Author As “Key Figure”

A novelist can create death at any moment. If you take what you do seriously, that’s actually an awesome literary responsibility. It’s not something that should be done – in my view – lightly.

You can also write long-term illness into a story. Suicide too. But naturally there are no ramifications to any such plotlines beyond what appears on your pages.

For novels are fiction, of course. When it comes to the issue of suicide in real life, I often think of what West German chancellor, Willy Brandt, surprisingly wrote in his autobiography. While a young man on the run from the Nazis during the Second World War – including in Nazi-occupied Norway – he said he had never considered taking his own life were he about to be caught by the Gestapo. He wrote that, unlike other resistants who had said they were prepared to kill themselves, he wouldn’t have because one never knew if a way out might appear unexpectedly at the last moment.

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Unless we die suddenly, most of us will experience ourselves becoming terminally ill. Should we be able to ask someone to “assist” us in hurrying along to death? That issue has been debated fiercely for years, and the debate will likely continue. It also increasingly appears many to most of us do believe we should be able to ask for such “assistance.”

What does that have to do with novelists?

Some of them, such as former law enforcement people who now pen crime novels, have a professional knowledge of their subject. For example, my uncle. He may reasonably discuss “policing issues” on, say, Today; in his area of expertise he perhaps warrants being taken more seriously “policy-wise.”

However, once he’s on set with Savannah Guthrie (which he hasn’t been, to be clear) that doesn’t mean if he blurts out his take on U.S. policy over Ukraine, or the aerial campaign against so-called ISIS in Syria and Iraq, or on U.S. immigration reform, that his views on those matters ought to be granted extra credence. Or, indeed, that they will even make sense.

For given what I’ve sometimes heard from him privately about the likes of those, in my opinion, trust me, they may not. πŸ˜‰ Much the same could be said for his view on legalizing “assisted suicide.” (Which I don’t know.) Outside of his “knowledge base,” he’s fundamentally no more insightful than the rest of us and is just another someone offering an opinion.

Yet for some media it appears being an author marks one out as somebody worth hearing spout on a variety of complex questions of the day. I suppose all of us who have written books should be pleased to discover how wide-rangingly brilliant we are about the totality of the human condition. But based on my own “knowledge base,” I suspect most walking egos novelists had probably best confine their public policy pontificating to storylines they’ve fashioned in their novels.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this. πŸ™‚

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