Tag Archives: the Perceval series

It Can’t Happen Here?

Recently, I finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here. This novel has become famous again, as well as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and other novels that depict life under a totalitarian or fascist regime, because of the 2016 American presidential election.  Lewis’ concern was more about HOW  fascism could happen in America, not with life after fascism was established. According to the very good introduction by Michael Meyer (the English professor at the University of Connecticut, not the actor or the movie character) and the afterword by Gary Scharnhorst, the influences on Lewis in 1935 were the National Socialist movement in Germany, and Huey Long in Louisiana.  Long inspired Lewis’ Senator Buzz Windrip, and how the German people chose fascism inspired his American scenario.

When I was developing the America of 2048 for the Perceval novels, I knew I wanted a fascism in America that was established by a new political party that had arisen when factions from the GOP right and the Democrat right came together in support of Corporate America. The new party, the New Economic Party, participated in free democratic American elections which they won because they promised Americans wealth and security. When they won the presidency and a majority in Congress, they closed the borders, suspended the Constitution, and formed a dictatorship with some of the trappings of a democracy like elections and Congress. Like the Soviet Union, especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A military coup would not work, nor would a civilian coup. There could be no forcible takeover of the government. It needed to be chosen by the people.

Lewis agreed with me. In It Can’t Happen Here, the American people elect Buzz Windrip despite all the signs that he would become a dictator: a 15-point manifesto promising people money and then abolishing Congress and the Supreme Court, the creation of his own personal army called the Minute Men, and his emphasis on showmanship rather than substance. Windrip himself wasn’t particularly wealthy, but he had a lot of very wealthy friends, and he had plans to steal from the US Treasury and ferret away millions for himself.  It takes Lewis a good third of the book to really get into the story, but once he does, around the point when Windrip wins the presidential election, it really gets interesting. Lewis lays out the steps Windrip and his administration take to make Congress obsolete, disband the Supreme Court, and restructure both the government and the country, creating 8 provinces instead of 50 states. The Minute Men become the thugs that enforce Windrip’s every wish, and anyone who speaks or acts against the government either disappears, is arrested, and/or shot. An Underground resistance arises, led by the Communists in America (I found this REALLY ironic) and by the man who lost the presidential election and fled to Canada.  Americans flee to Canada in droves, becoming refugees. Production and profits become the determinants of life or death.

It astonished me how familiar this all was.  I had not read Lewis’ novel before, but my thinking for what happens in America to produce my America in 2048 was much the same. Lewis shows how easily a fascist dictatorship can be established in America.  Just elect the right guy. And any fascism would be firmly grounded in Capitalism, i.e. the wealthy would have all the power and control, forcing everyone else to work for their benefit and profit. In the Perceval series, I’m concerned with how such a political system affects the people who live under it, psychologically and emotionally. Especially when violence and abuse are accepted and commonplace.

My May 2017 The Atlantic has arrived and with it reader response to David Frum’s article in the March 2017 issue, “How to Build an Autocracy.” Ezra Klein’s response in a Vox article (published as a letter in the magazine) included the argument that Congress has the power to stop any president from getting too powerful. He writes, “Congress is more powerful than the president. It comes first in the Constitution for a reason. The public should demand more of it, and care more who runs it.”  Well, yes. But what if Congress agrees with the president and has no intention of stopping him?  We seem to have this situation now in America.  Congress, and the GOP leaders, don’t seem to have a clue what to do. Klein writes that the 2018 elections when many of those in Congress face election, could be crucial for stopping the current president.  In the meantime, we are probably fortunate that the current president isn’t nearly as smart or savvy as Buzz Windrip in Lewis’ novel, and that he didn’t think to build his own personal army as Windrip did.

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Getting Started

What happens is I write a first sentence, then I read the sentence that I’ve just written, and then I immediately erase that sentence; then I begin anew by writing another first sentence for a completely different story; then another first sentence for another story, so on and so forth.” Courtney Eldridge, Unkempt

This week, Ideas have inundated my mind. Ideas for essays. Ideas for characters. Ideas for cleaning. Ideas for what to read. I experience no shortage of ideas. The challenge from Ideas is to lasso them, get them to stand still long enough for me to write them down. Writing first sentences can be that way, as Courtney Eldridge writes in the quote above. Also returning to a large writing project after several years.

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Photo: Marina Shemesh

It astonishes me that it’s been nine years since I’ve worked on Perceval’s Shadow or P2, the second novel in the Perceval series. A lot has happened during those nine years, of course, and I’m grateful that I captured so many of my ideas on paper nine years ago before moving on to P3, Perceval in Love. I had finished the first draft!  I’d written a chapter by chapter synopsis! I had extensive notes on the characters and their motivations, as well as rewrite notes, and notes on what I needed to do during the first rewrite, i.e. research. The actual writing of the first draft is the easy part, true. What happens next, though, separates the real professional novelists from the amateurs.

The first step in re-entering Evan Quinn’s world to work on the P2 first revision is to read through all my notes. Write down any ideas that come to mind. Done.

