Friday, May 13, 2016

GUEST ARTICLE: Fiction that Promotes Social Justice Solutions

Let us welcome a special guest today, Robert Eggleton, author and one of our amazing sponsors of Armchair BEA.  He is here to talk about going beyond the book today with promoting social justice issues within fiction.  Enjoy!


Food for Thought – Fiction that Promotes Social Justice Solutions

Some fiction prompts one to think about life and the issues that it presents, while other stories entertain us by presenting a short-term opportunity to escape from life stress. Some are quick and easy reads, the story ends when the last page has been read. Other stories reassert messages that we appreciate for a lifetime. Both reading experiences are valuable.

I’m a retired children’s psychotherapist with a lifelong dream of becoming an author, but who didn’t begin writing fiction until late in life. I read in all genres, and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to write in several. Something more was calling me to become an author – social justice and the historical use of fiction to promote it. Maybe it was Tiny Tim in the back of my head yelling for me to do something impossible, like – Fix the World! Or, maybe it was group pressure from all of those great authors that I’d read during my idealistic youth: Orwell, Huxley, Wells….

I tried to ignore the voices in my head and continued to try to write the type of novels that I knew were most popular, especially romance and young adult stories. It didn’t work. What really kicked my butt and inspired me to write Rarity from the Hollow, my debut novel, adult literary science fiction, was a skinny little girl with long brown hair, a victim of child abuse – one of the strongest persons that I’ve ever met.

This article discloses how I came to write a novel that prompts reflection on social justice. In 2002, I accepted a position as a therapist for an intensive mental health, day treatment program for kids. Most of the children had been abused, some sexually. Part of my job was to facilitate group therapy sessions. One day in 2006 during a group session, I was sitting around a table used for written therapeutic exercises when a little girl, who instead of just disclosing the horrors of her abuse at the hands of the meanest daddy on Earth, also spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future: finding a loving family to protect her.

My protagonist was born that day – an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the universe: Lacy Dawn. I began to write fiction in the evenings and sometimes went to work the next day without enough sleep. Every time that I would feel discouraged, when I felt like giving up, I would imagine Lacy Dawn speaking honestly about the barriers that she faced in pursuit of her dream of finding a permanent and loving home. To totally lock myself in to completing the project, I decided to dedicate author proceeds to the prevention of child abuse – a commitment that nobody could turn her back on.

As I got to know her, Lacy Dawn, like so many other maltreated children that I’d met during my career, just like real kids in their real-life situations – my protagonist became complicated. I tried to stick with a simple story, determined to make it inspirational since the real Lacy Dawn did find a loving home. (Super cool, huh?) Plus, I knew what an editor might instruct when I submitted my novel for consideration: “keep it simple stupid.” I also knew that an early reviewer of Heinlein’s masterpiece, Stranger in a Strange Land (Galaxy Magazine, Floyd C. Gale, 1962) had criticized the novel for biting off more than it could chew.

But, I just couldn’t oversimplify the truth when writing Rarity from the Hollow. Life is so damn complicated. With tragedy to parody, satiric dark comedy, the novel developed to include commentary not only about child maltreatment, but also about poverty, PTSD experienced by Vets, domestic violence, mental health issues, political issues (extreme capitalism/consumerism [Trump] vs. socialism [Sanders]), mental health issues…and so much more.

“…You will enjoy the ride with Lacy Dawn, her family and friends, but don’t expect the ride to be without a few bumps, and enough food for thought to last you a long time.”
— Darrell Bain, Award Winning Author

You see, even with a cause as pure as sensitizing readers about the prevention of child maltreatment through a comical and satiric science fiction adventure, so many other factors are related to that mission. In real life, Lacy Dawn’s father was a disabled Vet who experienced flashbacks and anger outbursts. Her family lived in an impoverished hollow with little economic opportunity. It all affected performance and behavior in school, which influenced peer relationships, including viewpoints on romance, teenage pregnancy….

“…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only instead of the earth being destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Lacy Dawn must…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…Eggleton sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” – Awesome Indies

I wanted my story to be honest and it included social justice issues because I value meaningful contribution to society. Life is too short to spend all of one’s time escaping from it. But, at the same time I don’t write or want to read anything that is preachy. Heck, I don’t even think that religious literature, like the pamphlets that one finds on the floors of public toilet stalls, should be so preachy. I wouldn’t want to touch such content, even if it would have been delivered under more sanitary conditions. I want to write about important issues that one person may think support a particular position but the next reader finds the opposite. I don’t have the answers to the most important questions and challenges that humans face, and Rarity from the Hollow is not an instruction manual on how to prevent child maltreatment by acknowledging and addressing its complexities.

The SF/F backdrop for Rarity from the Hollow was selected because it was the best fit by process of elimination. While it is a fun read, the story does include early scenes and references to tragedies in contemporary America. As such, it was not a good fit to the historical or western genres, although the social problems addressed in the story have existed throughout history, and are not restrained by our world’s geography, cultures, or religions. I felt that biographical and nonfiction wouldn’t work because the story would have been so depressing that only the most determined would have finished it. The story had to be hopeful and I especially wanted it to inspire survivors of child maltreatment toward competitiveness within our existing economic structures, instead of people using past victimization as an excuse for inactivity. I didn’t think that anybody would bite on the theme of a knight on a white stallion galloping off a hillside to swoop victims into safety, like in the traditional romance genre. That almost never actually happens in real life, so the romance genre was too unrealistic as the primary. There was already enough horror in the story, so that genre was out too. What could be more horrific than child abuse?

