Good day, my bookish peeps. We’ve made it to another Friday, YAY! For most of us avid readers, our reading style may change a bit as we age, but the one thing we know when we read it is a good story. We enjoy the characters, the settings, the storylines, and the action. Everything about the story just seems to make sense and work. I’m incredibly pleased to welcome Mr. Jeff Bond, author of the Third Chance Enterprise series including Dear Durwood. Mr. Bond will be discussing why we need what he calls “balance in storytelling” to make stories believable. Thank you, Mr. Bond, for taking time away from your writing to visit with us today. The blog is yours!
Balance in Storytelling
My wife and I had a rare night to ourselves last month, the kids away at a sleepover, and decided to relax with some TV. I usually defer to whatever she wants to watch, but I had been itching to check out a movie on Netflix I’d been hearing about for months. For years, actually.
De Niro … Pacino … Pesci … the three and a half hour runtime gave me pause, but I had fond memories of watching Goodfellas as a college student and couldn’t wait to see these actors reunited and doing their thing.
We watched the movie.
Now I wouldn’t dream of critiquing Martin Scorsese — and my purpose here isn’t to write a movie review — but we both sat back when the credits rolled with conflicted expressions.
“What did you think?” my wife asked.
I thought the film was subtle and moving and utterly convincing, but I didn’t love it. De Niro, Pacino, Pesci — those same actors I’d been excited to watch again felt somehow suffocating. It was just so much sameness. Leaving aside race for now — the only substantial female plotline involves the De Niro character’s daughter and her ongoing disapproval of his line of work, which she communicates with mute scowls and sidelong glances throughout the film.
In fairness, that’s the world of the Italian-American mafia. It would’ve been disingenuous for Scorsese to portray it otherwise. The issue never even crossed my mind as a young person watching Goodfellas, which owed partly to the different times and diversity not being something we all considered much. (Enough, I should say.)
Another difference between me twenty years ago and me now is that I’ve written several stories of my own. I’ve developed my own method for balancing a book along gender, racial, and sexual orientation lines. It’s nothing groundbreaking, usually just a document I’ll produce at the beginning of the project breaking out the main and secondary characters with either “m” or “f” beside each. If the proportions aren’t close, or if all the f‘s are good and m‘s are bad or vice versa, it’s time to rethink the mix. The technique isn’t perfect by any means, but I do notice now when a story seems to ignore the issue.
The reasons for balancing a book in such a way are simple. One, it reflects the world as it is — a goal anyone trying to write convincing realistic fiction should strive for. Second, it’s shamelessly better for sales. You don’t want to cut your potential audience in half by writing exclusively about one group, leaving others unrepresented. Now that’s an oversimplification because we’re all human beings, and I can certainly enjoy and identify with stories portraying the inner lives of women or people of different ethnic groups than myself. If readers can cast their minds into protagonists from outside their own experiences, though, there’s no reason authors can’t do likewise and meet them halfway.
In fact, I would’ve liked my recent releases to be more diverse than they are. Although I love the throwback pulp-style images my cover artist created for the Third Chance Enterprises books, I feel some angst at all the white faces there. I thought long and hard about making Durwood Oak Jones African-American. Some things about his character would’ve changed, but I think it could have been an interesting twist, paired with his conservative values and deep Appalachian roots. In the end, though, I didn’t feel comfortable risking accusations of cultural appropriation. The Third Chance Enterprises series is nothing more or less than a big, breezy thrill-ride, and I didn’t want to saddle it or tarnish readers’ experiences with an #ownVoices controversy.
I should say here that I have nothing but respect for #ownVoices as a movement. Its goals are the right ones and progress has clearly been made, particularly on the traditional publishing side. The world doesn’t need to weep that straight white male authors like me are slightly constrained in choosing our protagonists. I actually have a couple of books in the outline phase for my new Franklin series — which is more literary/slice-of-life in tone — featuring ensemble casts that should allow me to provide readers with a more representative mix of characters.
Diversity in fiction is tough, coming and going. It can feel artificial when done wrong and patronizing when done very wrong. Stories that reference a character’s protected class without a genuine need to do so seem token-ish. It’s important for writers to dig deep and find organic story elements that support more diverse casts.
In my second novel, Blackquest 40 — a kind of Die Hard in a San Francisco tech company — I chose a young female computer programmer to be my Bruce Willis. The story revolves around a nightmarish corporate training exercise that turns darker by the hour, and I wanted above all to create maximum conflict between the corporate overlords running the “training” and my protagonist, Deb Bollinger. Given the macho bro-vibe of the Northern California tech world, I thought making Deb a lesbian would exacerbate that split in a good way — and also made sense given I was setting the story in San Francisco. (Partly because that’s where those companies are located; partly because I lived there six years and know the city well.)
This choice took traditional publishing off the table for Blackquest 40, due to #ownVoices concerns. I released it as an indie title and haven’t heard many complaints. Most readers like Deb and seem fine with my portrayal. There are certainly other authors who pull it off. James Patterson comes to mind with his Alex Cross series. Thrillers generally don’t have social statements at their core — they aren’t saying big important things about racial or gender identity — and there’s a side of me that feels like the genre should be ripe for more diverse heroes from authors of all backgrounds. But I realize my own perspective is limited here, and that the long legacy of exclusionary homogeneity in publishing looms over the issue.
Ultimately, like so many of us in this challenging year of 2020, I’m feeling my way through the dark, doing my best, trying to learn.
on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020
Book two in the epic Third Chance Enterprises series, Dear Durwood is a standalone mystery pitting uncompromising principle against big city greed.
Durwood Oak Jones is a man of few indulgences. One he does allow is a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine soliciting “injustices in need of attention.”
This month’s bundle of letters includes one from Carol Bridges, mayor of the dusty, blue-collar town of Chickasaw, Texas. For nearly a century, Chickasaw has relied on the jobs and goodwill of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Now East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. The citizens of Chickasaw fear it may be acquired or bankrupted, leading to massive layoffs — effectively destroying the town.
Durwood and his trusty bluetick coonhound, Sue-Ann, fly to Texas to see what can be done. They find a young CEO born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Factory workers with hammers. A good woman, Carol Bridges, who knows her town is being cheated but can’t get to the bottom of how. And lawyers.
Dirty, good-for-nothing lawyers.
Genre: Action-Adventure / Western Romance
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: June 15, 2020
Number of Pages: 215
ISBN: 1732255296 (ISBN13: 9781732255296)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises
Purchase Links: Amazon | Third Chance Stories | Goodreads
Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.
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This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020, and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.
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