things so no one will quite know it. But in my mind I think, would she be okay? Have I, have I done honor to what she did, spending the night telling me her story.

It's a, so that's, that's a how to is don't Google, but get out in the world. 

David Gwyn: So there go out. Do the work put boots on the ground. It'll make your stories much more interesting. Both Josh and Rob's interviews are linked in the description. If you want to hear more and trust me, you want to [00:10:00] hear more. 

Okay, maybe you're thinking to yourself. Fine. They're writers. But what about agents are agents looking for books that take on socially relevant themes? From the agent side of things. What might your future representation be thinking about your manuscript when you query. Let's find out. Here's Emmy Nordstrom Higdon who holds a PhD in justice oriented social work. They're a member of the planning team for the festival of literary diversity faculty member at the manuscript academy and the literary agent at Westwood creative arts. 

This makes Emmy the perfect person to share about the importance of socially conscious writing. 

Emmy Nordstrom Higdon: I really want a book that is going to , encourage people to think differently about the world around them, and just open their mind more to different ideas, you know? And like I'm a pretty like lefty, progressive person, so I guess that's my bias when I'm looking for books.

But in terms of the way that the books behave in a socially conscious way, I think that's like the baseline for me is that I wanna read a book that is going to be. You know, I always tell people I want it to like hurt a little, to put it down , [00:11:00] you know, you want, everybody secretly loves that feeling where like you're, you know, you have to like, go to the grocery store, go whatever, like go to bed.

But like, you just wanna read one more chapter That feeling to me is like so perfect. And I was like the kid under the bedsheets at night with the flashlight, you know, staying up way too late. So I want those books, but also , if I'm gonna spend four months with something residing in my brain, I do want it to better the world in some way.

And I don't think that that means it has to be super serious or pedantic or even have like a specific kind of message. I just like it when books encourage people to think and encourage people to look at the world around them and examine it and ask questions, you know. And hopefully they'll draw, good, interesting conclusions from those questions.

But like in a perfect world, but I mean, the first step for a lot of people is just being nudged in that direction at all, right? A lot of people live really busy lives and are not necessarily taking the time to think about the impacts that their actions have. So I think that books that can [00:12:00] do that, like serve a really important purpose.

David Gwyn: So there you go. And if you want to hear more from Emmy, our interview is LinkedIn description. Okay. I got one more agent for you. Here's Amy Elizabeth, Bishop from DG and B. She shares one of my absolute favorite lines from any of my interviews. And something that made me rethink the way I write. 

Amy Elizabeth Bishop: when you're talking about liberty and justice and freedom and equality and you know, there's kinds of stories that really interrogate life and, and the bigger conversations we're having, I feel like all of my projects had wound up threading some element of social justice into them or trying to deepen conversations.

David Gwyn: Interrogating life. As writers. That's what we do. Writing books that are devoid of social context is a myth, in my opinion. Everything. Is situated historically in some way. As writers, we have to rise to that occasion. 

After all your favorite book probably told you something about yourself and the world that you live in. Don't you owe your readers the same courtesy. Okay. Okay. You're thinking fine. [00:13:00] Agents are interested, successful authors have done it. But what about editors are editors looking for this? 

Here's Chantelle Aimée Osman. She's an acquisitions editor at lake union publishing and the former editor of a Gora books. 

 Which is an imprint of Polis books. Here's what she, as an editor for a publishing house has to say in this funny story about pitching librarians at a luncheon. 

Chantelle Aimée Osman: I had my first list that was debuting. And we had acquired a few for his, that was fall of 2019. And then we acquired for spring and we had a librarian luncheon and they ask us to pitch like one book from our spring. And we chose Matthew Henson and the ice temple of Harlem, which is kind of a Indiana Jones doc Savage adventure set in Harlem in, in, you know, the roaring twenties turn of the century era with Matthew Henson who is actually a real life.

Person. He [00:14:00] was potentially the first man, but definitely the first black man to reach the Arctic circle. And so he had, he was this crazy adventure. And so Gary Phillips, who is an amazing author and a good friend of mine decided to reimagine him as this pulp hero. And it's absolutely perfect. So I pitched.

To these librarians and, and not to stereotype, but I have to say that the majority of these librarians were 70 plus female, you know, the, the very stereotypical, when you kind of imagine a librarian and not all librarians look like this, but this particular group did. And so I, I honestly did not know what.

When I pitched this to them and they came back with all my God. I've been waiting for a book like this. When is it out? When can I read it? Can you send it to me? And it exactly. And it made me so happy and I realized, you know, if I needed it reinforced that moment [00:15:00] reinforced. It, wasn't just me looking for these things and, and it, wasn't just the authors looking to publish, you know, there was this symbiosis of the books are out there and the readers are desperate for them.

David Gwyn: So there you have it. Successful authors are writing in a socially conscious way. Agents are looking for authors who are in tune with what's happening in the world. Editors are looking to acquire socially aware books. And best of all, readers are pining for these works. So dig into your manuscript a bit, figure out what you're trying to say about the world around you. 

Is it a message you hope to send out to readers? Think through what you want readers to take away from reading your manuscript. Because someday. Your book might be someone's favorite book. 

Next week, I'm talking to Liz. Alterman about her book, the perfect neighborhood. 

If you love thrillers, you're going to love this book. I'll see you next week