I find I don’t have so many opinions these days, more just feelings and questions. And one thing stoking these feelings lately is the idea that fiction writers shouldn’t talk about politics.
When I was a younger reader, I certainly wondered why on earth they would. Unless an author was writing contemporary political fiction, what would real-life arguments that no one seems able to agree on have to do with their work?
Then I started taking my own writing more seriously and realised, wow… actually, politics has A LOT to do with fiction.
Let’s set aside the idea of “moralising” or “sending a message” here. It’s kind of obvious this happens, and whether an author intends for their fiction to push an agenda is always down to the individual author and the piece of work in question. Also, this isn’t the thing I want to talk about today.
I want to talk about world-building. Specifically, how worldly mechanics and market forces help shape the setting of a story and drive the drama. Even in romance fiction, where the conflict is about how the MC and LI succeed or fail in answering the call of love, it’s stuff like politics, economics and social issues that offers fertile ground for interesting conflict to grow.
Take Sarah Smith’s Simmer Down as a contemporary example. If Nikki lets Callum nick her parking spot, her sales will drop, resulting in less income to support her family. Their conflict over food truck territory is ultimately an economic one. This novel may not feature US economic policy per se, but it does examine the impacts of capitalism on the individual, albeit in a super hot, sexy and entertaining way.
Speculative fiction, by necessity, may include its fair share of politics, which I think stems from authors having to create an entire universe by extrapolating from real-world circumstances and events. Policy influences how people behave, decides how technology may be created and used, and deems what actions are acceptable when we want something we don’t have.
The effect is subtle in Pia Manning’s Star Brides series, where xenopolitics encourages the interspecies marriages that lead to romantic tension, giving us a taste of how humans and aliens might resolve differing ideologies within an intimate partnership. In my own work, It Starts With A Kiss, the romantic conflict occurs against the backdrop of issues surrounding industry automation and regulation of UBI (universal basic income).
But then there are stories where you also get to see characters actually do a politics. Stories like Frank Herbert’s Dune, A.R. Vagnetti’s Storm series, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight universe (the Volturi), and James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse.
But let’s get back to present-day realism.
We share this world. We are all connected. Sometimes we mean to be, but most of the time it happens by accident. The events of 2020 highlighted quite profoundly how strong our connections are, even when we can’t see them.
Politics (governmental or otherwise) is the means by which we negotiate the influences and resources within our world. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, it even governs the ground we walk on. Just try setting foot in a restricted area and you’ll get a first-hand lesson in how your society regards “property ownership”.
If we’re lucky enough to be aligned with the dominant political and socioeconomic position where we live, we get to take it all for granted. That doesn’t mean we’re apolitical, it just means we don’t have to think about it all the time. We get to pretend we’re happy-go-lucky and stuff doesn’t matter.
If that’s not the case, though, then we remain almost constantly aware and conscious of the fact that everything stems from politics. We may never get the experience of not thinking about it.
The book on top of your TBR pile got there because certain worldly forces permitted it to be. Maybe you live in a place where books like that are allowed to be printed and sold. The author must have been afforded the ability to sit and write it, then to have it be published and distributed. And you were able to acquire it because someone somewhere paid good money for it to be at the right place at the right time. All of the forces that put that book in your hands were shaped by the negotiations in our shared world.
I daresay fiction writers must be aware of this, at least on some level, in order to write relatable and interesting stories. Even when we make the argument that fiction should be about helping readers escape from vexatious politics, writers must still create those places they can escape to. These places may not feature political conflict, but politics—in some fashion—will always be relevant.
Now, I don’t think fiction writers should necessarily talk about politics. But my feeling is there may be no reason why they shouldn’t, as politics are necessary to create an interesting world.
And appreciating how worldly forces have enabled me to sit here and write this post, I can’t help but wonder—how can anyone talk about anything without ultimately being political? 🤔
Pia Manning is an author I like very much. She has a seasoned perspective and incisive way with words. Her latest Siren romance came out this year, but I wanted you to experience the Pia Manning universe the same way I did, from her very first book.
Pia has kindly donated to the giveaway prize bundle her debut novel and first in the Star Brides series, Star Brides: Procured. This is still my favourite of hers so far, because the elements of culture woven into her heroine’s experience of leaving Earth gently stroked my first-generation migrant nerves.
But enough about me, here’s what you wanna know about Pia and her lovely book…
JL: Tell us a bit about yourself.
