I didn’t set out to write a novel built around the theme of ethnic tension. That’s not a drum I typically go around banging. But before I explain how this aspect of my novel, Strong Convictions, came about, let me first say this: Racism is neither uniquely, nor even predominantly an American disgrace. It’s not a shame restricted primarily to the beliefs and behaviors of white-skinned people. Racism is a human problem. The phenomenon has plagued the human race on every inhabited continent for millennia. And it’s ugly in all of its manifestations.
That having been said, I’d like to explain how ethnic tension became a prominent theme in Strong Convictions.
My first novel, Sumotori, is a crime novel set in present-day Japan. It’s not sexy to look at writing from the business side of things. We prefer to think about a writer following the leading of his muse. Nonetheless, with 750,000 works of fiction being offered to the reading public each year by independent authors from America alone, to say that it’s difficult for a newcomer to the writing scene to get noticed is an understatement of monumental proportions. So most of the gurus out there, striving to encourage indie authors, spend a lot of time talking about branding.
In my case, conventional wisdom says that, since my first novel was thoroughly East Asian in nature, my brand as an author needs to maintain the Japanese or East Asian theme in some way. So I set out to write a second novel set in East Asia (Korea, this time). Very shortly, I found myself beating my head against a wall trying to make the story appealing to a Western—or primarily American—audience. Not much fun. And absolutely asphyxiating to whatever muses may have been struggling to inspire me.
So what did I do? I had drafted about seven opening sequences to various other types of novels—dystopian, historical, paranormal. Frustrated with my second East Asian-themed novel, I began to play with the opening sequences I had already drafted. The one that emerged as the most fun was the Western.
Now I had a dilemma on my hand. Should I do a flat-out leap from one genre to another with no ties whatsoever between my first novel and my second? Or should I try to maintain the East Asian element of my brand in some fashion? I decided at the time to do the latter.
So I had to find a natural way for Far East to meet Old West. History provided me with a ready option. Most students of American history know that large numbers of Chinese—especially males—came to the US in the wake of the California Gold Rush and that many of them ended up working in various other locations and trades, not the least of which was helping build the Central Pacific portion of the first transcontinental railroad.
To have my lead character fall in love with a Chinese girl may seem like a stretch on the surface, but I believe it works and works well in Strong Convictions. One reason is because–in that time and place–such a romance would have been fraught with perils for both parties.
The racial tension theme in Strong Convictions is therefore a byproduct of the more-or-less forbidden attraction my protagonist has for a Chinese girl. And that element of the story came first—unromantically enough—from a sense that I needed to maintain some kind of thematic continuity from one of my novels to the next.
But guess what. As it turns out, the forbidden love was extremely exciting to develop and to write about in and of itself. The resulting story far and away supersedes any branding concerns I may have had. The relationship is so compelling it will continue into the next two Westerns I am working on.
Long and short, I really don’t think it matters at all that I shifted from writing a contemporary crime drama set in Japan to authoring a classic-style Western. If you look at my author page on Amazon.com today, the two novels may look incongruent side by side. But as my catalog expands, I believe readers will be able to accept that GP Hutchinson writes Westerns and contemporary thrillers…and who knows? Maybe some other fascinating genre.
Meanwhile, whatever our literary preferences, let’s work on loving one another well, whatever our color or cultural roots.