james@jameshanlonbooks.com patreon.com/jameshanlon

What Can We Do About Rising Fascism in America?

 

Before you start reading, I don’t know. I’m just guessing. And I’m not going to start by defining fascism. Go look it up if you don’t think it’s happening.

If you’re reading this and you think I’m wrong, tell me. Argue with me. I would love to be wrong about this. But right now, we’ve got full-fledged white nationalists in the White House and I’ve seen more proof than I thought would be necessary for my fellow Americans to realize how dangerous fascism is.

I want to share some words from my personal heroes in American history. These are people whose actions I admire, who I look up to and find resonance with… the kind of people I always knew I should aspire to emulate if I ever found myself in similar circumstances.

These are those circumstances.

Martin Luther King, Jr. has been someone I admired intensely since I first heard him speak. Being a child raised in the American public school system was the perfect setting to understand how vital it is to provide equality of opportunity to people here. I was just a kid in a classroom, but learning about the Civil Rights Movement made me realize that a lot of other people fought and died to put their kids in American public schools.

Obviously that’s not the only thing the Civil Rights Movement was about, but it’s something that stuck with me as a kid, made me appreciate the opportunity to educate myself in a different way. And it made me realize that people like MLK were on one side of the fight, and people with hateful, racist ideas were on the other.

Part of America’s fundamental problem with race is that’s it’s like a childhood trauma we never recovered from or healed properly. Hundreds of years of slavery led to the Civil War, and the wounds have festered ever since. Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 put the pro-slavery Andrew Johnson in power, who turned what could have been a successful Reconstruction of post-slavery America into the Jim Crow era. (This led to the first impeachment of a US President in history, but Johnson was found “not guilty” when put on trial in the Senate by only one vote.) Laws enforcing racial segregation were enforced until the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

100 years. How different would America look if those 100 years had been spent recovering from slavery instead of remaining in denial of the fact that all people deserve an opportunity to live up to their highest ideals? This is part of the ugly truth of American history, the part we don’t like to see. But it’s essential to understand that racism in this country wasn’t solved when the slaves were freed, wasn’t solved when the Civil Rights Act passed, wasn’t solved when America elected our first black President.

Racism is right here, it always has been, and it’s our responsibility to as Americans to recognize it and fight against it.

This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. comes from his Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which MLK addresses criticism of his efforts to stir up civil disobedience in order to address unjust segregation laws. Some people felt he was being impatient, creating chaos and disorder when he should simply have waited for things to improve on their own.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability… The time is always ripe to do right.”
― Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963

There is no better time to stand up than right now. We have to protest. Keep yourself informed, and figure out what news sources you can trust. (My personal favorite is Democracy Now!) And vote against Republicans in November because that’s the only way any sort of legal action against Trump is going to have teeth. We have to vote people into power who will legitimately try to help this country, and in my opinion that’s the populist left–people like Bernie Sanders who want to make positive changes for working families instead of giving money to corporations and billionaires.

This conflict of capitalism–the poor vs the rich–is another old, festering wound in this country, which leads me to my next hero: another American I have a fierce admiration for is Eugene Debs. You may or may not have heard of him. He was the candidate for President of the United States from 1900-1920 of the Socialist Party, and he was jailed for making an anti-war speech.

“In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People.”
― Eugene V. Debs, June 16, 1918
Debs said this 100 years ago, and here we are again with Trump: a new tyrant, another deceiver wrapping himself in the flag with a Bible in hand as he tells the people who the real patriots are while he exploits his power.
One of the things I like most about Debs was his insistence that, despite being a figurehead for labor rights, he didn’t consider himself a leader and rejected the idea that one was even necessary:
“I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.”
― Eugene V. Debs, 1906
Debs didn’t want to lead the people, he wanted them to lead themselves.

There were others, too, throughout our history who perhaps should have been in charge but never found their way to the presidency, and our country suffers for it.
Henry Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States during FDR’s second term from 1941-45. Unfortunately, during FDR’s third term Harry S. Truman was picked as VP and became President when FDR died. This choice was at a crucial turning point in our history, very similar to the circumstances of Johnson’s succession over Lincoln and the resulting failure of Reconstruction.

Democratic party leaders knew that FDR’s health was failing and that the next Vice President would likely become President. They didn’t like Wallace because he was too progressive and they didn’t think they could control him, so they hatched a plan to get Roosevelt to pick someone they liked better as VP: Truman.

Instead of getting a strong supporter of FDR’s New Deal who would have carried forward his legacy (and who even seemed more progressive than FDR himself) we got the very middle-of-the-road Harry Truman. He was a safe, moderate Democrat who continued the New Deal programs but lacked the passion for humanity that someone like Henry Wallace felt. I see Truman’s presidency as a missed opportunity for American progress.

“Men and women can never be really free until they have plenty to eat, and time and ability to read and think and talk things over.”
― Henry Wallace, 1942

Wallace fought against fascism in his time, too–against the Nazis and against American fascists at home. “America First” is a slogan deeply rooted in fascist ideology, and the fact that we’re hearing it again from Trump is no coincidence.

“The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism.”

― Henry Wallace, 1944

Sound familiar? Here’s a political cartoon written by Dr. Seuss during WWII, protesting the “America First” campaign to turn away refugee children fleeing the Holocaust.

seuss

vote.gov to register for November.

Protest June 30.

Shitty First Drafts: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Slush

Making Word Slush

First, say it with me: shitty first drafts. It’s liberating.

