It’s poignant and painful to consider the responsibility we face as writers to address our current events. This week it seems the world has gone mad. We have fallen through a rip in the fabric of time, and are facing a gathering of the worst “bad actors” of our country’s history. They wear white hats, carry tiki torches and chant hatred. It would be great science fiction, but it’s ugly on the news.
Is it responsible, in the face of today’s real crisis, to write fiction?
Do we need to create characters with a tragic arc, when we could be telling the story of Heather Heyer?
Do we need to conjure up monstrous villains, when we have President Trump and his henchmen?
Should we write scenes of violence, or force ourselves to look at the ones directly in front of us?
This week I travel the country with my son, a young man of color. And we talk. We consider his experience in our largely white public schools, which has been mixed at best. We reflect on this summer. He’s worked full time with a diverse crew, often in heavily Latino neighborhoods, where he “didn’t feel so different.”
We turn off the news when it gets too painful, and then turn it back on because our brothers and sisters in protest deserve that much.
We laugh about memories of his bouncy childhood (literally, he bounced up and down a train for seven hours once, now we re-take this same journey and he listens to his i-phone and sleeps.)
We reflect on adoption, legacy, racism, bigotry, money, and his future. We compare notes on the opioid epidemic and contrast our musical tastes. We imagine his life as a famous chef as we share a steak, or a fashion designer as he explains to me the importance of sneaker style.
We are different genders, generations, colors and cultures. But we have much more in common than not. I used to think that about most people. Now I am not so sure.
In The Vines We Planted, my characters navigate the complications of being adopted, of immigration, of stigma, of breaking down love with lies, and building it back with . . more love. They traverse the landscape between families with and without means. They face homophobia, loss of a loved one, and fears about paying the rent. They overcome and they persist. They reach out across a painful abyss and try to connect to one another, again.
I hope the story touches readers, and that they consider the life of another person in a new way. That being in a character’s shoes while she faces life without a green card engenders compassion in a way that the talking heads on the news are not doing. I believe sometimes fiction is the best medicine for a mad world.
But I’ll share my true stories too, over time. Because for some, that is what will stir them to rise up and speak out.
I hope to tell the story of the young man at my side, and for the character that resembles him, in my novel. But whether I write truth or fiction, my heart hurts this week.
America, America. If this is a dream, please wake up. If this is our “real” state, we had better start dreaming. Let’s not shift from this weird sci-fi to a dystopian nightmare.
Let’s reclaim our story, and write a better ending.