For example: a while back, I picked up a random book by a writer I'd never heard of and loved it. I did a little digging a discovered they'd written dozens of novels and short stories in a relatively short period of time back in the 50s and then produced very little until their death in the early 80s. Very popular for a short period of time, a lot of this writer's work hasn't survived (unless you can find the original publications), but I've tracked down nearly a dozen novels and around thirty short stories.
And I noticed something almost immediately: they were basically telling the same story over and over again, oftentimes using the same names or permutations thereof, and definitely the same character archetypes. As I read more and more, I noticed passages almost verbatim lifted from their own early work, novels that were mishmashes of two (or more) older novels, and the same themes over and over and over again.
Now, I can't blame them, exactly. This was a professional writer in a time when pay-rates were low and the pressure to produce just to survive was immense. If you found a formula that worked, that let you literally put food on your family's table, you'd stick with it, too, right?
But I think it was more than that. It seemed to me that it hinted at things this person was probably aware of to some degree, but I wondered... to what degree, exactly?
Let me break down a little what seems to be the case about this writer's worldview:
- Families are crap - especially parents, but as a whole, they're just no good. Sometimes a single sibling is okay, or at least not as bad as the rest of them.
- There are only two types of women in the world - angels and devils. Angels are easily corrupted, but devils are irredeemable.
- Nobody can be trusted and most people become actively dangerous when money is involved.
- Violence is a solution for most problems.
- A real man doesn't let go, ever. Even when he knows it's self-destructive.
- Alcoholism and mental illness are weakness you need to push aside and ignore.
Seems bleak as hell, right? And not exactly healthy...
"But this was the fifties, you said, right?" you might think. "Noir was still big."
True, and most of this writer's work was definitely noir, but what I've learned about their real life fits a lot of the pattern of their fiction. Alcoholic, dead-beat father, long-suffering, but hung-in-there mother. An alcoholic themselves, with a history of mental illness. Married, but never any children.
Maybe this is a one-off, but you get a real feel for the individual in their writing.
. . .
Now, I'm off-track a little bit here. I'd meant to talk about themes in my own writing. There are some I recognize, like broken families and the mysteries of why they've broken, but what are others?
I'm sure there are others, but honestly, I didn't recognize the families thing until someone else pointed it out to me. These stories occur to me, but I don't necessarily analyze them. In some ways, I'd rather readers do that... it's almost more fun that way.
So if you've read my work, what do you think?