The theme of a novel is the writer’s vision. It is what the author wants to say and is reflected in plot, dialogue, setting, and metaphors. I believe a writer must possess the courage to express his or her convictions and passions in their novels. American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell once said that commitment of expression makes artists the shamans of today’s world. We must put our ear to the ground and listen for what’s coming. Through our novels, we bring back the fire, or the knowledge, to our readers.
When John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939 it caused uproar of controversy and was one of the most commonly banned books of its time because of Steinbeck's obvious socialist sympathies. Nonetheless, the novel remains one of the most admired and studied works of social protest fiction of the twentieth century. Steinbeck was furious at the critics and replied if he couldn’t speak his mind in his own novels, then where could he?
I feel fortunate to make my living as a writer. I don’t take my career for granted. With each book I get to learn something new. Part of that learning process includes my time spent serving on various conservation groups, boards and volunteer groups. My participation in these organizations augments my work and inspires me personally and professionally.
While going through the research, the interviews, the volunteering, my theme and story develop. However, like the character in the novel, I change through my involvement. Digging deep to find the soul of the story is hard work. It involves contemplation, meditation, prayer. It makes the writing of your novel and experience of growth and renewal. Once I've understood my theme, it is my job to share that knowledge with my readers. To ask myself: Why are you writing this book? I believe what we have to say is not just worth the time it takes to create a novel, but I believe I have to say it.
Theme is not simply part of the story. It is intrinsic to the story. Our talent is to create that compelling novel peopled with memorable characters. Our craft should prevent our message from being preachy. My hope is for my work to not only be thought of as compelling, even memorable stories people want to share with others, but also to be a reflection of my commitment to preserve our natural world.
Next year I will jump into the ocean to help rehabilitate dolphins as research for my novel. I will keep my eyes and ears—and intuition—open and let the animals inform me of the theme of the novel. They have a message to share, I’m sure.