Michaeline: Two Crazy Stories

On the bright side of these bat-shit crazy days, this ancient carving was discovered in a guano-filled cave, and preserved by the crap. So . . . maybe things aren't as bad as they seem. Art survives. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On the bright side of these bat-shit crazy days, this ancient carving was discovered in a guano-filled cave, and preserved by the crap. So . . . maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem. Art survives. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

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.

13 thoughts on “Michaeline: Two Crazy Stories

  1. Depressed much, Michaeline? I know how you feel. I’m not ready for the news. I might never be again!

    The last time I was this depressed about the world, I started writing romance novels so I could write my own endings, and they’d always be happy ones. Real life can pitch a narrative that sometimes novelists can’t even begin to imagine, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a shot. Go for it, M! I’ve read your pages. If anyone’s imagination can beat real life, it’s yours.

    • Yeah, and spreading the joy. Bleh. Winter blahs were never so blah-y.

      One thing is that these stories are just not my kind of stories. People complain about certain romances having characters who are Too Stupid To Live; how many bad choices can a character make and still get away with . . . I’m not even sure what charade these characters are getting away with.

      (-: On the plus side, my cold is gone, and the immune system seems to have kicked butt all the way around. I may get my groove back by the end of the weekend!

  2. My two-cents is that, as writers, we provide the narratives that show that the bat-shit crazy stuff that is floating around is not what is “normal” or accepted by all. We write stories that remind readers about the basic goodness in human nature and that show that odds can be overcome and happy endings can be achieved. And if we can’t do that, we can at least provide a bit of a distraction from the harsh realities of life.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since the inauguration, I’ve read more novels in a month than I did during most of last year. People need stories and I’m certain you are up to the task.

    • I have identified this as a possible problem — not sure if it’s correctly identified, but I’m going to go with it. The problem being: I’ve been feeding myself too much YouTube news and commentary, and not enough humor and heroic stories.

      As bad as things are, we’re not actually in a war. (I will NOT add yet, I will NOT add yet. Deep breath.) And the time between World War I and World War II was actually a fantastic flowering of creativity and story. So, maybe I could take a look back at those times. I’ve been eyeing them sidelong ever since the election. Time for a Wodehouse read, and maybe some more Sayers and Parker and any other good Dorothy I can find.

      Just had to let off some steam before I head in a new direction. We can all do it!

      • I think the reason we’re all exhausting ourselves is, in the words of Jefferson, “The cost of freedom is constant vigilance.” And maybe we’re realizing we’ve been complacent, not vigilant, for too long. Also, those of us with active imaginations are even more prone to drawing parallels between the dumpster fire-in-chief and Hitler, 1930s Germany and 2017 US, Nazi jackboots and the neo-Nazis (trying to rebrand themselves with the stupid name alt right), etc. I myself actually see more of Putin’s playbook (Hollow out the government institutions! Call the press liars so no one knows where to find the truth! Appoint only those who kiss your ass to high positions and screw everyone else!).

        So, I guess neither of us will get the Little Mary Sunshine award this year, Michaeline. Maybe it’s a Virgo thing. BUT stories and artists and honest-to-God journalists just might save us, so art on (or report on, if that is your superpower)!

        • Yes! Bless the reporters. I think it’s an exciting time to be a journalist right now, and ol’ Don has ripped the lid off of something in the press. We’ve seen eras in the past when the press was a ravening pack of jackals, but those eras brought about important reforms! Sinclair got the food industry reformed, for example, and one of my favorites is Nelly Bly, who was a crusader and really got involved in the story in a very charismatic way.

  3. I think the James Bond batshit crazy stuff has always been around–it’s just shocking when it suddenly pops up in our normal, quiet lives. During the time I’ve lived in London, a Bulgarian dissident, Georgi Markov, was murdered on Waterloo Bridge, stabbed in the thigh with a ricin-tipped umbrella. If you had to pick an Agatha Christie-style murder weapon for Britain, wouldn’t it be an umbrella? And in 2006, Russian Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in a very upmarket Mayfair hotel courtesy of polonium in his tea. If you had to style another British murder, could you get any more cliche than tea? Litvinenko’s murder happened in a hotel I used a lot for meetings. For a long time afterwards the gent’s toilets were closed, and the bar, and one of the guest floors, because the radiation levels were so high. Elizabeth and I walked past Litvinenko’s grave last year, in Highgate cemetery. From what I remember, he had to be buried much deeper than a regular deceased person, not to mention his lead-lined coffin. Oh–plus, the expert who investigated his poisoning returned from an investigative trip to Russia and died in mysterious circumstances from multiple “self-inflicted” stab wounds.

