Fiction Writing Is a Great Escape from Politics
Finding balance through multiple identities.
“I had no idea you were so political.” I hear that comment (or something close to it) from time to time from readers of my novels who’ve just looked me up on social media and discovered that I’m also a longtime political columnist.
“I’m surprised there wasn’t anything political in your books.” That’s another one I get, but from those who discovered me through my political writing, only to later find out that I also write novels.
I love both reactions, and even feel a strange sense of pride when I trigger them. That’s because I’m a big believer in compartmentalizing, especially when one spends a good amount of time sifting through today’s politics. It’s easy to get consumed by that world, and even adopt a political brand or tribal allegiance as one’s very identity — something that’s long struck me as… rather unhealthy.
Like many people, I have a passionate interest in the news of the day, cultural and societal issues, how our country is governed, and the individuals we put in power to represent us; I’ve written several hundred columns on such topics over the past decade for various publications. Yet, I don’t want that passion to ever define who I am, and be the first or only thing that comes to someone’s mind when they run into me somewhere, or hear my name in conversation.
That’s certainly a concern my publisher shares as well. They’d probably prefer that none of their fiction authors weigh in on politics and risk alienating a large number of readers. I’ve always respected that position, especially from a business standpoint, but I also think I’d find writing less rewarding as a whole if I abandoned one area of interest for the sake of another.
One of my favorite political writers, Jonah Goldberg, recently wrote, “I think real happiness comes from multiple identities…”
I agree, and for that reason, I view most escapes and new experiences as welcome ones, including through writing. While I very much respect and appreciate the work of a number of professional writers who live and breathe politics, and I don’t want to take for granted the open invitations (I think) I still have to write for some big political publications, I’ve never wanted to pursue that path as a full-time career.
To me, the answer is balance, and fiction writing is part of that balance — specifically thriller fiction, a genre I’ve loved for a long time. It lets me connect with readers from a wide range of backgrounds and belief systems. I enjoy that. I think it’s a good thing. As an outlet, it also challenges me to focus my best efforts on the creation of something — something that is, in certain ways, quite personal and reflective of who I am.
To clarify, I’m not outing myself as my protagonist Sean Coleman — the rough and gritty, deeply flawed security guard from the mountains of Colorado. But I’d be lying if I said that my characters, along with several of the challenges and dilemmas they face in my books, aren’t at least, in some way, an extension of myself and my life experiences. They absolutely are.
My new novel “Restitution” hit bookstores and online retailers earlier this month. Though I understand that the people reading this piece come to this Substack primarily based on an interest in news and politics, and may even know me for my commentary in that arena, I’d love to invite you all to check out this other side of my writing life.
Below is an excerpt from chapter one of “Restitution” to hopefully pique your interest.
Another scream was followed by the loud pop of a gun. Three more pops came soon after.
The mariachi music went dead. An overweight man with his daughter in his arm barreled out through the door. Other tenants followed, panicked and confused—an old man, a teenager, a woman in a towel. Alvar wasn’t among them.
The boy breathed hard. He swung his head to the street, watching his neighbors flee in different directions. He knew none would return to help. They were too scared.
With another pop of a gun, he clenched his teeth and ran inside. His backpack bounced off another tenant as he jogged up the stairs, skipping every other step. When he reached the third floor and entered the hallway, he gasped at the sight of one of the men from the truck lying motionless in a pool of his own blood. His head was pointed right toward the boy, wide eyes glaring through him. Part of his skull had been blown off, a gap in his hair leaving some brain exposed.
A man yelled from the open apartment door next to the body. Another man yelled back. One was threatening. The other was pleading. A woman screamed and whimpered.
In the dead man’s hand was a silver revolver. The boy pulled off his backpack and set it against the wall. He quietly made his way forward, as the shouting and screaming continued inside. Two men. One woman.
The boy knelt beside the dead man, avoiding looking at his face a second time as he pried the gun from his warm fingers. He looked the weapon over before gripping it the way he’d once been taught. He peeked inside the doorway. There he saw the other young man from the truck. He was lying facedown on the orange shag carpet. Blood spattered the short wall beside him, along with a bullet hole that had torn off part of the drywall. Across the room was the open window he’d seen his younger brother standing in from the court. The phone on the stand below the windowsill had been knocked over. Its off-hook tone began screeching.
The boy swallowed and entered carefully as another tenant raced down the hallway behind him. He held his breath through a stench of cigarettes as he stepped over the man’s body. The shouting belted back and forth, growing more aggressive. It was coming from the master bedroom to his left.
Restitution is available to purchase from Amazon and other booksellers.