I was enjoying coffee and cheesecake with three published friends when I asked something that had been niggling in my mind.
“When you write your books, do you have an agenda?”
It was not an innocent question. I had a feeling I knew what their first response would be.
“Absolutely not. I write for enjoyment and to give the reader a good novel,” said friend #1.
“Really?” I said, stirring creamer into my coffee. Then I pointed out that her first book dealt with past lives and the Mayan people. Her second book was about ancient Japan. “Seems to me you want to open people up to other cultures.
“Well, yes,” she agreed. “And I want to talk about the possibility of past lives because I believe in the idea.” Her next book will be about “the lack of harmony man has with the earth because of ego.” That's an ecological agenda.
The woman who just debuted her first novel in the fantasy genre still maintained she didn’t have an agenda. But, with a little nudging she admitted she believed in alien visitations and wanted her book to be about love, trust and honor. “But I didn’t do it consciously.”
Friend #3, a mystery writer, readily admitted “I wanted to create Christian characters but not in a book just for Christians. Although my characters screw up, they have a higher power. I didn’t want to write stereotypes.”
“Agenda” is not a dirty word. It doesn’t mean hitting people over the head with your viewpoint. It doesn’t have to be blatant. Webster defines it as “A plan of things to be considered.” I think that’s very important. An author needs to understand their own motivation for writing and to be very clear in their minds when they prepare to set down words on paper.
Authors have changed the world via novels with agendas. In 1906 Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle” and uncovered horrific practices in the meat packing industry that led to reform. Aldous Huxley warned us about a Brave New World, one of reproduction control and human conditioning as early as 1932. Ray Bradbury scared us with a future without books in Fahrenheit 451.
My friend, James Callan, posted about his latest in the post previous to this one. In A Silver Medallion he wrote a mystery about current slavery in America. J. A. Jance at the end of one of her novels tagged a warning to us about air bags taken from wrecking lots for the dangerous chemicals they contain. Would I have been aware of these issues without these books? Perhaps not.
I always have an agenda in my novels, my short stories and even my blogs. The seed of an idea stems from something that is currently bothering me. I’m not talking about major events like the recent deaths in Dallas. Yes, that is massive and needs to be addressed, but I’m not up for the task, it’s beyond my abilities. I would rather couch my agenda in the confines of a mystery and entertainment.
In Fools Rush In I wanted to present the meth drug culture and how it grew in my part of the country. It was something I dealt with every day in my job with the narcotics unit at the sheriff’s department. In Where Angels Fear I wanted to defend the right of people to their sexual preferences, whether I agree with them or not. In A Snitch In Time I addressed the issue of “Who is the better friend?” after discovering I fell short in that category. I also added lots of dead bodies and astrology. My more obvious agenda was to pull the curtain aside and demonstrate how astrology is used as a tool.
Do readers know they are being spoon fed my agendas? No, I don’t really think so. I believe they are reading for fun. But I do hope they are subconsciously absorbing what I have to say. Like Mary Poppins, I'm giving them a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.
And books that have no agenda? Like the photo above, they are simply beach reads.