Social Justice Solutions: The Potential of Fiction by Robert Eggleton

by | Jun 11, 2021 | Author | 1 comment

Historically, speculative fiction has fueled social activism, debate, and the adoption of evolving or devolving social policy depending on one’s values. In 380 B.C., Plato envisioned a utopian society in The Republic and that story represented the beginning of a long string of speculations: ecology, economics, politics, religion, technology, feminism….

Charles Dickens may not have been the first novelist to address the evils of child victimization in fiction, but his work has certainly had an impact on the conscientious of us all. Every Christmas, Tiny Tim pulls at our heart strings, now by cable and satellite, and stirs the emotions of masses. In another Dickens novel, after finally getting adopted into a loving home, as millions of today’s homeless children also dream about, Oliver eventually made it to Broadway well over a century later. Oliver Twist may be the best example of Dickens’ belief that a novel should do much more than merely entertain, but entertain it did, very well.

Similarly, a 1946 essay by George Orwell self-assessed his writing of Animal Farm as a fusion of artistic and political expressions: Why I Write. Orwell’s subsequent novel, 1984, was also so popular that they both became required reading in high schools. Dickens likely influenced Orwell and many other novelists, such as Aldous Huxley and H.G. Wells, who included social analyses or commentary in their works. These authors were big influences on me as I conceived my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow, and its potential to prevent child abuse.

Prior to earning a Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1977, I began a career in child welfare. I’ve worked in the field of children’s advocacy for over forty-five  years. In 2016, I retired from my job as a children’s psychotherapist from an intensive mental health program. Many of the kids in the program had been abused, some sexually. Part of my job was to facilitate group psychotherapy sessions.

One day in 2006 during a group session, I was sitting around a table used for written therapeutic exercises, and a little girl with stringy, brown hair sat a few feet away. Instead of just disclosing the horrors of her abuse at the hands of the meanest daddy on Earth, she also spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future: finding a loving family who would protect her forever.

This girl was inspiring. She got me thinking again about my own hopes and dreams of writing fiction, an aspiration that I’d held in since I was twelve years old. My protagonist was born that day – an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the Universe, Lacy Dawn. I began to write fiction in the evenings and sometimes went to work the next day with inadequate sleep. Every time that I would feel discouraged, when I felt like giving up, I would imagine Lacy Dawn speaking honestly about the barriers that she faced in pursuit of her dream of finding a permanent home. I would remind myself that despite the popularity of escapism / recreation as the exclusive function of novels in the mainstream, the road for fiction to influence the world had been paved.

But, the struggles in the world of books were difficult, seemingly impossible to overcome. I got to the point where I needed more to sustain my drive. My wife and I talked it over. That’s when the idea of donating proceeds to prevent child abuse became a commitment that has sustained my discouragement to this day. Three short Lacy Dawn Adventures were subsequently published in magazines. Rarity from the Hollow has now been released as my debut novel.

Half of author proceeds are donated to Children’s Home Society of  West Virginia childhswv.org, a nonprofit child welfare agency where I worked in the early ‘80s. The agency was established in 1893, now serves over 14,000 families and children each year. West Virginia is a place like so many others with inadequate funding to deliver effective social services. It has the poorest economic outlook in the U.S, and leads the nation on heroin overdose death rate — both correlates of child abuse.

As I was writing Rarity from the Hollow, I envisioned childhood maltreatment from victimization to empowerment. I wanted to produce a story that survivors could benefit from having read.  Nine book reviewers have privately disclosed to me that they were survivors of childhood maltreatment, like me, and all reported having benefitted from my novel. These book reviewers wrote glowing book reviews, and one of them publicly disclosed for the first time that she had been a rape victim as part of her review: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3IAA18DVORSV7

Given the high prevalence rate of child maltreatment in the U.S. – one in four adults report having been maltreated as children — I wasn’t surprised that book reviewers would be a representative sample. Nevertheless, these disclosures were very touching and encourage me as I work to get Rarity from the Hollow noticed by readers.

