On Politics and Fiction

Click this thrilling link, wherein my friend Andy Nowicki and I discuss and overview THE TALKATIVE CORPSE, Andy’s gruesome and twisted THE HEART KILLER, and the crazy shit that flies through your head when you think about writing fiction:

http://alternativeright.com/blog/2013/3/7/sex-catholicism-and-despair-author-to-author-with-ann-sterzinger

NOTE TO MY LEFTIST/LIBERAL FRIENDS: Yes, the interview is on a web site called Alternative Right. Before you unthinkingly disown me, ask yourself: Well, what has your ass done to help me make even a tiny sliver of humanity aware of my work?

With few exceptions (whom I wholeheartedly thank), most people I know haven’t done so much as make time to try one of my books, much less mention them in a publication like i9. (Thanks, Nick!) Publishing a novel is a soul-crushingly hopeless, thankless task these days, and I can hardly afford to turn any interviews down. Especially since this was THE ONLY INTERVIEW I HAVE BEEN OFFERED SO FAR.

MOREOVER, and more to the point, it was a literary conversation. Not a political one. And if you think those two things are the same then you have no soul. And it was a highly satisfying literary conversation at that. Andy is a good writer, and one of the best things in the world is to converse with good writers about writing, even if the good writer in question is horrified by abortion, while I think it should be mandatory (although I find that killing living flesh is always kind of horrible, by the by, to my mind abortion is the lesser of two evils). I don’t care what your politics are, as long as you’re a good writer and a civilized debate partner. If you can write past your politics and your pretenses, I’d like to read whatever you have to offer.

Writing past their politics is what all good writers do, bar none, by the way. F’rinstance, I just read 1984 for the first time since high school, and although George Orwell is probably one of the most politically-oriented major authors you’ll find, what I did NOT notice about him the first time around, in the glory of my callow excitement over what he had to say politically, is the great number of things his text implied about the human condition generally. Our paranoia regarding group norms, our sometimes utterly involuntary ability to comply to them wholeheartedly, the consequences we’ll face or (even worse!) anticipate facing for our naked failures*. Orwell is often interpreted as critiquing only one or a handful of ideological systems, but if you make the effort to digest his every word he sheds a grim light on every kit and caboodle.

Note, however, that I did not say you should grunt and strain to omit your politics, either. Thing is, having convictions about life naturally infuses your words with passion. But those particular personal convictions are not a sufficient main subject matter for fiction writing; they’re barely food enough for an essay. The province of a fiction writer is all of life, whether all the details he collects for his description fit his overall schema of how life is or should be. And they won’t; they can’t; worldviews are merely mental models, less precisely predictive in any single instance than quantum physics.

If you try to tailor (read: maim) your writing to express only those parts of life that fit your or your friends’ basic ideology, the best-case scenario (and the most common scenario) you can wind up with is that you’ll write a crappy book. Not that you necessarily won’t find success with it, of course. Everybody likes in-group signaling, probably more than most people like reading, to my great chagrin. So if most of your friends are lefties, you’re probably going to buy the likes of Joe Meno to put out on your bookshelves, even if in your heart of hearts his smarmy prose makes you retch. If your friends are cultivated right-wingers you may want to display some Celine, even if you can’t read a word of French and the translated versions are dogshit. Whatever pleasure people might try hard to take in reading their own coffee-table books is beside the point.

But I digress. Worst-case scenario: you’ll come up with a reality-twisted but skilled, stunning bit of propaganda. Which may very well be effective, but do you really want to be a catalyst for lemmings? I can’t say I wouldn’t feel a pang of glee if a pack of pregnant women all ran over a cliff because of something they read, but I would certainly be sad if someone who disagreed with me propagandized a pack of the childfree off of Mount Mombie. Fiction may indeed wind up changing society for the better, but only by not trying to do so; any attempts to win an argument through a story can only distort the story’s truth, which is best perceived through anything that isn’t a monologue. (NOTE: TALKATIVE CORPSE is, I’ll admit, a monologue, formally speaking; but my first-person narrator argues with himself pretty regularly.)

The role of fiction, first and foremost, is to bring the author’s most honest possible expression of truth as he’s lived it to another individual mind; the second purpose, intertwined with the first, is to relieve suffering, however temporarily, for the reader.

This may sound strange, coming from me, as my books tend to be grim if funny. But I know from my own reading that while escapism is indeed grand (my current addiction to the Wheel of Time series attests to that), there’s no more profound solace than to find out, in highly textured detail, that others have lived or do live who know exactly how you feel.

*We all condemn each other constantly of thoughtcrime, if only in the depths of our nasty little minds. See also: the slippery frailty of the “self”; the power of pain over love; the many ways we can be forced to betray ourselves; and don’t forget our almost inexhaustible and creative reservoirs of cruelty…

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