PIA MANNING: I always find this the hardest question to answer. I love making a connection with my readers, but I don’t want to bore anyone. So, I live in the deep, dark woods of NE Wisconsin with my spousal unit, one spoiled dog and three rotten cats. I find I love the solitude and privacy living in the middle of nowhere affords, although it can be damned inconvenient at times. I began writing for real after a number of medical issues forced my withdrawal from the workforce. At the time, I viewed the diagnoses with a jaundiced eye. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a gift I’d truly been handed. Now, I get to do what I love every day.
JL: Tell us a bit about the book in the giveaway, Star Brides: Procured. What inspired it? What kind of world should readers expect?
PIA: Anis Warner is one of my favorite characters. She’s focused, determined, disciplined… Aaand then along comes Commander Dachar of the starship Talat… Procured is, if anything, about moving forward in the face of life’s unexpected transitions. We follow Anis as she struggles to assert herself in an ever-changing alien environment.
When I wrote Procured I was recovering from surgery and learning what that meant for my life. Like Anis, I needed to adapt to the boundaries that now framed my new normal. Developing Anis’s story helped me to realize how lucky I am.
JL: I love the way you characterise Anis as she gets to know Darchar’s culture. How important have you found culture to be in the way couples relate to each other?
PIA: Culture establishes expectations and points of reference for us all. When one half of a couple is thrust into a situation where cultural boundaries have changed and nothing feels familiar, all kinds of chaos can result. Sometimes those misunderstandings are funny, other times limiting and hurtful. There is a lot of negotiating and navigating necessary before they reach their happily every after!
JL: What kinds of things do you feel strongly about that you commit to including in your writing?
PIA: Portraying the unrecognized resilience and intelligence of women from different societies is a stream (Ok, maybe more like the Mississippi or Amazon Rivers) that flows through my books. Women have voices that should never be silenced. My women have no patience with culturally imposed limitations or stereotypes. Anis is a woman who knows what she wants. Is she frustrated at times? Yep. Does she make mistakes along the way? Definitely. But, she always strives to move forward despite every obstacle the Apochian world places before her.
5. So, Star Brides: Procured is the first book in a series. What are the other books like?
PIA: The other two books in the Star Brides universe, ‘The Meat Market’ and ‘Dept. of Corrections,’ explore what happens to society when women are mistreated and marginalized. In other words Karma is a… well, you know.
Both books are also about second chances and redemption. In ‘Meat Market’ our Zuntx warriors return to find their planet in shambles. They and their newly acquired woman, Tamsin, start over on the frontier of a newly colonized planet. The trio are now forced to work together to survive. Before joining her warriors, Tamsin had worked as a very underappreciated and underpaid server. On their new world, Tamsin finds her voice. And the boys find it in their best interest to listen!
In ‘D of C’ Kadir (you’ll meet him in ‘Procured’) returns to Zuntx with former inmate, Janine. Sentenced to a length prison sentence for a crime she absolutely did commit, Janine is in need of a second chance at redemption. Kadir and his warriors are not ready to give up on their home. Together, they dig in to make their menage relationship work and change some things along the way.
JL: What sort of stuff do you like to read?
PIA: My guilty pleasure shelves include erotic romances, murder mysteries- with or without a touch of paranormal, surviving the apocalypse stories, scifi/fantasy and paranomal/horror stuff.
JL: Any parting words for readers?
PIA: Go forth and read! Or write as the mood takes you. Explore, make your mistakes. Just don’t stop moving forward in some way!
Welcome to this year’s edition of “my unendingly patient and ever-growing TBR”.
I adopted the BuJo system earlier this year and am excited to see all my admin, paperwork and other shenanigans slowly coming good. My weeks are on track now. I’m not daunted by the tiniest things. And, best of all, making time to read has been so easy.
In theory, anyway. The reality is I’ve been spending my newfound time on mechanical keyboards and cryptic crosswords. I’ve started a new project involving storytelling in a medium other than books. No, it’s not a graphic novel or a screenplay, though I’d like to do those one day. I’ll tell you more about it another time. For now, here’s what my hobbies are stopping me from reading:
I’ve had my eye on Summerland since it came out last year. Alas, Hannu is one of those authors whose work does such things to me that I need to clear out a heap of space in my life just to start reading. To be honest, I haven’t even read the blurb (or if I have, I’ve forgotten what it says). I just know if it’s by this author, I want to read it.
This book has sat on my Kindle since preorders were announced. What I like about the Luna series is how down-to-earth it is for a story set on the moon. It’s not a crazy planet-shattering epic or full of weird wonders I have to work to relate to. It’s a story about people being fucking people. We’re sexy, we’re angry, we just want to survive and be comfortable. Most of all, we’re assholes, and here’s how we do with resources and futuristic technology at our fingertips. This will be retrofuture scifi one day. But I really hope some day sooner, someone turns it into a telenovela.
