I’ve noticed in the bookstore that themes are much more aggressive than they used to be: “Behold my cardboard characters showing you the light! You must believe as I do! If you do not, you are not worthy!” But to me, message in the absence of story is like a PBJ with okra instead of peanut butter. Ew.
Preach, even if it’s a good and honorable message, and I’ll likely go watch the squirrel outside the window. He’s rarely judgy unless he can’t find a nut. And then he YARRKs like nobody’s business.
Then there are the STORYTELLERS. Do they have themes? Hell yes. But the story. Oh the story. It entices. It breathes. It welcomes you in like a comfy chair and a cup of hot chocolate. “Sit with me. Hear my tale.” it says. And I learn something. Sometimes a different point of view. Sometimes a new recipe. But something. Without feeling as if I’d been smacked like an unruly child.
If you like this kind of story, I highly recommend SL Huang’s Burning Roses, and Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer. You will be lost from the first page. They show you life as it is meant to be without shaming you for not being there yet.
So why J is for Just? In looking back on my own writing, I’ve found a recurrent theme. Proving that Just is a damn fine thing to be. How many times have I heard “You can’t do that. You’re just a girl”, “You’re just an analyst. All you do is push a button and a report comes out,” or “What do you know? You’re just an indie author,’ or “You’re just rank and file. You’re not a manager.” Always some sort of us versus them.
I and my characters love proving to the world that Just is awesome. It doesn’t matter how others perceive it. I’ll still get it done to the best of my ability, and I’ll know I did it with my own blood, sweat, and tears. And someone, somewhere, will appreciate that it’s been done. Just is beautiful just as it is.