Writing Fiction in the Age of Trump
I have been a part-time journalist in the past, and I still write human interest and arts-related content for a local magazine.
Yet I have never done much of what one might call “hard journalism.” That is to say factual, researched, or service to the public good and record. I’m capable, but I think in most cases, that sort of writing is best left to those who love doing it.
We need that kind of writing now more than ever.
What of my writing, though? These posts, my observational essays? My fiction?
With the darkening cloud of authoritarianism from Trump, and the bigotry, hatred, and destruction of democratic norms that comes along with that, I’ve been forced to wonder at times if I’m making a true contribution to the light.
The common answer to such inquiries goes something like this:
“Fiction, and other forms of thought provoking, subjective writing provides many people with solace, escape, hope, and empathy. Composing stories that encourage people when little else is encouraging is a valuable contribution to society. That’s true of all of the arts.”
Yes. Okay. I have no argument against that in concept. I certainly would not want stories and art to go away. (Though there are those who try like hell to rid us of them.)
I face several difficulties, however, when I attempt to assimilate this line of thinking into my own life.
-I’m uncertain if there is a point beyond which this ceases to apply to this degree.
-I fear that delving into the production of fiction insulates at times, even if it is unintentional. We need engagement, not more barriers to reality.
-Is writing a good mystery, or an exciting suspense yarn, or immersive fantasy on the same level of justification these days as thick-themed, rebellious, deep-prose literature? The latter has served a social purpose for ages. The former examples?
-Most personally, I myself reach, and hence effect virtually nobody. That is to say even if one were to conclude that writing fiction, all fiction is a service to society in these days of creeping fascism and ultra-nationalism, one would have to assume that said fiction is being read widely in said society, wouldn’t one? My fiction is not widely read thus far. In fact, depending on your metric, my fiction is infrequently read.
It’s true. I’m trying not to sound like this is all about me. Yet for the time being, the truth cannot be denied; whether because of marketing, or content, or dumb luck, I’ve not found a consistent audience for my work beyond a handful of people who know me.
It’s one thing to spend the time, energy, thought and life force on a novel that at least a small audience will most likely enjoy. One can say to oneself as a writer, “I’m at least reaching those people. I made a difference in their day, distracting them from their fears, reminding them of better things. Yet for myself at this time, can I justify all of the time and effort I require to produce a novel that doesn’t get read beyond a few people, when that same time and effort should be spent instead battling and exposing the forces in the United States that are anathema to human rights, dignity and freedom? Shouldn’t be all hands on deck?
That brings me to a concern from the other side of this ever spinning coin; expressing views on political issues is often frowned upon for new, or even established writers. You don’t want to alienate potential readers after all.
But again, I don’t have a following of readers right now, despite best efforts. Who exactly would I be alienating? Furthermore, How out of touch would I appear if I failed to use what little platform I have to speak out against this country’s emerging parallels with late 1920’s Germany? Stepping away from it all and letting “others” sort it out is one of the main reasons we ended up with early 1940’s Germany in the first place.
If you follow my blog, you know that for the last 18 months or so, I’ve felt a bit of a drag on my writing energies anyway. Add to that immigrant children being abused, the hard journalists I mentioned being labeled as “enemies of the people,” and an ever cozier relationship with the Putin tyranny on the part of our government, and how is one ever to get through a particularly rough rewrite of a fantasy featuring crystals and the afterlife? “Keep Calm and Carry On” was a noble sentiment, but it was born out of a nation’s preparation for being literally blown up.
I’ll carry on writing for now, but not out of nobility. It’s because I don’t know exactly what else I’m supposed to do when I’m not keeping track of the American decline. Still the question of how justified I am in doing so is more up in the air than I would like it to be.