Ps. If I ever start learning Portuguese, it will be because of this series.
Actually, I’ve read this one—sort of. I had the honour of beta reading Sarah Smith’s manuscript when it had just come out of its draft stage. It’s such a great story, so relatable, full of sexy lovey-dovey feels, much like the author’s short stories and serials. The chemistry between her characters, Emmie and Tate, is just fantastic and I love how fresh the author’s voice is. This was another one I locked in as soon as the preorder dropped, in paperback this time, because I’m really digging romance in paperback lately.
Speaking of paperbacks, I recently finished The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. It was a great book, but it sent me down this rabbithole of wondering… things. The author recommended this book for other people who may be wondering things, so here it is on my list.
There’s something soothing about reading a Pia Manning story while in transit. I enjoyed Star Brides: The Meat Market, especially because it gave me real-world things to reflect on. And you know, the ménage parts were pretty great too. And now here we are with a poly story 💞 I’m saving this one for an upcoming plane ride, so the aircon better be good in economy, please!
I’m so excited about the upcoming Dune film that I’ve hardly looked up anything about it. Truth be told, I don’t care about the news, the speculations, what the early reviews will be like, what Roger Ebert, David and Margaret, or Rotten Tomatoes thinks about it. I don’t care if I end up hating the film. I just love the universe and this story and am so goddamned excited.
OK, I lie, I care a bit about the news. Hearing about the cast has been great and I’m itching to know who plays Feyd Rautha in the film. Someone tried to tell me they’ve combined his role with Rabban’s, but come on. Would the maker of a movie as incredible as Blade Runner 2049 do something like that? I have my doubts.
And I will continue having my doubts as I devour the audiobook of this novel, right up until the new film comes out.
I’ve heard nothing but good things about this author and this book. Also, I’m so ready to read another sports romance and OMG, this is an MMA story. Yes, please. This is another book I’ve earmarked for holiday reading. My kindle’s gonna get one hell of a workout.
To celebrate the release of my upcoming sci-fi office romance, It Starts With A Kiss, I’m running a very special giveaway draw 💝
Two lucky winners will receive a signed paperback copy of the novel, along with a bundle of lovely treats featuring the work of local crafters Renée Botman, More Sundays Please and Handmade Gems; a digital download of Skye McDonald’s latest novel; and this year’s sweet ebook releases by fellow Kyanite authors Sophia LeRoux, A. R. Vagnetti and Crystal Kirkham.
When I’m busy, the first thing to go is my TBR. I’ve realised recently that the time I spend reading directly corresponds to how I’m faring in my work-addled life. I do have workaholic tendencies I need to address. They say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
Well, that’s bullshit. If you love what you do, you end up working all the fucking time because you can’t get enough. It’s nice in the way party drugs are nice—they’ll nice you to destruction if you don’t watch yourself.
Until I sort my shit out, here’s what’s currently awaiting me on my to-be-read pile…
This is an interesting and insightful book so far, but I struggle to pick it up again whenever I put it down. Admittedly, I find it triggering. Every paragraph seems to stir up indignation (to say the least) at what we put up with and what we inflict on people in the name of love. For all our civilisation and infrastructure, we really are a primitive species—our own worst enemies sometimes, if not the unwitting worst enemies of the people we say we care about.
I suppose that makes it extra important to finish this book. I’m gonna need a lot of sleep and chocolate to get through this.
Pia Manning won me over with her deft writing style in Star Brides: Procured. I’m not into the “hot alien men” thing, but I can’t deny the stories I’ve read have, in one way or another, impressed me. Pia has a really classy way with words. Maybe this shows how much I still have to learn about writing, but I get real courageous vibes from the way she tells her stories. Reading her blog is like getting punched in the gut, but in a good way.
I’m pretty keen to read this, and I kind of want to read this with a lot of life clearance so I can smash it out without being distracted by tasks and chores. The last time I read a Pia Manning book, I missed my train and was late for work 😬
Because how could I not? I literally laughed out loud when I read the title, and if Taken by the 8-bit Plumbers is anything to go by, I will definitely want to read this book in private so I don’t have to explain what I’m giggling at.
C.J.’s work is high steam, and I don’t know if she intends her work to be hilarious, but I’m really tickled by the inside jokes and creative license. I’m very much looking forward to starting this book.