Please join me as I welcome author Gerrie Ferris Finger as the special guest blogger here today at Thoughts in Progress.
Gerrie won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Novel Competition in 2009 for “The End Game,” to be released by St. Martin's Minotaur on April 27. Here’s a brief blurb about the book: “Moriah Dru’s weekend off with her lover, Lieutenant Richard Lake, is interrupted when Atlanta juvenile court judge Portia Devon hires Dru to find two sisters who’ve gone missing after their foster parents’ house burns down."
"The End Game" features a strong new heroine in a vivid Southern setting. Gerrie puts a new spin on the classic mystery novel. A special treat for me is that she's a Georgia author. She stopped by today to talk about writing and themes.
A tricky thing is theme. Whenever someone asks me what's the theme of your novel, I'm taken back to my college English Literature class. We were freshmen and majoring in something else – me, journalism – but we were in Arts and Science our first year, so we had to have so many hours of English and History and Biology, or in my case, Geology.
Theme. The instructor of our Lit class asked, "What is the theme in Hamlet?" We'd just read it and, in unison, answered, "Revenge." He held up a finger. "Revenge? Who was avenged?"
I tried to think – maybe the theme is Obsession. Our instructor went on, "There were all kinds of reasons for Hamlet to exact revenge on those who betrayed him, but he never committed one act of revenge."
Others in the class came up with different themes that drove that famous play. Incest. Lust. Mortality. Deceit. Power.
"How about Uncertainty?" the instructor said.
Eyebrows rose, including mine. Was uncertainty one of the themes known to the world of literature? He went on to show us how the play was propelled by Hamlet's wavering doubt about events affecting his life – the plotline.
And therein lies how plot and theme marry to confuse everyone. We know plot. That's the action; that's the part we bore people with when we go into raptures about a movie or book we liked. But with the telling, we often impart the mood of the story, or the simple moral without realizing it. That's theme for you.
The reason theme's tricky is it's abstract. It exists in novels, but it's not there to be seen. Theme doesn't shout out, I'm here. Lookee me.
When I wrote The End Game, I wasn't thinking, What's my theme going to be. I began with my heroine, Moriah Dru, and let her tell her story, which she does in first person. She sparked the action, helped create her co-characters and ultimately developed the theme.
How did she do it? In the beginning we learn she's a child finder. She had been an Atlanta policewoman, but found her calling in finding lost children. Right away, we know she cares for the unfortunate who are lost or stolen and can't fend for themselves. She embarks on a relentless search for the kids, refusing to believe she won't find them alive. We detect persistence and faith – themes. So in a piece of fiction like "The End Game" themes are revealed after the characters build the plot and act on their instincts and beliefs.
Themes, I believe, are not intended to preach. Readers must perceive them and writers must underlie the morals in the work without being didactic. By the time Moriah Dru's story ends, more themes will emerge, each formed in the minds of her readers..
Maybe we college freshmen were right in saying lust, incest, power were themes, and our instructor was right that Hamlet's story had an overriding theme of uncertainty – or revenge wished for but never pursued.
Gerrie, thanks so much for guest blogging here today. You have given us a good take on themes.
Gerrie lives on the coast of Georgia with her husband and standard poodle, Bogey. For more on Gerrie and her book check out her website and her blog.
Here’s a brief review for “The End Game”: A hunt for two young sisters propels Finger's compelling if at times sobering debut… A well-researched plot and snappy dialogue—plus some fine rail-yard K-9 detecting by Buddy, a German shepherd, and Jed, a Labrador retriever—keep the action moving. PUBLISHERS WEEKLY