Thursday, January 14, 2021

A week or a lifetime?

My calendar says I last posted two weeks ago. The newscycle says time is no longer linear (if it ever was).

I sat glued to the TV last week in a way I have not since Sept. 11, 2001. I think I (and every American) was catapulted back in time about two hundred years. I find myself saying (perhaps naively), “We survived 1968” far too often of late. It’s a way for me to speak life into my hope that the sun will come out Jan. 21, and I’ll feel the ship, although still wobbly, straighten and stop taking on water. In short, for me, it’s a way of moving beyond.

All of this leads to the writing topic at the forefront of my mind: Deciding whether or not to discuss contemporary politics in a crime novel. Ezra Pound famously said artists are the antennae of the race. That speaks to a writer’s responsibility. I love reading novels and poems that tackle weighty societal issues. However, this week, I’m reading Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me and enjoying the absolute escape of the whodunit before falling asleep. I tell students in my Advanced Studies in Rhetoric class on day one that “fiction is universal; non-fiction rarely is.” Can fiction be universal, if it dives deeply but truly into one society’s political issue? Perhaps going deep enough and honestly enough will allow the issue to resonate for readers. And perhaps some readers wish to experience a mystery through a historical or societal lens. I have few answers but many more questions.

The events of this past week –– watching the United States Capital be overrun, seeing a presidency (further) implode; knowing 68 arrests (as of this writing) were made but that had the domestic terrorists been people of color there would have been mass carnage; and worrying about what might play out Jan. 20 –– has me wondering how much my characters should be impacted by (or aware of) the political landscape when they meet on the page. How much social commentary is too much?

I know this: If a decade ago I’d have proposed a political novel with a plot ending with the events taking place last week at the United States Capital, you wouldn’t have bought it.

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