The second step is to read through the first draft with pen and paper close by to make notes along the way. I’ve just begun this step. It’ll take me several weeks as I do this work when I’m not at the part-time job or doing other things for life. I’ll be looking at the structure first and foremost. Then the plot points. Then the story. The characters and their development. I’ll make a note of any questions I have about locations or anything else that I’ll need to research.

A-hand-writing-with-a-pen-006

The third step is the actual revision work. Chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word. I won’t be paying as much attention to grammar, syntax, spelling, or word choice in this revision as I will the bigger issues of structure, character, plot and story. Dialogue, too, but I lump dialogue in with character. The overarching question for this revision is Does it all go together and make sense?

I’m excited. I’ve been thinking about this novel for a long time. My curiosity has finally won out — what did I write? Does it work? Is it exciting? What about the characters? Will I love it?

emerging sculpture

This process resembles the way Michelangelo worked on his sculptures, taking a huge chunk of marble and chipping away at it to find to form within. Then shaping that form in the marble, revealing the lines, curves, crevasses, shadows and surface textures emerging from the stone. It takes time. Patience. Dedication and obsession.

I hope I’m up to the task.

The American Election 2016 and the “Perceval” Future

President Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989

President Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989

When I first began working on the first novel in the Perceval series, Ronald Reagan was president and I thought he was the scariest person on earth.  He wanted to shrink the federal government in many ways but not curtail the executive power of the President. It took a long time for me to create Evan Quinn’s future world, but it grew out of watching what was happening in the world in the 1980’s and how America responded to it.  What was I seeing?

First of all, the supremacy of the military, especially in terms of the national budget and their influence on the civilian part of our government.  This has not changed.  If anything, it has increased.

Second, the rise of corporate power.  At first, this didn’t bother me, but the more I was seeing how corporations focused their priorities, the more alarmed I was.  Their power through lobbying in Washington, D. C. was growing also as politicians’ need for money to fund their re-election campaigns grew. This has not changed.  Corporations are now global, “transnational,” and some banks are “too big to fail.” Money has become a weapon of power. Campaign finance reform has become a joke.

As the years passed through successive presidencies and Congresses with different majorities, these first two points really did not change.  Several more were added, also.  For example:

A media more focused on ratings or entertainment value rather than reporting real world news.  This focus has only worsened over the years.  Now, I have stopped watching some “news outlets” because they are doing such a poor job of reporting real world news (except disasters or terrorism to foment fear) and have begun using British and Canadian news outlets.  Some friends are doing the same thing.  It’s very interesting to get a more objective perspective on my country, especially the American government and politics.

President George W. Bush delivering his second inaugural speech

President George W. Bush delivering his second inaugural speech

There’s been a growing obsession with national security because of terrorism (the terrorists won a long time ago because of our fear which is what terrorism is all about), as well as with law enforcement in terms of cracking down on crime and cracking down on police misconduct. We stop supporting and protecting human rights at our peril as a society and country, but there have been violations of human rights in the name of security and fear of terrorism. Isn’t it only short steps away from allowing a police state to occur within America’s borders?  We must continue, as individuals, to speak out against these developments.

We also now have a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who does not have a background in democratic leadership, i.e. in local or state government, and has not established that he is a staunch supporter of democracy and its processes.  He is a businessman, accustomed to leading in an authoritarian way and having the final say.  Listening to his demagogic speeches is a scary experience not only because of his egocentric view of the world, but also because of his threatening nationalist words, racist words, sexist attitudes, lack of knowledge or experience in diplomacy, and his violent words.  When I was working back in the 1980’s on the novel, I envisioned just such a candidate winning a presidential election because he pandered to fears of terrorism, of “invasion” from the south, of economic failure.  He closed both our northern and southern borders, increased the powers of law enforcement on local, state, and national levels, and with the help of those in Congress who agreed with him, managed to re-structure the American government to suit is authoritarian needs.

Donald Trump (Photo: Inside Edition)

Donald Trump (Photo: Inside Edition)

I think it would be a good idea for all of us to remind ourselves of the characteristics of fascism (Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism from Rense.com) and realize that we are already living some of them today.  I think it’s also important to research the presidential candidates and their experience and knowledge of democratic leadership.  It’s a good idea to seek out alternate news sources, trusted sources, especially outside the country, that can provide a more objective view to help us to take a step back, or out of, what is happening in order to give it a hard examination with calm minds, not fearful minds.

In the Perceval series, because of the presidential election of 2016, America ends up an authoritarian dictatorship that pays lip service to such democratic institutions as the Supreme Court, the Congress, elections, and the Constitution with its essential Bill of Rights.  Of course, the government in 2048 has perverted the rule of law to suit its own needs and Americans live in a police state.  America has split into regional factions, and a civil war is in progress. Corporate America controls much of the government in Washington. The rich are now overtly in control of American life, and the other 98% work for them just to survive.  As a result, America looks very much as the USSR did in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It pains me deeply that we are quite possibly at the same political crossroads in 2016 I had imagined years ago.   At least I’m not the only one noticing what’s happening.  And I sincerely hope I’m wrong about the result.

For more reading about Donald Trump and the 2016 presidential campaign, I suggest the following links:

I find The Weekly Sift especially helpful in finding a more objective view of what’s happening this year in America.