 “American children are suffering from a hidden epidemic of child abuse and neglect. National child abuse estimates are well known for being under-reported. The latest 2015 Child Maltreatment Report from The Children’s Bureau was published in January 2017. The report shows an increase in child abuse referrals from 3.6 million to 4 million. The number of children involved subsequently increased to 7.2 million from 6.6 million. The report also indicates an increase in child deaths from abuse and neglect to 1,670 in 2015, up from 1,580 in 2014. Some reports estimate child abuse fatalities at 1,740 or even higher.” There are about five child fatalities from maltreatment every day.

The realities of child maltreatment, the statistics, are depressing. However, I wasn’t a successful children’s advocate because I got good at peddling “sob stories.” I took Charles Dickens to heart – “not MERELY to entertain (emphasis added).” Yes, Rarity from the Hollow includes social commentary – child abuse, poverty, drug addiction, domestic violence…– but, I made a concerted effort to not present anything as preachy. Personally, I don’t like to read preachy literature, not even religious pamphlets that one finds on the floors of public toilet stalls. I wanted to produce a novel that speaks to one reader about social issues in one manner, while interpreted very differently by another reader. To raise funds, readers had to be entertained by my story, and not preached to about a depressing topic. It is not an exposé or a memoir. The early tragedy feeds subsequent comedy, satire, and political parody, so that readers who are sensitized to child maltreatment remember the fun that they had by reading Rarity from the Hollow.

With respect to entertainment value and the self-promotions of my novel, I became especially invigorated when Rarity from the Hollow received a Gold Medal from a prominent book review organization:

“…a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, only instead of the earth being destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass, Lacy Dawn must…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them…Eggleton sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3T519V7EEMN0R/

When Rarity form the Hollow received a second Gold Medal, I became increasingly convinced that I had found the balance between social commentary (social policy) and entertainment as promoted by Charles Dickens:

“…Full of cranky characters and crazy situations, Rarity From the Hollow sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved…” https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/rarity-from-the-hollow

Then, when I was feeling more confident about the prospects of raising some money to prevent child abuse in my home state, Donald Trump was elected President of the U.S. Rarity from the Hollow was the first, perhaps the only, science fiction adventure to specifically predict the rise of Donald Trumpto political power. In the story, Mr. Prump is the Manager of the Mall, the Supreme Being, on Planet Shptiludrp (Shop Until Your Drop) and was based as a parody of the TV show, The Apprentice. Mr. Rump is the Manager of the Underworld on the planet and runs the sewage system, a critical function, as a parody of Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism. In reality, Trump’s tax code cut domestic spending that affected children in our communities. I was sad. Perhaps God sent, a wonderful book review helped me refocus, “Heartbreakingly Tragic Yet Funny and Satiric” —  https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2RAXNLSHTUDUF/5X/

Today, I’m in my 70s but feel sustained in my mission because of this book review: “…Brilliant satires such as this are genius works of literature in the same class as Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ I can picture American Lit professors sometime in the distant future placing this masterpiece on their reading list.” It gives me hope that if the project fails to make much money for needful children in my lifetime, that there is potential beyond. This wonderful book reviewer donated a great video to the cause: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkbusks811Q

On a very limited budget (none), I continue to self-promote and to save up money for editing costs and for the front cover of the next Lacy Dawn Adventure: Ivy. Similarly, I hope that it also: “…In the spirit of Vonnegut… takes the genre and gives it another quarter turn.…” https://electricrev.net/2014/08/12/a-universe-on-the-edge/

So, what do you think? Will fiction continue to prompt human thought in a way that drives consideration of policy, how we go about this crazy thing called life? Or have we all gone down the road named “Escape from Reality” so far that social commentary has become a pothole on our entertainment highways?

About the Author

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court. Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and follows the publication of other Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment. For a complete listing of specific services, including the nonprofit agency history and its mission, please see: http://www.childhswv.org/.

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