I used to hide my political opinions and observations from my readers—both in blogs and in my books—worried that if someone disagreed with me, they’d never buy my books.
A wise marketing person laughed at me when I said that.
“Who’s buying your books now?” he asked.
Oh, I answered, sheepishly, and threw out a slightly exaggerated number. Still not as impressive as I’d like.
“So, you’re worried that 50% of the other 320 million people in the US won’t read you?”
Uh. Okay. I got the point.
“People need to know who you are, what you care about, and what you think,” he admonished me. “You need to say something. Write for those with open minds.”
As I’ve been working through the devastating emotional impact of the past week, I’ve been thinking about that often. What am I saying in my books? Am I saying it clearly enough?
I am not a political columnist, and I do not write political fiction. But, neither do I write fantasy. I write about real people—mostly women in the last half of their lives—who face real political and economic problems.
So, is there a place in my fiction for a point of view?
Of course there is. A person can’t write a sentence without expressing a point of view—even if it’s only to express belief in simple, a well-accepted fact.
About six months ago, a new friend asked me if my novels reflected my liberal, environmental, and feminist viewpoints. We had just met, and she (like more than 320 million others in the U.S.) had never read any of my books. Yes, I answered, but only subtly.
Now I’m thinking: perhaps too subtly.
Lately, as my blog readers know, I’ve been working on a series about a small town in Iowa—one of those towns that undoubtedly (if it weren’t fictional) would have voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump ten days ago. Johnson Station has been run for decades by an old guard of old white guys who have businesses on Main Street and seats in local government. They whine a lot about “being left behind” by national politics and the “liberal media,” and sit on their hands, doing nothing but planting pots of petunias on their street corners as their town’s economy dries up and withers away. Despite their already dwindling population, they cheer when the INS comes in, deports dozens of Mexican workers, and closes the chicken processing plant at the edge of town.
The series starts with Gracie, a feisty librarian who refuses to cull the library shelves of books that the politicians don’t like. The survival of the library, and related to it, the survival of the community are at stake. From Gracie’s initial rebellion sparks a revolution. (Hence the title: Gracie’s Revolution.) Along the way, the women question whether their problems come from the fact that they and their children have been “left behind” or if the problem is they “stayed behind”–in their politics, in their education, in their dreams and aspirations.
Are their problems everyone else’s fault, or is the problem their own lack of growth and imagination?
In the book, there’s a subtle point of view that I will express far more directly here than I do in its pages: Perhaps some of Middle America’s woes aren’t the fault of the more progressive coasts, but, at least in part, of a failure of the middle to keep up: To keep up with inclusive politics that reject racism, bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia. To keep up with the rest of the world in recognizing that globalization isn’t something you can beat back with registrations, deportations and walls. That low-skilled job losses caused by robotization and computerization won’t be stemmed by closing borders and villainizing entire populations of people. That killing support for higher education may gag those liberal professors, but it will kill their children’s chances at great futures.
Over the past week, I have totally rewritten Gracie’s story. It was too subtle. It’s now less so. Still, my heroines and the men who support them (and the men they support) take back the town and do the things that need to be done to turn Johnson Station around. They have true empathy and support for their brothers and sisters for whom change is coming too late. But, Johnson Station’s women don’t blame Washington or California or New York or Mexico or Muslims.
It’s a story of what can happen when ambition and hard work and imagination triumph over stagnation.
A week ago, I was contemplating—no, I had actually decided!—I was going to abandon those women I’d created because the vote in Iowa had made it clear that I was crazy in inventing them. Perhaps imagining a town full of such progressive women is a silly fantasy. Perhaps I’m indulging myself in my own silly political dreams. But I still care about the Midwest.
And not all white Iowa women voted for Trump. So, maybe there is hope.