April 15 – 21: “Should writers avoid politics in novels? Can they?”

This week we discuss politics in thrillers with ITW Members Jonathan Maberry, Thomas M. Malafarina, T. Jefferson Parker, Amy Lignor and Barry Lyga. “Should writers avoid politics in novels? Can they?”


Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and freelancer for Marvel Comics. His novels include EXTINCTION MACHINE, FIRE & ASH, PATIENT ZERO and many others. His award-winning teen novel, ROT & RUIN, is now in development for film. He is the editor of V-WARS, an award-winning vampire anthology. Since 1978 he’s sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, and poetry.

Thomas M. Malafarina is an author of horror fiction from Berks County, Pennsylvania. He has published four horror novels 99 SOULS, BURN PHONE, EYE CONTACT and FALLEN STONES as well as for collections of horror short stories; 13 NASTY ENDINGS , GALLLERY OF HORROR, MALAFARINA MALEFICARUM Vol. 1, MALAFARINA MALEFICARUM Vol. 2 and most recently GHOST SHADOWS. He has also published a book of often strange single panel cartoons called YES I SMELLED IT TOO; CARTOONS FOR THE SLIGHTLY OFF CENTER.

T. Jefferson Parker is the author of 20 crime novels, including SILENT JOE and CALIFORNIA GIRL, both of which won the Edgar Award for best mystery.  His last six books are a “Border Sextet,” featuring ATF task-force agent Charlie Hood as he tries to staunch the flow of illegal firearms being smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico.  Parker enjoys fishing, hiking and cycling.  He lives in Southern California with his family.

As the daughter of a career librarian Amy Lignor grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL were her heroes. Beginning with Amy’s first book of historical romance, her career flourished when her YA series THE ANGEL CHRONICLES arrived on the scene. She began developing the storyline for this new seven-book series which moved her into the world of action, adventure and romantic suspense. Working as an editor in the publishing industry for decades, Amy is now the Owner/Operator of The Write Companion, as well as a contributor to various literary publications and websites.

Called a “YA rebel-author” by Kirkus Reviews, Barry Lyga has published eleven novels in various genres in his seven-year career, including his latest, the I HUNT KILLERS series. His books have been or are slated to be published in twelve different languages in North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. He lives in New York City, with a comic book collection that is just too damn big.

  1. First off, I don’t think writers should avoid anything in their writing. If something is a part of the story or a part of the character, go for it. Anything else feels dishonest.

    Politics is just another way of exploring and defining character. You don’t have to stake out a position on issues, but we’re writing about human beings, and human beings have opinions on things. I don’t force myself to decide if my characters are, say, pro-choice or not, but I wouldn’t shy away from making that decision if I thought it illuminated something about the character, regardless of whether or not it was specifically germane to the plot.

    Whether you like it or not, you’re going to ascribe politics to your characters. You probably won’t even realize you’ve done it until someone complains. Having a character say “I think women should be paid the same as men” is a pretty innocuous statement in 2013, but for some folks, that’s inflammatory political rhetoric!

  2. When it comes to the ‘can’ – yes, writers can certainly veer away from the current political situations. But when it comes to the ‘should’ part of the equation, I have to say, no. Readers do love political thrillers and, as with anything in this day and age, any subject you write about is open to debate–everything from gun control to religion, all the way to debates on vampires in fiction – have not only caused the novel sales to increase, but it also allows the author to have conversations with their readers. There is nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned debate, and when it’s wrapped in an excellent tale, that’s even better! I was just completely honored to read Dean Koontz’s new novel coming in May and I have to say this is one writer who can delicately interweave his own thoughts about the world, politics, bullying, standing up for oneself, courage, etc., into the plot of his ‘thriller/horror’ – which means these subjects can also be touched on without focusing directly on the White House.

  3. I don’t consider myself someone who is informed enough about politics to include such topics a major part of any of my stories. If another writer is however, politically savvy and wishes to include political topics in his writing then by all means he should. The readers will either respond positively or negatively to his writing, but that is a risk all authors take no matter what subject we write about whether political or not.

    Also certain elements such a political hot topics such as, the economy, job loss, nuclear fears, abortion, gun control and so on affect everyone whether they consider themselves political in nature or not. So even though an author may not be a political scholar, he might still feel inclined to instill his own personal geopolitical views into one of his fictional characters; if for no other reason than to make the character seem more real. I always feel a writer should write for himself and if he wants to include political topics then he should. The readers and the free market will determine if the idea was a profitable one or not.

  4. Posted on behalf of author T. Jefferson Parker:

    Yes, we should dive into politics in our thrillers, forthwith. Hemingway said always put in the weather, so I’d say always put in the political weather, too. It’s part of the discussion, isn’t it? How can we leave it out and purport to being telling a story of our times?

    In some novels it’s probably best to shoot for being “fair and balanced,” as PBS tries to be.

    Sometimes it might be better to take a side, endorse a belief, and dramatize it through the story.

    In the first scene of my new thriller, The Famous and the Dead, a “psychiatrist” hands a madman a machine-pistol and tells him to “use this gift to protect yourself and those around you and to advance the ideals you believe in.” You can certainly hear American politics clanking around in that line. A few short pages later, I describe a meeting where somewhat beleaguered ATF agents – rocked by the “Fast and Furious” scandal, are trying to figure out what to do about some crooked cops trying to sell guns they’ve stolen from their own department. Later, all this comes to a head in a Congressional Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. Politics, everywhere you look.

    I’ll hear from my readers about all this, guaranteed.

    Some will love and some will hate.

    So yeah, stir it up. See what happens. It’s part of the job.

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