Strange New World: Where Will Our Words Take Us Now? by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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This blog is not about politics, but unless you’ve been comatose for a year, you’re aware of the recent U.S. presidential election and its outcome. It’s fair to say many are unhappy with the result, although it would be equally fair to say that it would be the case no matter which candidate won. Still, it’s hard to deny that this election represents a significant shift in direction for our nation, leaving many unsure and apprehensive of what’s to come.

Again, this isn’t about politics; it’s about writing. Major events have always influenced our culture, from books to visual and now social media. I wonder what trends and influences the new administration will have on writing in the future.

Biographies of the President-elect and the candidate formerly known as the presumptive President should be forthcoming, as will analyses of the incoming administration. It’s also safe to forecast non-fiction works devoted to the election, the mood of the voters that led to the results, and what the change in leadership portends for the country.

Let’s consider fiction. What sorts of themes will become popular and what will fall out of favor? I’ve asked several writers for their opinions.

Author and blogger Terry Carr predicts there will…“be less futuristic fiction”, instead we’ll have more “fiction that goes back to a simpler time… my kind of escapism.”

Gordon Labuhn, whose books range from mysteries to memoirs, suspects there will be more graphic sex and language than before as barriers to what had been taboo are lowered. He sees a trend toward attacking and weakening the media for any negative coverage of the new White House. However, when I asked him if this would put a chill on writing anything that might be viewed as unfavorable toward the President-elect, Labuhn was noncommittal.

Several writers I spoke with who prefer to remain anonymous agree that some people will turn to nostalgia and the safety of the past for escape from the present, as Carr suggests. And still others will lose themselves in lightweight comedies and mindless action as a distraction from the reality of here and now. I confess I did just that, on an overseas flight home, the day after the election.

One of the most considered responses came from writing instructor and fiction author Wayne Ude, who surmises, “Some may focus on what unites us as human beings; others on what unites us as Americans—not necessarily the same thing…(and) others will surely focus on what divides us.” He thinks one approach would be akin to Ray Brgrapes-of-wrathadbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or George Orwell’s 1984: “In light of a Supreme Court which has ruled that money is a form of speech instead of property and that corporations are entitled to the same rights as are human beings, a similar work might present a country which has become an oligarchy entirely controlled by the wealthy.” Another would be “the approach John Steinbeck took in The Grapes of Wrath, which was a very realistic exploration of the lives of people left behind by economic change…(and) a third approach might be satirical novels about the wealthy, in the vein of Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or, earlier, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age.

I agree with Ude regarding political and social satire, which has long been part of our culture. I believe it will become more caustic now, and that debate will erupt over whether a liberal bias in the media or the words and actions of the new administration is the cause. This will create a more fluid divide between legitimate news and parody, which itself straddles fiction and reality. And while, like Ude, I expect big institutions that exploit the downtrodden will continue to be vilified, I hope we don’t begin seeing the downtrodden portrayed, not as heroes like in The Grapes of Wrath, but as villains. Casting certain groups as scapegoats during unsure times has occurred for centuries, but what’s different now is that it would effectively kill political correctness. I’ve never been a P.C. fan; I believe it creates a false impression of civility and holds its own biases. However imperfect it has been in balancing freedom of speech and protection from hate speech, why destroy it when you have nothing better to replace it with?

A clue to where we’re headed came in a recent news story. Executives at several television networks have decided to break with tradition and not take questions from critics at their semi-annual press conferences.  Many networks have come under fire for their lack of racial and cultural diversity, both on and behind the screen, as well as their depiction of violence, particularly against women. This is not new. Neither is the overrepresentation of well off, educated professionals as primary characters on most scripted programs. However I do think these concerns will go unchallenged by the new administration.

Will any of these scenarios come to pass? Ultimately it depends on how we writers decide to react to the new political reality. We can be cautious, or courageous. We can block out the real world and focus on the worlds we build in our stories, or we can bring some of that reality into our characters’ lives, no matter where they live, or when. As we are about to enter a new era, I’m asking writers: What trends in fiction do you foresee in the future? Will the change in leadership have any effect on what you choose to write about? And if so, how?

 

13 thoughts on “Strange New World: Where Will Our Words Take Us Now? by Miko Johnston”

  1. Very thought-provoking post, Miko. I’m trying to keep an open, optimistic mindset toward the new administration, so it’s difficult for me to envision shifts in literary trends right now. I confess to being stunned by the reality of deep philosophical and social divides within the country. Living in my So Cal bubble, I didn’t sense the depth of despair in other parts of our nation. I would hope to see a theme of healing and reconciliation in literature and entertainment and will strive to incorporate that theme in my own work.

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  2. I enjoyed your post and its contemplation of what may come next in fiction, based on people’s reaction to reality. One thing I’ve always appreciated about fiction is that writing or reading it can remove you from reality for at least a while. Escapism can be fun!

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    1. Escaping into a good book can also be a balm, don’t you think? We all need a break occasionally, even from reality, and sometimes especially from reality.

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  3. I have yet to write anything that reflected who was in the White House because I expect my books to last far longer than their four or eight year stay. But my good guys always have high standards and a good soul and setting a good example is still preferable to politics.

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    1. I ought to say that in my pre-retirement life I wrote a cinema column. This post was inspired by a piece I wrote in the aftermath of 9/11, wondering what effects the attacks on our nation would have in movies. Studio execs feared showing anything that would upset viewers, so they edited out scenes of the Twin Towers from films and postponed the release of any films with terrorist themes. That turned out to be a mistake. What people wanted to see was heroes going after the bad guys, which is why dark suspense films trounced lightweight comedies at the box office. People will always enjoy that scenario, no matter what’s going on in the world, and maybe more so when they feel your heroes’ qualities are lacking in the real world.

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  4. Pretty deep for me this morning, after a night of few hours sleep. I’m one of the optimistically hopeful, waiting to see what happens. I can envision all kinds of fiction springing from this year’s election and the jaw-dropping backlash. Good grief! Such immaturity and temper tantrums. Imagine a world where tempers could ignite world wars overnight, or perhaps even another revolution! Eek!
    Anyway, you are well-read in the classics, Miko. My staple “Classic of all time” which I turn to a lot these days is the good ole Bible. Lots of intrigue, and political unrest there… as well as love, joy and peace. Which reminds me… “Peace on earth, and good will towards men” this Christmas season!

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      1. I think you would excel at satire as you have a sly, tongue-in-cheek humor in your books. However, I agree about the ‘on the nose’ observation. If it’s too easy to satirize someone, you don’t try as hard, which can result in lazy writing.

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  5. I predict a big reissue of Orwell’s “1984.” Those of us who have read it will want to reread it, and those who have not read it will be well-advised to read it.

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