Wow. My first reaction was simply no. I write what I write. It’s contemporary, yes, but at the end of the day, it's fiction. I attempted to answer in this way, explaining that I prefer lighter topics with happy endings and, at least with the series I’m currently writing, don’t plan to change it much. The person I was speaking with didn’t agree. One of my main characters is a small-town sheriff. How could I not reference the violence against police officers happening right now in our country?
I wanted to answer, “Because I don’t want to.” I didn’t. Instead, I tried to explain that I don’t often make references to specific current events or actual dates in my stories precisely because I don’t want them to be pinned to a specific date. I realize that down the road, as technology and the world changes, it won’t be difficult to determine at least the approximate time frame in which the books take place, but I don’t want to pin it down more than it has to be. Referencing current events would do just that.
But I really wanted to say, “Because I don’t want to.” Shout it, maybe.
I thought about that question for a long time afterwards. Should my stories reflect what’s happening in the world? Is it realistic to write about someone in law enforcement and not at least mention the fear, the danger, and the unknown of the everyday? And what about the world at large? If my characters are traveling, do I talk about taking extra precautions, about being aware of possible terrorist attacks at airports, train stations, or even restaurants? Do I give the impression that I’m not paying any attention to what’s going on in the world and in my own back yard if I don’t incorporate some of it into my books?
“Because I don’t want to.” I kept hearing the words over and over in my head. So, do I ignore the news, simply go to my happy place in my current book and never look at the headlines? No. A thousand times no. I’m glued to the headlines. I have my phone apps set to give me notifications when there’s a breaking news story. Don’t think for a minute that I’m not fully aware of every shooting and every terrorist attack. I have a son who will be leaving in just a few weeks to study for a semester in Europe. He will be in Germany and Austria, in and around Munich specifically, where the environment has been anything but stable. Or safe. I have relatives who are police officers. I worry constantly and sleep little. So no, I am not ignoring the news, but I’ve decided that’s precisely why I don’t, and won’t, delve too deeply into the sad and horrific in my writing. More than ever, I need happy. I can’t be the only one.
When I’m in writing mode, I’m immersed in the story and the setting of the story. Sure, my characters face problems and heartache, but they are the problems and heartache that exist in their world. Their fictitious world. I don’t feel the need to bring real-world events into their world. If I’d allow that, then I would never escape those issues and neither would my readers. And sometimes I need to escape. Just for a little while.
When I choose a book to read or a movie to watch, I go for the happy ending or the silly comedy whenever I can. I don’t need to be reminded of the bad while I’m reading or watching something for entertainment. The headlines will be there when I’m done. I’ll catch up on anything I missed. Or, if it’s urgent, my phone will alert me. But hopefully, for a couple of hours, I forgot about all the bad and just relaxed and laughed. If my stories can do the same for someone else, then I’ve done what I set out to do.
So I’ll continue to write about happy endings, keeping the unhappy current events separate from my stories.
And I’ll continue to pray for a world in which such a topic doesn’t even have to be discussed.