Monday, August 01, 2005

Winning Minds and Minds

Never have I written a novel with the grander social good in mind. I like to think I'm not that arrogant, and I have little interest in writing propaganda (Capitalism is Good! by Ayn Rand). As the good man Seinfeld says, "Not that there's anything wrong with that;" I just don't view it as my job. I've always wanted to put myself in the service of the story that I'm telling - first and foremost - and having an agenda underlying the narrative seems a cheat. I can't know all the "morals" of the story I'm writing in advance and shape the plot to those ends. That said, one of the aspects of writing crime fiction that I love is that I get to punish people - or types of people - who piss me off. Having discussed mind-control cults with a buddy who lost his sister into one, I set out to research them (dark, twisted, psychological - what's not to love?). And I found the research endlessly fascinating. I created my own cult in THE PROGRAM, complete with narcissistic leader, and had a lot of fun doing it.

When the book came out, it drew some interesting remarks from reviewers. More than a few mentioned it should be required reading for anyone before going to college, because it peels back the veneer and shows the strategies which mind-control cults use to recruit. A cult's inner workings, finally on display. Others recommended the book for friends, relatives, people traveling - the list went on and on. I even got invited to UCLA's social psych department to lecture on mind-control techniques.

Though I didn't write The Program as some act of public good, it's certainly been gratifying to see that it has helped some people in ways that are - dare I say? - concrete.

I received the following email the other day (details have been exed out to conceal the identity of the sender - and the email will self-destruct in 30 seconds):
Hi Gregg,
At xxx I sat at your table and asked a lot of questions last year. I loved The Program. In fact that book helped a good friend of ours here in xxx. Turns out their son and wife are involved with some religious cult and they can't seem to get them to realize that all this group wants is money. I loaned them your book to read on how it is done. Now they have a better insight. Can hardly wait for the new book. Are you riding in biker groups to get a feel for your writing?

Maybe TROUBLESHOOTER will be used to help people getting sucked into biker gangs....


James Lincoln Warren said...

That, and the cost of a Harley.

I think most crime fiction is inherently moral, even the stuff that centers around a seedy protagonist -- The Ice Harvest comes to mind.

It's not that you're being openly didactic, it's just that any honest portrayal of evil will demonstrate its destructive and dehumanizing power.

Motherhood for the Weak said...

Interesting post--I might actually pick up your book. I need to construct a cult for a story I'm developing. Don't worry, not your genre, it's fantasy.

It'll be nice to have a fun story to read as research--I'm getting tired of non-fiction.


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