A couple of years ago, I had this weird harmonic convergence over the course of just a week or so, getting pummeled from all sides by unrelated news articles, personal accounts, and videos about kids in the foster care system.
Which I thought was, yanno, weird.
I had a passing knowledge of the foster system, but nothing first hand or detailed. So why the onslaught?
I decided it was because the Universe was trying to get me to pay attention to something other than myself for a hot minute.
So I did. I started doing some research to try and figure out why I needed to pay attention and to what in particular. One of the original articles in the onslaught, maybe the first one, was a piece with an image that haunts me to this day, that of foster kids having to gather up all their worldly possessions into a big, black garbage bag as they’re suddenly removed from their home. Sometimes they don’t even get that. Often they’re picked up from school and swooped up into the foster system with nothing.
Fairly quickly I stumbled upon Comfort Cases, Together We Rise, Backpacks of Love, and one near me in Colorado, Packs of Hope which endeavor to provide backpacks or roller bags or duffels stuffed with emergency clothes and supplies for these kids.
I knew I couldn’t do much about the overwhelming and paralyzing bad news in the world, but quickly realized I could fill a backpack for a kid so they’d at least have jammies to sleep in that night. And I thought maybe some of my friends could too. So I set up a GoFundMe and organized a party for local donors I cleverly called a “Backpack Party.” (Free book to anyone who gives me a better name!)
I’ve hosted it for two years now. We have a lot of fun at the parties, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, playing Giant Scrabble
and other backyard games, gorging ourselves at the taco bar and drinking sangria and margaritas. I’m still waiting for the final tally for this year, but we collected 25 backpacks for all ages and sizes of kids last year and at least that many this year. Donations are still coming in, though, so maybe I can fill more backpacks before my final delivery.
That’s great, Becky, but what does that have to do with themes?
It just occurred to me that authors put themes like this in their books all the time to draw attention to a particular issue that’s important to them.
I was talking recently to someone who was asking about my new crossword puzzle series and as I described my protagonist, who has OCD, they stopped me and said, “Oooh! A theme!”
I’m sure I made a face because “themes” seem to belong to weightier books than mine. “Themes” are for books I studied in Literature class. “Themes” are for authors smarter and more famous than I am.
But then I thought about reading THROW ME TO THE WOLVES where Patrick McGuinness used the theme of media saturation and “fake news” in his terrific mystery.
In Barbara Nickless’ fantastic Sydney Parnell thrillers she digs deep into the theme of PTSD in military veterans.
And I guess themes don’t even have to be dark. In Tim Dorsey’s comic crime novels, you will always find his theme of “ridiculous things that happen in Florida.”
I don’t really do any of that. Not consciously, at least.
But now I feel the pull to make a concerted effort to … I dunno … include themes. Is the Universe telling me to write about a foster kid? And if so, why? What am I supposed to say about the foster system? What kind of light needs to be shed upon it? Can I do this theme justice?
Problem is, even if I decide to, I’m not sure how to go about it. Any ideas for me? What do you think of when you hear the word “theme” in conjunction with a novel, especially a cozy mystery? Can you think of other examples of themes in mysteries? Am I making this too complicated?