22 September 2017

Dance Band on the Titanic

by Thomas Pluck

A lot of my fellow writers seem to feel like what we do as entertainers, is frivolous.
When there are hurricanes bearing down on people you love, politicians playing pinochle with your life, and totalitarian regimes firing missiles over your country, writing stories doesn't seem to amount to that hill of beans Rick talked about at the end of Casablanca. It feels like a futile exercise or worse, an apathetic one. Artists flaunting that we are unaffected.

I say to hell with that. Whether you write stories that attack the status quo, or entertaining yarns that completely avoid any reference to current events, do what you please. We need to be entertained, and anyone calling books "escapist," like that's a bad thing, is selling their own brand of mental snake oil. We're not going to be boiled slowly like frogs in a pot because we're distracted by books, TV shows, or even our phones at this point. If anything, the phones are keeping us from distracting ourselves from tragedy. The TV shows have banner ribbons below the action, telling us to tune into the cable news to be horrified.

And stories help keep us sane.

It's been said that the classic mystery story is about returning the world to order. That's a calming prospect. If that's your bag, write them. Your readers will thank you. My life's been chaotic for a long time. My wife and I bicker over buying a house, because to her that means home and childhood; to me, it's a place I'll be forced to leave and never see again. I grew up in a donnybrook and the relatives who had houses and not apartments made me feel uncomfortable. So I prefer stories where a tornado hits and people come out of it okay. They pull together and make a new family, and weather the storm knowing that there'll be another one coming not long after. So you might feel like your horror tale, dark thriller, or anti-hero story is just adding to the anxiety of a confusing world, but to some of us it's a lullaby.

Art is not neutral. When the status quo is a boot on your neck, if I decide to write a pleasant little story that says "everything is fine," you'd perceive it as propaganda. That's a risk we take in any era. The dystopia is not equally distributed. The good ol' days were heaven to some, hell to others. Same with today.

So nothing's changed. Write the stories you have to write.

Readers will always need you.


  1. Thank you for this ... who was it that said, always be kind because every one of us is fighting a hard battle. My baby daddy died last week. I would have gone to the funeral but it was hundreds of miles away.

    I don't usually get up this early but today I have to go to court to fight a ticket for tall grass in my yard!! The official season starts May 1 & it rained every single day in April, so how could I mow the lawn without electrocuting myself?

  2. Good job. A couple of days ago someone wrote on Facebook something like this: "How am I supposed to write with nuclear missiles aimed at me?'

    Someone, not me alas, replied: "Death is always looming. Write anyway."


  3. Sorry for your loss, Elizabeth. and well said, Robert. I tried to leave politics out of this, because it really can affect everyone, all the time, depending on where you live and who you are.

  4. J. R. R. Tolkein: "Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter."

    C. S. Lewis (quoted in turn by Arthur C. Clarke): "Who are the people who are most opposed to escapism? Jailors!"

    I'm with you, Thomas. Keep on writing!

  5. Absolutely agree. I look to stories from the past telling us how people survived previous upheavals, too. Technology for survival.

  6. I agree, Thomas. Our stories do indeed help keep us sane.

    Great post!!

  7. "Write the stories you have to write." I'll be quoting you on that. You're so right.

  8. Our first duty is to entertain. There is no question I write to give escape to others. People are counting on us. Just like I count on other writers to give me a release from reality for a short while.


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