A Fiction Writer’s Job is to Tell the Truth of Human Experience through the Made-Up Lives of Real People.
I’ve said that over and over. We make characters, and we put them into situations where they need to grow and adapt, and in doing so (if we do it right, that is), we reveal something powerful about what it means to be a person.
I’ve also said time and time again that writers are wizards. We are. We take our ideas and we infect our readers with them. We can transfix you in worlds of our own conjuring and make you forget to eat. Our words can start revolutions, topple dictators, change the course of history, and even create and destroy gods. If that’s not real-life magic, then I don’t know what is.
Writers Need to Write Now More Than Ever…
Okay, maybe not more than ever, but we definitely need to be on our game right now. I’d say we’re living in unprecedented times, but we’re not. Not really. Let’s break it down.
Last century started with a second industrial revolution, along with a push for social justice and progress. Strides toward that end were made under Theodore Roosevelt during the first decade. Even Woodrow Wilson pushed for progress and peace in the second decade, despite our inevitable participation in World War 1. Then there was a period of economic boom in the third decade (the 1920s) because of the industry created during the war.
Socially, however, the lost generation began to abandon morality and any sense of communal duty. In essence, after such a violent, murderous, terrifying and ultimately senseless war, those left alive couldn’t reconcile Victorian ideals of honor, virtue, courage, duty, sacrifice, and the memories of entire platoons of men being mowed down by machine gun fire, or entire trenches of their comrades falling victim to mustard gas attacks. Men had never seen destruction on such a massive scale. The American Civil War fifty years earlier had been horrific, but there were no tanks, no airplanes, and no mustard gas. In short, in the Civil War, you pretty much had to mean to kill the people you were killing. In World War 1, however, that wasn’t so much the case. After all, mustard gas isn’t exactly a pinpoint precision weapon.
So the veterans and those who lost so many turned to material excess. They also openly rebelled against the law. The 1920s prohibition experiment made more criminals of Americans than virtually any other laws up to that point. Everyone was making bathtub gin or going to speakeasies. In fact, prohibition gave rise to organized crime, and made names like Al Capone, Babyface Nelson, John Dillinger, and Bonnie & Clyde famous. But that wasn’t the only thing.
Let’s not forget that we also faced A GLOBAL PANDEMIC a hundred years ago, too.
Like now, a lot of governments didn’t act wisely, and along with the war, a significant chunk of the population was wiped out. But hey, the economy was booming!
Of course, though, what happened a hundred years ago was a bubble. We all know that in 1929, the stock market crashed and the decade that followed was one of the hardest for any Americans in history.
Then we had another war because a madman took over one of the most theretofore powerful nations in the world and decided that he his Arian brothers and sisters needed “living space.” And he wasn’t the only madman on the world stage. There was another one a little south of the Fatherland who was bat-shit crazy, but as long as he “made the trains run on time,” his Latin followers didn’t care. Finally, in the East, another madman was fueled by his peoples unwavering belief that he was a living god. His country, though small, had global ambitions, and needed natural resources from their neighbors to do it.
And That Was Just the First Half.
The thing is, these cycles tend to repeat themselves if you watch history long enough. I’ve just given you a glimpse of half a century. I have that insight because I’m a student of history (I have a history minor on my bachelor’s degree, have studied it independently since then, and taught it for three years). History—real history, that is—is founded on primary sources (or as close as historians can get) in order to form a narrative of the times from different perspectives. And that requires writers. But it’s not just non-fiction primary sources we look at.
Literature also gives us a snapshot of the times. My history books gave me the facts of Theodore Roosevelt’s election and the events that led up to World War 1, but Hemingway’s writing helped me to feel what it was like to be in Franco’s war, or what it was like to be a wounded veteran afterward. History books told me about the roaring ’20s and the stock market crash. Hell, my grandfather (one of my only true heroes) was born the day the market crashed, and told me stories of what it was like growing up during the Depression, but until I read Steinbeck, I couldn’t imagine it. And I know what I know about the excesses that led to my grandfather’s hard childhood because of The Great Gatsby.
