Opening Minds through Fiction
It wasn’t until I was in the thick of writing my mystery series that I realized I was not only trying to tell a story, but I was also making personal statements. These statements were subtle, or at least I thought so, until I soon learned that readers picked up on them. Amazingly, some of these stances had come across unconsciously, which proved to me that the age-old adage of write what you know is die-hard true. An author does it whether she realizes it or not.
It Started with Love of Place
The novels are set in rural South Carolina, in places most people outside the state have not heard of. My home state is awash in beauty and culture, and that Southern charm is steeped in its people, but it pained me that most books about the state were about Charleston, Hilton Head, or Myrtle Beach, and most people saw us as slow both in movement and intellect. Just like New York City doesn’t represent its entire people, these generalities don’t signify all of South Carolina. As a mystery novelist who’d spent years in agriculture, I knew that not all crime happens in the city, and frankly, crime in the country has an entirely different flavor. Strong people reside in the rural community, and I felt a need to demonstrate their love, tenacity, and power, showing the world how these people are as much a part of the Carolina fabric as the old Civil War tourist attractions up and down the coast.
Then It Grew with Adding Spice
The first in the Carolina Slade Mystery Series is Lowcountry Bribe, set on Edisto Island. Not only did the reader delve into the loneliness that is the aging farmer, but via the protagonist’s daily life outside sleuthing, they also became privy to how spousal abuse can impact everyday life. It didn’t even register with me that I was making a statement about abuse until readers started thanking me for painting it so accurately. What started as added stress to the main character’s efforts to solve a case became a force that threatened to pull her down and disable her in terms of a professional, a mother, and an individual. Some of those scenes still give me goose bumps. Women’s shelter counselors, and women who’d endured abuse, praised my depiction, and thanked me for understanding.
Then History Became Important
In Tidewater Murder, I introduced readers to St Helena Island, and the historic Gullah community. Descended from rice and indigo plantation slaves, the Gullah residents of the area have scraped for a living since their arrival to the Carolina Lowcountry in the late 1600s. Captured by their own kin from Sierra Leone and neighboring African countries, they were shuttled to the Caribbean, stored like chattel often for years at a time, then sold to plantation owners in America. During those long years, their language morphed by necessity so they could communicate and survive. The Gullah language is a composite of African languages, Caribbean dialects, and English. It’s awesome to hear, and contains a romanticism that is eroding over time. So why not include them in my book? Why not show the world that here stands a people, an entire culture, that’s quietly dying yet worth preserving?
Then Bigotry Reared its Head
In Palmetto Poison, the third in the series, politics came into play, to include bigotry on several levels. I wanted to show how some people achieve personal gain by hiding, downplaying, and degrading particular groups, and how much damage that mistreatment can cause over a long period of time. Mental illness, gay rights, and even the nudist culture play minor roles in the book, but in the end, all three have a major impact in the mystery’s conclusion. Again, subtle but strong messages.
People run in busy circles these days, few with the time to do research into cultures, environments, and lifestyles they don’t get exposed to. However, such exposure can be incorporated into fiction, not only by educating, but also by giving those issues and people three dimensions, placing them into settings and stories where the information can be more readily absorbed by the reader.
Fiction is powerful when dealing with culture, lifestyle, and beliefs. Storytelling gives a face to parts of the world and their civilizations, painting new cultural views, teaching people to value differences and encourage hope. Such connectivity aims to open minds and unite humanity, allowing more in the universe to welcome peaceful activism, or maybe just understand the other side.
BIO: C. Hope Clark is author of the award-winning Carolina Slade Mystery Series and the soon-to-be-released Edisto Beach Series. She also manages her website FundsforWriters.com, chosen by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 14 years. Forty thousand writers read her newsletters each week. She travels the country speaking. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina where a new mystery is always in progress. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com
Writing for Peace News
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