So, this businessman makes a rep for himself as being bold and brash, but he loses a few more than he wins, and finds himself borrowing from loan sharks. And the guy still can’t cut a break and crawl out of his hole – then the loan sharks start pressuring him to run for president. And it turns out the guy has some TV experience and has down-home appeal, so he wins. On top of everything, it turns out the loan sharks represent a foreign government, and have the propaganda machine available to make the guy look good. So, he’s suddenly president of the free world. And THEN, the loan sharks start pressuring him to bring down the government, loosen ties with allies and generally make a mockery of the entire system.
I told you, crazy story, but I heard it somewhere on the internet. I don’t think it’s a true story, per se. Someone would have stepped forward and said, “Hey, this guy is a puppet of foreign interests!” Right? Right?
Second crazy story. This one is more traditional. Two brothers of a king; somehow the younger brother gets into a position of power and wants the older brother out of the way. Fratricide is such an old story that’s there’s a Latin word for it. The new twist is that the assassins trick a couple of girls into thinking that they are doing a Candid Camera-type joke show for a country that is traditional enemy. They start spraying guys in an airport with bottles of water and filming their reactions. But somehow, the producer switches the bottles of water for bottles of deadly poison that can work through the skin and kill in a matter of hours. Older brother dies, and . . . this story is true, and who knows what happens next? China’s mad, Malaysia’s mad, North Korea’s mad. I’m not seeing a Happily Ever After here for anyone.
And my question here is: how the heck are we, as fiction writers, supposed to compete with the level of batshit crazy that’s floating around in the world? People regularly tell stories (and even believe stories) that would have seemed absolutely absurd five or ten years ago. And they don’t even have to stretch their imaginations very far.
I’ve been feeding myself the news narrative since the presidential debates in 2016, and I have to tell you, it’s riveting and thrilling and really great TV. But it’s not the kind of story I want to tell, and I’m completely demoralized as to whether my imagination is good enough. As writers (at least those of us in the Euro-American system), we’ve been spoiled for a long time by fairly rational government. “Bigger than Life” used to be a thing that fiction did well.
Now? Well, anything can happen, and we are probably on the brink of some big shifts in thought and culture. I feel like a dinosaur, watching the beautiful sunsets that the asteroid has created, and shivering, wondering about the future my stories will have to live in.