Politics and Fiction Writing

I’ve been very much out of contact, I know. Beginning a blog presumes a commitment to… blog, to communicate and I haven’t been doing that. For what it’s worth, I gnash my teeth and feel guilty but I still don’t blog.


For the last couple of months I’ve been distracted by two things, distracted to the point of not being good company for myself or anyone else including my unfortunate hero. First, there is the problem of my new book, currently entitled THE NIGHT GARDENER.

There’s no question that the first draft of a novel is, for me, the literary equivalent of an obstacle course. Not only do I have to climb heights and leap into thin air, I struggle constantly against self-doubt and the fear that I have started something I won’t be able to finish. Writing “Chapter One: THE NIGHT GARDENER” for the first time puts me face to face with the little girl who lost the election for school secretary by a mortifying margin. I still cringe when I think of it.


Self-doubt has a way of morphing from straight forward fear of the first draft into not wanting to exercise, being sleepy at two in the afternoon, craving stacks of buttered toast, and wanting to watch movies all day. It’s probably a form of madness familiar to other writers, but it’s also very isolating. I’m about half way through THE NIGHT GARDENER now. My harshest and most experienced critic says it’s very good, and sometimes I believe she’s right. Even so, at this stage I can’t sit open the computer without fearing that the goose that laid the golden eggs has flown the coop.


Problem number two has been the interminable election, now thankfully a part of history. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows that I’m a lifelong Democrat, the child and grandchild of Democrats. When I was very young, I watched my first convention on a black and white TV. I remember seeing Eleanor Roosevelt escorted to the best balcony seat and waving to a tumultuous crowd. She had come to watch presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson make his acceptance speech. Years later, I developed a fierce long distance crush on his son and pursued him up and down Montgomery Street in San Francisco, trying to arrange an “accidental” meeting. I came close but that’s a different kind of story!


So, anyway, I used to love the fray of politics, but this year has been enough to sicken almost anyone. Almost daily, my mood has soared one minute and taken a nose dive the next because someone has said the right thing or the wrong. I’ve listened to political talk radio way too much. I’ve made myself sick on a diet of hyperbole, distortion and innuendo. But now it’s over and I’m pleased with the results. My blood pressure is subsiding, I’m exercising again and I will soon be able to stop eating toast and Vegemite all day.


As with almost every other worthy thing, it’s hard to write a novel, to create a world on the page. It requires concentration and a willingness to go back to what is wrong-headed and clumsy and difficult again and again until it’s right. Not perfect, but right. So, there you are. Politics and fiction writing have something in common.


In America we’re still in the first draft, constantly reimagining what it means to be a racially, culturally inclusive modern democracy. This hasn’t been done before and I’m not asking for perfection. In the same way, I don’t require that my first draft be perfect. But in both my work and my nation, I want something good enough to build on, something to make better and better.

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