    Conspiracy theory stuff? There’s no shortage of that, either. There’s Diana, and JFK, and…

    What Elizabeth said. If we can’t write stories that are Bigger than Life, we can always write stories that are Better than Life. It’s hardly headline-grabbing, but there’s a rich vein of human goodness and kindness in this world, and somebody has to remind us to treasure it. You can definitely do your bit to help with that 😀

    • HOLY MOLY! Someone poisoned a guy with polonium and rendered the surrounding area a radioactive zone?? I seem to remember reading about the polonium thing, but NOT the little details like the closing of the bar and the men’s room.

      British writers always seem to have this flirtatious dance with the macabre going on. I don’t know how many times I’ve run across the “worst case of suicide I’ve ever seen — 12 stab wounds in the back” sort of meme. I believe Pratchett did one rendition of that.

      Even James Bond was supposed to be funny, I think. Kind of like the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” kind of humor, where you want to be laughing with the principals because you are a little afraid that if you laugh at them, they’ll jump the fourth wall and rip your face off.

      I think you have a good point there, Jilly. If in fiction, 90 percent of anything is crap (according to Sturgeon’s Law), it’s quite possible that in real life, 90 percent of anything is reasonably decent. It’s that other 10 percent that is so dramatic and makes life look so rotten.

      Thank god February is just about over. Things always tend to look better in March, once the green grass begins to appear.

      • Yes, they did. In a plush hotel on Grosvenor Square, only a few doors away from the US Embassy. Another detail–it took the powers that be a while (days) to work out what had happened, and in the meantime the hotel carried on as normal. The bar and most of its contents were radioactive. And somebody (probably several somebodies) drank from that teapot. Eek.

        You’re right about the Brits having a flirtation with the macabre. Shakespearian audiences probably found poor Clarence getting drowned in a butt of malmsey downright hilarious. These days we have Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Trainspotting, and Christopher Brookmyre.

        Hurray for spring, and sunshine, and feelgood stories, true and imaginary!

        • I googled it this morning, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Apparently, polonium can’t be detected by Geiger counter (I suppose it takes something special). Apparently, the doctors only figured it out when another doctor who had happened to be in the circle of early developers of a British nuclear bomb overheard their conversation and noted that the weird little gamma spike they noted was a signature of polonium!

          Weird coincidence, and it unraveled the entire mystery. And, I might add, it makes for great reading, although it makes for uneasy living to know that such people live in the world, and they don’t care about innocent bystanders — as long as they themselves don’t get caught.

          I really wonder what happened to the two guys who supposedly poisoned L. One guy was sick, but then reported (in, I assume, the Russian state press) that he was doing much better by Dec. 12 (the incident took place around the beginning of November, IIRC). I’m a little scared of prying, though.

        • Wow, Jilly. That possibly deadly teapot is the kind of thing that really resonates with people in my corner of the world. I live in an area that supports Aberdeen Proving Ground, integral to the US Army Chemical Corp and CBRN defense. The potential collateral damage from these kinds of attacks (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) are literally the nightmares that keep these scientists, researchers, and military leaders up at night.

          Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed! I think that’s where writers in romance and other more emotionally deep genres have an edge in these times. We’re exploring more than scary events and bizarre plot twists, which can’t live up to the insanity of real life. We’re delving into the human heart and soul, concerned more with the *why* and *how* than with the *what*. It’s an exploration readers never seem to tire of.

        • Nancy, I bet that story brought back a few anthrax flashbacks . . . .

          When I was waiting to hear if I had a teaching position in Japan, I worked for the state government, and one of my most enduring memories of that time is when they sat us down to watch a video on mail-opening procedures. Even then, crazy people were sending stuff through the mails. Nothing ever happened on my watch, but my imagination was . . . stimulated for a good while. Paranoia, crime plots, that sort of thing.

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