Lacy Dawn and her traumatized teammates needed fantastical elements to achieve empowerment. But, as in life, one cannot overcome barriers by simply imagining them away. That’s where the science fiction came into play. It provided a power source. I tied the science fiction to capitalism because in today’s reality it will take significant financial investment by benefactors to improve the welfare of children in the world, and to invest in economic development. As symbolized in the story, I feel that our governments are unlikely to fund effective solutions to social problems in the near future because of the politics. The systems in place to help victims of these types of problems are woefully inadequate.

Further, historically, speculative fiction has fueled social activism, debate, and the adoption of evolving or devolving social policy depending on one’s values. In 380 B.C., Plato envisioned a utopian society in The Republic and that story represented the beginning of a long string of speculations: ecology, economics, politics, religion, technology, feminism…. The impact of speculative fiction on world view and politics was especially potent in the 1960s when Ellison, Aldiss, Herbert and others wrote about the stuff that many American teens at the time were reflecting upon, me included – social and political issues at a tumultuous time. Protests against increasing militarism during the Vietnam War were fueled by the writings of Ellison and Vonnegut. Speculative fiction back then was more than escapism, as evidenced by Ursula Le Guinn, who is commonly attributed with coining the term, “social science fiction,” winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970.

Speculations sparked by artists in every venue have at least a subliminal impact on each of us, an impact that transcends our own prejudices, traditions and belief systems. Popularized as genre fiction with a huge fan base, the Harry Potter stories were more than simple escapism, even if the messages slipped in through side doors. For example, Harry was a civil rights activist. In freeing an enslaved House Elf, he became a positive role model for zillions of adoring fans, thereby propagating a value that could potentially impact how the average citizen of several countries considers the current refuge crisis.

Even further, especially with increasing awareness of PTSD, such as that experienced by Lacy Dawn’s father, Rarity from the Hollow could provide hope to spouses of military veterans that the condition is treatable. By exemplifying the impact of treatment, this story could encourage readers with PTSD, such as Vets who have returned home from the war in the Middle East, to seek treatment. I certainly hope so. In my experience, PTSD and anger management concerns are related, and can potentially result in sudden anger at anything, including a defenseless child.

Rarity from the Hollow is speculative fiction written in colloquial voice that I call adult literary science fiction, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended. Of course, on the other hand, maybe it’s just another goofy science fiction story.

“…It is funny and irreverent but beneath the hallucinatory story of visits to shopping planets and interstellar shopping games, there is a profound critique of social problems, substance abuse, child sexual abuse and child murder that is quite eye opening… Rarity from the Hollow is very, very good…I'd recommend Rarity From the Hollow to anybody who likes a side helping of the lunatic with their science fiction and fantasy.”

The intent of Rarity from the Hollow was to take its readers who have also been affected by past horrors from their tragedies into empowerment. The flow of the story is modeled after a mental health treatment episode: horror that is difficult to face and to disclose about in beginning chapters leading toward empowerment with subsequent disclosures as one acknowledges that the past is the past, and that nothing controls or lives more than the decisions that we make in the present. As in real life, however, I did not insert an artificial resolution of the complex issues presented in the story. It is not a memoir. The evil is not destroyed and does not even admit its wrongdoings, Sometimes, we just have to move on with life, as has been the situation in the vast majority of child abuse cases that I’ve been involved in as a child advocate during the past forty years.

Another intent of the novel was to sensitize people to the issue of maltreated children the way that Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim worked his way into the hearts of millions of fans.
Rarity from the Hollow recently won a second Gold Medal and an excerpt from that review is apt to the prevention of child abuse:

“…Full of cranky characters and crazy situations, Rarity From the Hollow sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved….” Readers’ Favorite

Another prominent book reviewer appeared to have fallen in love with Lacy Dawn:

“…When Eggleton requested a review of Rarity from the Hollow, I was hesitant to accept. I usually do not read or review books that discuss child abuse or domestic violence; however, I was intrigued by the excerpt and decided to give it a shot. I am glad that I took a risk; otherwise, I would have missed out on a fantastic story with a bright, resourceful, and strong protagonist that grabbed my heart and did not let go. It is not every day that I find a kindred spirit in a book, but I found one in Lacy Dawn!...” On My Kindle

I am forever indebted to the real-life Lacy Dawn. Life’s funny, ain’t it? Sometimes when you lend a helping hand, you benefit many times over.

Author proceeds have been donated to child abuse prevention. Children’s Home Society of West Virginia is a nonprofit children’s services program. It was established in 1893 and currently serves over 13,000 children and families each year.

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1 comment:

  1. what a wonderful author! having worked with child abuse victims for 20 years through my job as a CASA director i'm thankful for any publicity for the atrocities our children continue to suffer.