Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rethinking The Secret Year

The political situation the past year or two has me thinking about my first novel in a new light.

I wrote The Secret Year during the mid-to-late 2000s; it sold in 2008 but didn't appear on shelves until 2010. At the time I wrote it, I thought of the events in the story as occurring at any time from 1996 to 2006. It was just before the internet and smartphones became ubiquitous, when a family landline was not as endangered a thing as it has become today. Were I to rewrite it for a 2017 setting, I would probably tweak the technology a bit.

But if I were to write it today, I think I would probably have to address politics, even if only briefly. The fictional town where my characters lived was based on real towns I saw in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and other states. It was a town where blue-collar work had once brought in a good enough living for people to buy their own houses, but where the old industries had since collapsed. Where the American dream had come true, but then vanished. I wrote of the abandoned houses, the unemployment, the money squeezes. And I wrote of the wealthier people who had moved into the town and built their fancy houses on the highest ground with the best views. I wrote of the clash between these two groups of residents.

I didn't imagine the kinds of clashes that would play out in national elections. And I find myself thinking back on that book now, asking myself who my characters' parents would vote for, and why, and what new divisions might appear in the community. Sometimes I wish I could rewrite the book now to explore some of those questions, and sometimes I'm glad my story appeared before it could be viewed through the lens of current politics. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

On stubbornness and faith

"At its best, my business is the business of failure. You fail every single day. I don't know of another business that grinds your nose into the dirt quite so often. You have to be stubborn. You have to have faith in yourself. You have to be egocentric, and stupid about hanging in there." 
--Janis Ian, Society's Child: My Autobiography

She's speaking of "the entertainment business," largely of the music business, though her words  certainly cover most artistic endeavors. It's not a new idea that artistic fields are full of rejection, and projects that don't work out, and goals that aren't reached. The advice to persevere is not new, either. But I've never heard it expressed in quite these terms: failure as a daily occurrence, and "egocentric" and "stupid" as virtues. It's wry, of course; I laughed. But it's partly the laugh of recognition.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Change of scene

I stepped outside of regular life for a bit--physically (that is, geographically) but also mentally, unplugging from the internet and most news. I was out of the country, away from work and routine and social media.

Before every such trip, when I am busy with preparations and nervous about the unknowns that lie ahead and the hassle of traveling, I question whether it's worth it. I am reluctant to leave my cozy nest. And then on the trip and for a while afterward, I savor the change, and confirm that it's exactly what I need from time to time.

I now return to my regularly scheduled life, better for the time away.