Literature, both “great” and written for the common folk (like romance novels), often concerns topics that make us uncomfortable. Many are a product of their times, but they remain vital because their stories remain timeless, defining human loves, lives, and foibles which still exist today.
Many have defined the theme behind To Kill a Mockingbird as the death of innocence. Our children lose their innocence too early these days–with easy access to some of the more sordid aspects of life–porn, hatred, and violence to name a few. With Vietnam we invited war into our living room; with ISIS we drown in its blood.
What will happen when these children reach adulthood? Will they be incapable of maintaining hope in a world gone crazy? Contrary to what you might intuitively think, millennials are more optimistic than their elders–they merely use a different foundation for their optimism.
So does a book like To Kill a Mockingbird still hold anyone’s interest beyond the academics who assign it to their students? Considering it ranks number 74 on Amazon at the time of this writing, I’d say it does.
What about genre fiction such as romance novels? Pride and Prejudice is one of the top romance novels of all time, with current novels built on the author’s point of view, like What Would Jane Austen Do?
Austen bypasses the guesswork and puts her theme right into the title. Misplaced pride, pride with a purpose, and prejudice on both sides of the romantic couple all have their place in the novel. But all talk about theme aside, the novel produces a rocking good story.
And here’s the problem with theme. It can be heavy handed. Or it can be missing. Neither helps produce an emotionally satisfying story. Even if we can’t personally relate to living in 1930s Alabama or 1803 London, pride, prejudice, and loss of innocence still exist. They are the scaffolding of these stories.
When I write, I have to watch that I don’t become too heavy handed with my theme. Anyone will tell you, I definitely have opinions! And I’m more than willing to tell you what they are. But I do a disservice to you, my reader, if I don’t give you a interesting story to read, with characters you care about, and slip the theme in like an unordered but appreciated side dish.
In California Sunshine, like the rest of the series, the hero and heroine need to make some adjustments in their attitudes before they can get together. It’s going to require giving up some long-standing beliefs. The theme? I haven’t quite figured that out yet.