Our September Round Robin Blog poses this question: Most novels have an easily understood point to make to the reader, do your stories ever have more subtle or intuitive themes?
GOOD QUESTION! I almost opted not to participate this month since every time this specific question comes up when I’m discussing a current work in progress with a critique partner, my answer is always “I don’t know.” Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I personally fail to ask myself those questions about my own life. When tragedy or hardship comes into my life, and there has been plenty, I never ask myself what lesson am I supposed to learn. I’ve been hurt. I’ve cried. I’ve had setbacks and hurdles to overcome, had my trust betrayed, my love scorned, lost precious family members far before their time. And yet, I never ask if there was a lesson to be learned. SO, maybe it’s me and my survivor approach to life that leaves me stumbling when someone asks what the theme of my story is.
But then I look back at my stories all written and published and I realize there were lessons to be learned, or themes if you prefer to call them that. Years ago, when my husband was coping with on and off sessions of chemo for cancer, he was a very unhappy man, even when he was in remission and going about his usual pursuits. We were speaking to a very wise counselor at one point who made the point that it was my husband’s job to find joy and pleasure in the good things in his life, but it was NOT everyone else’s job to make him happy, which was his default setting. That one comment gave me a great deal of comfort because I felt like I was failing as a wife; not loving him enough, not saying the right things, doing something wrong, not doing something right. And this man gave me permission to see that my husband’s happiness or lack was not my job. That lesson, unconsciously perhaps, found its way into my book WORRY STONE where my hero struggled with the toll of war and guilt and my heroine started out believing that her love would be enough to heal him. Both had to grow through that story -her to realize she couldn’t fix what was wrong and he to understand that he needed to ask for help, reach out, and fix himself. The same lesson winds its way through LOVING MEG.
Another common theme that finds its way into several of my stories is that “second chance.” Opportunities to make changes in the direction of a life. Or a second chance to fix things that are broken. And sometimes just the courage to open a heart to love in spite of having previous hurt, either from betrayal of an unfaithful lover or the loss through death of someone close. That theme appears in one form or another in FALLING FOR ZOE, HEALING A HERO, TRUSTING WILL and KEEPING HIS PROMISE.
My mainstream novel, THE CANDIDATE, explores the themes of Honesty is the Best Policy and Be True to Oneself. The photo handed to Matt Steele at a campaign rally jerked him back to a time he’d done everything to forget, to emotions he never wanted to relive, and in the midst of a hotly contested race for the White House the photo challenges everything Matt thought he knew about himself. The choice he faces to put honor on the line could change the outcome of the election.
My new Jesse Quinn Mystery series is different. The main thought in my mind is – it’s a mystery to be solved. What other lesson should there be? But even as I say that there are always take-aways. Perry Mason was great at Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover, and Lieutenant Columbo was a master at Persistence Pays Off. In my mystery, BULLSEYE that theme might be “Be Suspicious of Conspiracy Theories.” Or, for any good detective, look at ALL the angles before zeroing in on a solution. Jesse overlooks one of the most obvious persons of interest as she and her partner chase down a theory that seems to have a lot of traction and in the end, that focus almost costs another detective his life. The second book in that series is still being written and as I consider themes while writing this blog, there are a few different threads so far. But then life always has more than one lesson to be learned and themes are often subtle. So, maybe I won’t know what the main theme is until I’ve typed the end. We’ll see…
In the meantime, check out some of my fellow Round Robin Blog Hoppers and find out if and how they incorporate themes into their stories.
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin L Courtright