Furthermore, I learned about the fear and paranoia of the post-World-War 2 era from the likes of Shirley Jackson and George Orwell.
So Let’s Compare, Shall We?
In the first half of the last century, we had two major global conflicts within a span of thirty years, an economic windfall that created an enormous wealth-gap, an global economic and environmental (dust-bowl) crisis, the global rise of militant Nationalism led by madmen and propaganda masters, and a global pandemic.
In the first two decades of this century, we’ve had a single global war that’s lasted for nineteen years. Longer than any other war in U.S. history. We’re hurtling toward the point of no return when it comes to climate change, and the wealth/income gap is absolutely atrocious. For the last four years, we’ve been besieged by Nationalist madmen the world over, and propaganda masters, both foreign and domestic, who have more power now than ever before. Oh yeah, and now there’s a worldwide plague and, oh yeah… FUCKING MURDER WASPS FROM ASIA!
I hate to type it, boys and girls, but we’re making the same mistakes our great grandparents made. I wrote a bunch of shit on Thursday last week about generations, but the more I think about it, I’m coming to the opinion that Generation X is very much like The Lost Generation. We’re famous for our apathy. And maybe my guilt over that didn’t come across enough in last week’s post, but I really do feel like that’s on us. We’ve spent the last 20 years as adults just ignoring the bullshit that’s building up.
But as I also wrote last Thursday, I think it’s time for us to stand up and speak out. ESPECIALLY WRITERS!
If You Can Wield a
Rifle Pen, Consider This Your Call to Arms!
There are threats everywhere. And they need to be named. But not at the expense of the truth.
What the hell am I talking about?
According to an article in The Atlantic, “The real opposition is the media,” Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, once told the journalist Michael Lewis. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
It’s so easy to get bogged down in the torrent of horse shit that spews from the White House these days. And that’s what they want. That’s why I’ve stopped watching news on TV since
Trump Beeblebrox was elected. I read news stories as I see fit, but I can’t get bogged down with every stupid thing that the Idiot-in-Chief does or says, because there’s just too much of it. That’s their strategy, and unfortunately it’s working.
So How Do We Fight Back?
First, we write. But not the way you think. Sure, we’re going to write for real. We’re going to put our sincere thoughts and experiences on the page (digital or otherwise) and they’ll be testimonies to the madness that is now. But we also write ridiculousness.
I brought up the Lost Generation again for a reason. The Modernist movement was a direct reaction to the bullshit that artists and writers saw in the world during the early twentieth century. If we Gen-Xers are truly kindred spirits, I say we do the same.
After all, as I’ve also written a multitude of times, trying to argue with an idiot is like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are, the bird is just going to shit all over the board and act like he won. Sound like any Facebook interactions you’ve seen/read/been part of lately? Yeah, me too.
So here’s the other thing we’re going to do. Respond to absurdity with absurdity.
If you write something legitimate about your experience in these times, fiction or non, and some asshole wants to beat you up over it with Trump-ish bullying, write back with a bunch of gibberish. After all, that’s what they’re trying to feed you.
For example… I posted an article that was one of the most accurate descriptions of what’s wrong with the Donald I’ve ever read on FB. Some friend-of-a-friend, whom I honestly couldn’t pick out of a lineup, said, “I read the first paragraph. This guy obviously doesn’t understand our president.”
Now, I could have wasted valuable time trying to explain to this moron how wrong he was. And I was about to…
…Then one of my real friends responded to his comment by simply adding a laughing emoji. Then I and several others followed suit.
Don’t Waste Your Efforts
I say, if you’re going to put real thought into making a point, then you do it. But understand that you’re not going to change the minds of the brainwashed. Our target audience is the moderates. The ones who had such a bad taste for Hillary Clinton in their mouths that they thought that orange monstrosity currently occupying the White House was a better choice.
I can’t believe they’re all bad people. They were just misguided. I believe in Americans, despite the loudmouths that get most of the attention. I still believe they’re the minority, and that at our core, we’re a people of compassion and values.
It’s time we gave the historians who will judge us some proof that we’re not all under this idiotic spell.
Write well, my friends.