There used to be a time when the search terms 'David' and 'Noceti' would bring up a long list of links leading back to a spat between the one time Miss Universe, Andrea Noceti, and David Letterman. During those days I never put my real name on the net, and always went by handles so I had nothing to worry about. Eventually, I wanted to be taken seriously, and so I started using my name. Big mistake.
Well, not really. A search for my name now brings up pretty much everything that I want it to bring up, although not in the order that I would like. Damihjva's link in the comments last week to this livejournal post regarding agents doing searches on writers, and allowing those results to weigh in on their decision of representation got me to thinking, “Just what is out there under my name?”
About three pages in I found a link to my old MySpace blog, my very political MySpace blog. Don't bother searching for it, they're all gone save for a short writing piece and a poem by someone else. But I didn't stop there, I kept going and going. Some 20 pages in I was still finding links to my name. I found comments on a forum that I have not been to in years (DELETED), and even some comments on an agent blog that were not made in sound judgment (DELETED). I dug until I could dig no more and erased my footprints as best I could.
My wife thinks that this is sad. I just think that it is part of the price we pay. To throw the fluffy bunny artist card or pitch a fit about how “I'm a person too and I'm entitled to my opinions,” is to be willingly ignorant of how our society acts.
Then I got into a rather rousing debate with another writer about the importance of speaking out for truth. My opinion at the end of it all: Keep your mouth shut. Until such time as you reach the heights of Orson Scott Card and have people read you in spite of your belief that “Most Americans report mostly conservative viewpoints on most issues,” (actual studies disagree with Card) I suggest you keep quiet. I know people who have stopped reading Card altogether after discovering his political views, and he's a respected writer. As nobodies, we don't have such luxuries.
I know, I know, that's not what “Democracy” is about. What will it lead to if we all silence ourselves? When I was searching for images related to the search term “shut up,” I found a number of fabricated U.S. Military posters telling citizens to keep their mouths shut. I also found that Dixie Chicks poster up at the top of the article.
Honestly, that scares me. The Dixie Chicks were huge. They were respected. And almost overnight they were torn down. I've watched Shut Up and Sing, and it wasn't pretty.
Now, someone somewhere said that the best thing to do for book sales is get your book banned. Don't ask me where I heard it, I just remember hearing it. Maybe for some books it works. It might have worked for Slaughterhouse Five (maybe that's where I heard it, an NPR interview with the author) but it sure as hell didn't work for the Dixie Chicks. Sure, they're still making music, but they've been cut down at the knee. They'll never rise higher than where they are or even get that big again.
Never mind the possibility of backlash, what about simply manipulating the reader's perception of the material? Let's face it folks, our opinions about politics and religion will color the lenses of our readers. And I don't know about you, but when I'm reading I really don't wan to know these things about the authors. I was perfectly happy with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was younger. Then I found out that it was Christian allegory and all of a sudden a lion wasn't a lion anymore. I'm sorry, but if I want to read that story I'll pick up my Bible, I don't need C.S. Lewis to whack me over the head with it. People try to cram their ideologies down our throats every day. When I'm reading escapism, I'm in part trying to get away from that.
I want a reader to come into my story with their own thoughts and experiences. I want them to look at it with no preconceived notions of what I'm trying to tell them. I'm sorry, but after finding out the religious leanings of some authors that I've read, I've forever looked at their work differently. Somewhere in the back of my head I'm thinking, “Are they trying to make a religious statement here? Is this scene an allegory?”
There's one last piece to this puzzle. It's when you as the writer set out with an agenda. One of the writing books that I read very early on talked about this point and it stuck with me. At the time I was doing exactly that, writing with an agenda.
The author warned his readers to stay away from such preaching. I wish I could remember the book's name but the advice went something like this, “Write the story in your heart, make the characters real, and your message will come through the writing.” Forcing it hits your reader over the head with the mallet of obvious.
When I stopped and thought about it, the advice rang true. Back then I was fresh off of a Dune kick. It's one of my all time favorites. When I talk to people about it, about what I took away from it, what resonated with me the most, they often scratch their heads.
You see, when I got done reading Dune I wasn't worried about social structures, how we are the mere pawns of those in power, I wasn't even worried about predestination and our possible impact on it, what I was wrapped up in was this notion of conservation. Every time I ran a faucet I had this nagging in the back of my head about how precious a resource water was. Show of hands, does anyone think that Herbert set out to write a manifesto about water conservation? Hell no. But could that have been something he was concerned about that just so happened to seep into his writing? Yeah.
So get off of your soap box, stop preaching, and start telling a true story. Breathe life into your characters. Honestly represent their views, and your ideologies will show through even when you try to tell the story without your bias.
Or start an online political column where you preach your own world view. I'm sure that not too many agents will be all that worried about how it will impact sales.
So, did you find anything interesting in your Google search?
Update: Forgot that I wanted to link to this as well. Literary Agent, Janet Reid's take on keeping your mouth shut, or thinking you're wearing a invisibility cloak as she put it.