Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Issues, I got issues.


“A good novel begins with a small question and ends with a bigger one.” 

--Paula Fox

Today I thought about a book I read when I was in elementary school: Blowfish Live In the Sea. 


I  haven't re-read it, but I think maybe I should do. Kirkus tagged it "Loving and electric with living."

No wonder. Turns out it is a book by Paula Fox. The woman wrote good books. Now I want to go on a Paula Fox reading jag. . .

But I digress; the reason I thought about Blowfish Live in the Sea was I was thinking about "issue books." a.k.a. "problem novels." One thought I had: I write those. I write books about issues.

Freak Observer is an issue book. 

One of the most crazy-ass worries I had while the book was being published was that by the time it came out everyone would have access to adequate health care. On one hand, my book would be pointless and quaint. On the other: Yes! Finally! Weeping on my knees. 

That didn't exactly happen. I mean, I appreciate the opportunity to buy insurance, but I'd have to say 
I have yet to fall to my knees weeping for joy. Thing is, access to medical care, especially mental health  or long-term care, is still a problem. Some of it is just distance—the endless miles between the place to get help and the place where someone lives make it impossible. Some of it is economic. Some of it is that illness is stigmatized.
My local newspaper, The Billings Gazette,
investigated the problem of access in Montana.
The graphic doesn't overstate the situation.

So there are still people out there struggling with depression, PTSD, and grief while working long hours for poverty-level wages

That issue remains unresolved.

Catch & Release is an issue book. 

We are still breeding "super-bugs." Recent moves by the FDA will do little to mitigated the threat. And it is a legitimate threat: The CDC reports that 23,000 Americans a year are dying because of antibiotic resistant infections. 

Yeah so, still a problem. 

Black Helicopters is an issue book.

Terrorism. Suicide terrorism.

It's been impossible for me to find a time when I felt like it was okay to say, "read my book." It always felt like saying it was wrong, like sticking my finger in an open wound. 

Yesterday at least 14 people died in a suicide bombing in Volgograd. The day before, 16 died in a similar attack on a train station. People are still dying, so the toll will rise. 

Of course, my dopey little books aren't any remedy, but I have to try.

If I try hard enough, maybe I will write books that are "loving and electric with living." Because those books—those issue books—they matter.