In the same way that many television series have an A and a B story (and sometimes even a C) each week, often times it seems that in crime writing, writing about crime isn't sufficient. We also want write about "issues."
At 'book-ie' events, including at the recent Word Vancouver festival, it is not uncommon to hear writers talk about their fictional works being framed around a real-life social, political or economic issue they wish to explore. Indeed, there are perceived sub-genres in the field so readers who wish their crime books to be focused around poverty, or drug laws or prostitution.
To be sure, sometimes it happens by accident. In Last Dance (did you note the link to the Goodreads page?), Winston is defending the rights of a student who is forbidden from bringing his same-sex boyfriend to the graduation dinner and dance. I can't say that I specifically set out to right about gay rights issues (Last Dance origins story coming soon), or LGTBQ issues but sure enough, there I was at an LGTBQ educational display and on the table, among the books on display was Last Dance. When I asked the coordinator about it she replied "Your book is about a student who gets killed when he protests against the school for discriminating against him based on his sexual preferences. It is an LGBTQ book." Bammo - instant issue book.
I have heard other crime writers tell me they wanted to "explore" an issue through their fiction as well. One fellow panelist at the aforementioned festival, whose current series focuses on a transit security officer, stated quite publicly that there were "issues about public safety on transit" she was interested in delving into as part of her fiction and was working with sources who would able to provide her with inside information to that end. Her comment put me into chicken and the egg kind of thinking: what comes first - the issue or the story?
Certainly in my case, the story was what the story was and I suppose I began exploring the issue of how LGBTQ teenagers are treated as a result of my traveling down that story path. But I find it intriguing the idea of having an issue or cause about which I feel strongly and creating a story around it. Of course what concerns me most is that that seems like so much more work.
On the other hand, now that I've heard of these types of plans to develop stories to discuss issues I find myself worrying that if my stories aren't high minded enough to explore important elements of society's ills then they may not be serious enough for publication consideration.
In W3.doc, as I previously discussed, Winston is focused on determining the story behind the unusual disappearance of a former student. On the surface, a simple missing persons case that morphs into deeper problems the more Winston finds out. And certainly as the story develops, Winston will find that the bad guys are of a particular kind that have actually been in the news lately (which is sort of cool given that the idea for this book appeared several years ago). But I wouldn't yet call it "an issue." I'm not sure the reader is going to learn a whole lot about the issue by reading the book; I just think it might provide a little bit of interesting context for why things happen and give a little bit more depth to both the bad guys and the victims.
Hopefully that will be enough. Otherwise I better start scouring the news for my next major issue to turn into W4.doc. Hmmm....how would a high school law teacher solve the government shut down in the U.S.?
Next week: another review - this time of a new book by a fellow local author.