Inspired by actual events, The Bone Trail is the story of investigative journalist and horsewoman, Kate Wyndham, who is sent to northern Nevada to do a story on the disappearance of two wild horse advocates. When Wyndham attempts to gain information from the FBI and local authorities she is stonewalled.
She turns to Jim Ludlow, a local rancher who lives on an Indian Reservation near where the advocates disappeared. Ludlow, a Shoshone Indian horse “whisperer” agrees to try to help Wyndham and they begin a search for answers that may cost them everything the hold dear – it may even cost them their lives.
Is Social Protest Literature Dead?
by Nell Walton
One of the many things that made the fiction of Charles Dickens remarkable was his fearlessness in addressing the multiple social issues that were endemic in England in the early 19th Century. Dickens was extremely familiar with the problems at a personal level. His father was imprisoned for debt when Dickens was 12 years old and during this time he had to leave school and work in a shoe-dying factory that utilized child labor. Working in these horrible conditions was the worst time of Dickens’ life, but it was also here that the seed of Dickens’ ideas for social reform were sown. Many experts attribute the improvements in debtor’s prisons, child workhouses that were enacted during Dickens’ life directly to Dickens’ writings as well as his stage performances.
Over the years many writers have written social protest literature that has had a fundamental change on society as a whole. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe being one example, among others are The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Currently, it seems that social issues are rarely addressed in modern fiction, and, more and more rarely in non-fiction. I’ve often wondered if it is just a cycle that publishing companies go through, or if people just don’t care anymore.
I have a hard time believing the latter, because people and society have not really changed that much in the last two centuries. Certainly, we are bombarded with more information via the Internet and 24x7 news media. There is more competition for our time, attention and certainly our money. The constant influx of negative information probably contributes to a certain amount of hopelessness as well as compassion fatigue in many people. But, I think that at a basic level, people DO care about social issues and are willing to take steps to help make positive changes as long as they are clear on what it is they can do to help. The outpouring of caring support by people all around the world during Hurricane Katrina is an excellent example, the current massive support that people are providing for relief for Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief is another.
In my book, The Bone Trail, I DO tackle social issues. Environmental destruction, alcoholism and rehabilitation in Native populations in the US, the mismanagement of the wild horses in the American West, and child abuse are all central to the plot of the book. From a writer’s perspective I will say that when you do include these types of plot elements it can limit your flexibility as far as pacing vs. character development. For example, in order to fully address the Native alcoholism and rehabilitation issue, I had to stop the plot and flip to a couple of chapters of backstory about one-third into the book. I worried about it, because generally I prefer to fold backstory in with the plot, but there was really no way to do that effectively with such a sensitive subject.
Surprisingly enough, it actually has worked out well, and gave a great depth to a character that I feel is the heart of the book. My editor loved the transition, and I have gotten excellent feedback from readers also.
So, while I did make the decision to break a rule as far as plot pacing, it has paid off as far as giving one of the central characters air and life.
So, I don’t believe that social protest literature is dead, or there is a lack of interest by any means. And, if you have to break a pacing rule to thoroughly address an issue effectively, it can pay off with your readership.
I hope one day we will see more authors making the effort to address social issues in modern fiction, and readers taking such an avid interest as they did in the 19th Century.
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This post first appeared at The Book Connection.