So, ever since the election, and especially since the president’s inauguration, I have had a really hard time finding the creative muster to write. And since the inauguration and all the news that has come out of that—the slew of executive orders, intentional misinformation, “alternative facts”, really just the presidential administration straight up lying about things to build the narrative they want to push on the American people so that they can justify their actions—it’s been a whirlwind of a shitstorm to keep up with. And I want to stay informed. I need to stay informed. For the last week or so, I’ve thought it was because it is my duty as an American citizen to know what is going on in my country, that I need to be informed in order to be helpful to those in need, even as it slowly strips away my sanity. I’ve buried my head in the sand for too long.
But today I realized that it isn’t just about staying informed. It isn’t just about knowing what’s going on. Deeper than that, I think it comes from a need to understand what it means to be in this place of tumult, watching the world spin out of my control, finding out where I fit into the new narrative that is forming around me, figuring out where I need to be and what I need to do in order to fight back.
For a while, it’s almost been too surreal to understand. It seems like something out of a dystopian novel, or something that happens to other countries, not ours. It could never happen here. What a stupid ideology. It is happening here. But how? That’s what I want to understand. How has it come to this? What led to this point?
I know there are a lot of people wondering the same thing, and I don’t think asking these questions is to divest ourselves of the blame or to refuse to look inward and challenge our own preconceived notions. It’s not social blindness of the difficulties different Americans have been facing. It’s not unawareness of the flaws of our society.
I can understand how the presidential administration preyed on certain demographics to get the votes they needed to gain power. I can understand why they said the things they did, made the promises they made. I understand the unrest. I understand the want for change. I understand the sociopolitical landscape that led to this moment.
What I don’t understand is how the president and his staff can spout blatant lies and be believed at their word. How they can turn the people against the media. How they can state easily refutable lies and make someone somewhere believe that it is a fact. How they can reshape the “truth” around them to create the reality they need to justify their actions. That is what baffles me.
And yet this is our reality.
As I get older, the more I realize that I have always understood fiction—stories—better than I have real life. Reality doesn’t follow a set of absolute rules that are easily understandable. Fiction, even as unrealistic as it can be, has always made more sense to me. I can read people’s thoughts in fiction. I can understand their choices, even if I don’t agree with them. Even the villains.
In a novel, the current US president and his staff would be the villains. They are the villains of the real world. Our world. They are villains of humanity. Villains of decency. Villains of the good and the just.
Consequently, they are the exact same villains I write into my stories.
The Guild. Julian Goss and his band of sycophants, his wealth, his influence, his twisted view of what the world should be. That is our president and his administration.
Only Julian isn’t the president, but the dangerous man behind the president, pulling the strings, working from the shadows, manipulating those in power to get what he wants. Julian is a certain white-nationalist whose name rhymes with Beve Stannon.
How did I not see it before?
The lies. The misinformation. The manipulation. The stringent nationalism.
This is exactly how Julian rises to power in Chroniker City. This is exactly how he starts a war.
I didn’t understand before, how an administration could lie to the people and not be held accountable for their actions, for their words. Then I realized that I wrote that very same thing into my novels. I wrote that villain.
At the time, I never thought it would be so relevant. I never thought it could really happen.
And yet it has.
So where does that leave me?
In my books, the heroine fails to stop the villain. Over and over again, she fails, and she is far better equipped to fight this injustice than I am. She has the truth on her side, but the truth has little power in a world ruled and guided by lies. So, how can we win?
I’m not sure, and I think that’s the scariest thing. And I think that’s why I’ve had so much difficulty writing lately. I am writing this story as it happens around me. It’s a different world, a different villain, a different heroine, but it’s still this story. And I don’t know how it ends, for us, or for her.
What I do know is that we cannot stop fighting. I do know that it is better to fight than not. It is better to stand up for what you believe in. It is better to speak the truth, even when it seems no one is listening.
Dissent. Resist. Fight.
Even if we fail at first, we have to keep trying. That is how the good guys win, no matter how many stumbling blocks there might be. I have to believe that we will triumph, but we have to keep fighting, even when it’s hard. That is what Petra has taught me, and I have to believe that through sheer determination and persistence that she—and we—can win this fight.
So I leave you with this, an exchange from The Brass Giant that feels especially relevant, now more than ever:
Petra stared at him, her heart rising up her throat. “Emmerich, what you’re suggesting … We can’t go up against the Guild council, against the orders of Parliament and the crown. We’re only two people. How could we begin to hope to succeed?”
“We cannot sit by and do nothing.” Emmerich stood and faced her. “Petra, this automaton is our responsibility. We created it. We must be the ones to make certain that the world never knows its menace.”
“I did not ask to build a war machine!” she said, jumping to her feet. “You can’t lay this responsibility on my shoulders, Emmerich.”
“I understand if you’re scared, but—”
“I am not scared,” she said, glaring at him with a fierce determination to hide the lie. She was deathly afraid—afraid of being caught, afraid of dying, afraid of losing Emmerich. “Just for the sake of argument, say we succeed. What will happen then? If the Guild wants war, they’ll have war. Someone else will build another automaton, a greater, more devastating war machine, and then what? Will we be responsible for those too?” She stepped toward him, gently laying her hand on his arm. “Emmerich, be realistic. What can we possibly hope to accomplish?”
He narrowed his eyes and stared into the empty fireplace, his gaze calculating—the same look he got when he was in deep concentration, trying to figure out some mathematical hurdle in a design. “You’re right,” he said finally, glancing up at her. “If we want to end this—truly end it—we have to do more than destroy the automaton and its designs. We have to strike at the heart of the operation. We have to bring down the Guild.”
Petra laughed—a cold, hollow laugh. “Because that will be easier.”
He stared at her seriously. “Of course it won’t be easy. Nothing worth doing ever is.”
Emmerich shrugged. “Maybe I am, but Petra …” He grabbed her by the shoulders and stared deep into her eyes, his own eyes afire with a feverish ambition. “If we succeed, if we root out the corruption within the Guild, we could rebuild. Don’t you understand? You could change everything, Petra. You could change the world.”
Petra blinked at him, her heart racing. “You truly believe that?”
“I do,” he said more softly, lifting his hands to her face. “More than anything.”
“But if we failed …”
“Then we fail. But if we succeed, we could make a difference, Petra. We could prevent a war. We could build a new city—together.”
She searched his eyes, the sincerity of his voice ringing through every word. “You really think we could do it? You think we could stop a war, stop the Guild, just the two of us?”
He clasped her hands in his. “It’s worth trying, isn’t it?”