I first learned of shitty first drafts from an essay by Anne Lamott called (you guessed it) “Shitty First Drafts.” Basically, the idea is that it’s really okay for a draft to be shitty at first. That’s not to say that what you’re going to write is shitty, it’s not to make any judgment at all of the writing itself–that’s the point. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine if it’s a bit shitty for now because we’re going to fix it all later anyway, so don’t worry about what you’re saying and just keep writing.

Somewhere I heard someone call this process “making word slush,” creating content that you can work with later–like making snow before building a snowman. Going back and editing is counterproductive to writing. Don’t edit until you’re ready to show it to someone besides yourself.

I’m telling myself as much as whoever you are, dear reader, that it’s okay to write shitty first drafts because we shouldn’t worry about the quality; editing comes later. Write first, and if you can avoid it, don’t edit while you write. You just want to focus on creating pure, unfiltered word slush to work with later.

BUT. As much as it’s important to accept the shitty first draft, to love the shitty first draft, we also have to prepare for it. With something as long as a novel, it’s so easy to get lost and drown in just how much there is to think about. For me, the prep work to getting my first book completed was absolutely essential. I have to have a road map, I can’t just wander through the story without knowing where it ends.

Some people like that, and if you’re a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, YOU DO YOU. The Star Pirate’s Folly started when I was just struck by an idea, I got up, and immediately started writing the story in my head. I built the outline after, and I didn’t even end up using that first draft in my final copy, but writing those first few pages was SO important for the story because it gave me something to work with.

Mind map –> Outline –> Write

This is my formula. Bottom line, if you have an idea, get it down on paper/in a document, ANYWHERE, or you might forget. Personally, I like writing my outlines and mind maps by hand first and transferring them to Scrivener, a writing program (which is awesome for outlines!!). If you’ve never heard of a mind map, it’s basically just writing down ideas in a web and connecting them to each other. It makes outlining so much simpler.

I like to use an 8.5 x 11 legal notepad and a pen, but some people like to get a huge piece of construction paper or something with more space. Mind mapping is something I wish I’d done for my first book, so that’s where I started with book two, The Star Pirate’s Return. Since it would give away the plot, I can’t show you that, or go into much detail, but I’ll talk about it in terms of the first book.

The basic idea of the plot arc came from a Kurt Vonnegut lecture called “The Shapes of Stories.” I won’t go into that, but google it! It’s really cool. He’s a funny guy. (Okay, I had to google it myself anyway to get this cool picture, so here you go!) The basic shape of Bee’s story in The Star Pirate’s Folly was the “Cinderella” variety:

**WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1 BELOW**

plot cinderella

At the beginning of the story, Bee is pretty low on the “good fortune” axis of the graph–surviving day to day on whatever she can, unable to really pursue her goals. She catches her first real break with Hargrove, who gives her a place to collect herself and be safe. Then, she gets her ticket off planet by selling the map, Starhawk shows his face (but only as she’s leaving Surface), she makes new allies with the Wanderlust crew, and so on. In the end, she gets her shot but has to sacrifice everything she’s gained. It doesn’t match up perfectly, but that’s where I started.

**END OF SPOILERS**

The important thing for me was just getting a framework for my story. I had key events at places in the book that acted as landmarks for my outline and let me keep in my head a basic idea of where I was in the plot. Tools like the good/ill fortune graph really help with visualizing the story.

Mind map –> Outline –> Write

Start with mind mapping. Just get everything out. Write your title in the middle, circle it, and then start with your plot (at least, that’s what I did). Write down the first thing that happens in your story, circle it, and draw an arrow from the title to your first plot point. Next event, circle, arrow, you get the idea.

If you get stuck on the plot or don’t have it all figured out yet, make new blobs from your title for characters, for setting, for anything you can come up with. When you’re finished, it will probably look like the ramblings of an insane person and that’s okay (I hope).

Your Outline Is Your Road Map

Once you’ve got a handle on your plot and you feel like you’ve gotten your ideas out onto a mind map, start with outlining. Your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Try to break the plot points on your mind map into these general sections, then from there break each beginning/middle/end section into chapters.

If you’re more familiar with the three or five act structures, use that. I decided for my first book I’d write 40 chapters at roughly 2,000 words each, which works out to 80,000 words or 320 pages. But you can use whatever proportions you want–I just like short chapters.

Beginning/Act 1: Chapters 1-5, 10k words, 40 pages

Middle/Act 2A: Chapters 6-20, 30k words, 120 pages

Middle/Act 2B: Chapters 21-35, 30k words, 120 pages

End/Act 3: Chapters 36-40, 10k words, 40 pages

Don’t feel like you have to follow this ratio exactly, this is just what I ended up with because it felt right for the book. What you want to do next is make an outline for each chapter using the information you wrote in your mind map. Break each chapter into 3-5 scenes.

All you need is quick sentences that sum up an action or event which leads the characters through your chapter and ultimately through your whole story. Point A to Point B. Cutting the work into small chunks makes it much more manageable. It might not be totally legible, but here’s the most recent outline I used to finish The Star Pirate’s Folly. 

**WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1 BELOW**

20170324_134146[1]20170324_134204[1]

 

**END OF SPOILERS**

For me, quantifying the book into a number of words or pages made it something I could wrap my head around. At first it was pretty intimidating to think about all the words I hadn’t written yet. But as I got farther into the book, keeping the wordcount in mind made it easier to plan and adjust my outline as things came up.

And because I’d been thorough with my outline and plotted out each chapter, I got a better idea of which parts of my story would need improvements and which might take more space than I thought. Some chapters got removed, split up, or combined with others. Each time I made a big change I’d update the outline so I had a “current” version in addition to my old ones.

Just going to say it one more time.

Mind map –> Outline –> Write

Thanks for reading! Join the crew on Patreon for exclusive content.

James

%d bloggers like this: