Writing Fiction in a Time of Genuine Crisis

Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women’s March. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

 

A funny thing happened to me eighteen months ago. A random tweet throwing shade at the typical rightwing response to police brutality put me in touch with an editor for The Hill. As a result, I added paid political commentator to my other job titles of sci-fi author and stand-up comic. Many, many articles followed, and I’ve added bylines in other venues such as The New York Times, US News, and an interview in Salon.

Which has given me a unique perspective on how to keep writing about spaceships and ray guns while Rome seemingly burns around us.

First of all, Don’t Panic. We are facing a crisis of a kind our nation has not seen since 1861 at the dawn of the Civil War, but no one person is doing all the work. If the Women’s March taught us anything, it’s that the resistance is massive, unprecedented, organized, and furious. There are plenty of ants and worker bees to carry the load. We can all afford to take our eyes away from Twitter and the networks for a few hours a day and create our stories, guilt free. The fight will be there when we’re finished. You have permission to create and care for yourself. You are not required to burn yourself at both ends.

Secondly, remember that our stories matter. The stories humans tell each other form the basis of our societies. They weave the tapestry of who we are, and who we aspire to be. Storytellers have the power, privilege, and responsibility of shaping and guiding the narrative. There’s a reason we were among the first to be attacked in the Hugo fiasco a couple years ago. The trolls, puppies, and alt-right jackboots recognize who sets the pace, and it’s not them. Which is why they’re stuck reacting to the work we’re doing. They are insects, drawn to the light you create.

My own work took a serious turn in the aftermath of last year’s campaign. A series that had started as a fun little murder mystery and continued with an action-adventure tale suddenly tackled much weightier issues in its third volume as a direct result of the bullshit I was witnessing on a daily basis. So I decided to talk about gentrification and ghettos, policing in diverse communities, wealth inequality, xenophobia, and gender identity. Things I as a straight white male wasn’t entirely comfortable talking about out of fear I wasn’t doing them justice.

I’m still not sure I wrote about those issues right, or that I was the right person to write about them, but I do know in this environment, the last thing I wanted to contribute was another ‘safe’ book. Not that such a thing even exists anymore. Recently, I found a review of my second book online that dismissed the entire work for the cardinal sin of using gender-neutral pronouns in relation to an alien race. The point of which was not to be political, but simply to distinguish them from the humans and to recognize their distinct, triple gendered reproductive strategy.

Your work will be politicized by extremists whether you intend or desire it or not. But here’s the thing to remember: Assassins mean you’re winning. So write that completely bonkers trans mermaid/interracial centaur Cold War spy romance mashup novel. Fuck it. Sharknado got made like seven times.

Never let anyone tell you writing your novel is a distraction, or isn’t part of the fight. Books, movies, music, art, comedy, they all steer the future and shape perceptions. It’s why authoritarians ban and burn them. They understand the magic of a story and the power it can have to inspire minds and motivate resistance. We, YOU, are what they fear the most. Diverse, creative people confidently injecting their stories into the world without fear. Because they know we’re building a future that doesn’t include them.

Build, my pretties. Create universes you want to live it, and you might just get the chance. Every word remakes our world in your image, one snowflake at a time, until the avalanche breaks.

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