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Politics

I never know when to back off from politics in a story.  It's kind of the same problem I have with subtlety, only in the context of marketability.

Consider the book I'm working on right now, which has a not-so-great working title and which I'm referring to as "Post Apocalyptic Comedy Book" until I think of something with more pizzazz.  PACB is not an explicitly political book.  It's a comedy about the resilience of humanity; about how we rebound and rebuild despite our worst instincts and behaviors.  Much of it is a traditional adventure story: a wild road trip full of misadventures and raiders.

But some of it is absolutely political, and I'm doing that on purpose.  There's a disconnect between the various survivors of the apocalypse who credit their salvation variously to divine intervention, paranoid prepping, the good will of strangers, and total chance.  Naturally this gives me a chance to take some digs at groups with extreme anti-government, anti-military, or anti-tax viewpoints.

At a surface level, it's just a chance to have some fun.  You can make a joke about how a militia-minded separatist would declare his own country in his backyard, and then realize he doesn't have an actual army to defend his country from invaders once the world ends.  But that's too easy and too cynical to lob out there as a throwaway joke.

What I want to write, and what I hope I'm getting at, is something that's more at the heart of American politics.  I want to scrutinize our misguided attempts at self-sufficiency that so often step over the line into outright exploitation of others.  I'd love to be the writer who strikes a nerve, the guy that future readers study a hundred years from now and go, "Oh, wow, he got it back then, and it still makes sense today."  I'd love to be Mark Twain.

I'm probably not, though.

It's the same problem I always run into with satire and subtlety.  At what point have you stopped telling an interesting and funny story and started going on a diatribe?  I want to make people laugh and think. I don't want them to roll their eyes and go, "This is worse than HuffPo."  I don't want people to be turned away by a soapbox, perceived or actual.

When you talk about celebrated satirists, you often get the impression they were men and women who were unafraid of repercussions.  They didn't care who they would piss off, right?  Except that's not totally true.  Mark Twain wrote explicitly for money - if his stuff wasn't going to sell, he wouldn't have written it.  Huckleberry Finn may have been a politically-minded piece, but Tom Sawyer sure as hell wasn't.  Even if they were out for blood, they had to have known that it was all a matter of timing.

So here I am, a completely unknown writer with no sphere of influence beyond my house (and even then, only when Steph is away), wondering when I need to rein it in.  If I run out there fearlessly taking potshots and throwing casual insults at everybody, I absolutely will alienate at least some of my readers, and now is a time when I need as many as possible.  I don't think I can write my Huck Finn until people are paying attention.

But what if I already have?  What if my post-apocalyptic comedy is as scathing as I ever get?  For that matter, is it scathing?  Maybe it's actually lukewarm and I'm just overthinking how caustic I might be.  But if it is devastating after all, is it a bad idea to write it now?  Should I shelf it for a few years just in case?

Who knows.  They're all questions that can only be answered in hindsight.  Hopefully I pick up a few readers along the way.