Thursday, February 17, 2011

Overtaken by events

"The world made plans to gather around their television sets for what promised to be quite a spectacle. In advance of it, there had been much condemnation and even some saber rattling. But given America's recent track record in wars of their own choosing, the consensus was that they too could only watch impotently. Even the feckless United Nations could not agree on the substance of one of their patented strongly worded letters.

It wasn't unprecedented. The world had done nothing when the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan began blowing up ancient statues of the Buddha. The Khmer Rouge had used the ancient temples of Angkor as a munitions dump. Napoleon himself had used the Sphinx for target practice. So when the Islamic Republic of Egypt decreed the Pyramids idolatrous and un-Islamic, the world held its breath."

I know it’s rough, but I wrote the above passage a few years back while writing down some early thoughts / sketches for a book I still hope to write, what in my own imagination is an expansive apocalyptic novel in the tradition of “Swan Song” or “The Stand.”

Of course mine won’t be nearly as good as those were. But apocalyptic fiction, like coming-of-age tales, Florida Fiction, and Vampire Fiction, have long been among my favorite genres. And, for better or worse, I’ve tackled coming-of-age, and Florida, and Vampire fiction. I guess you could also say I’ve touched on apocalyptic fiction with “Adamson’s Rock.” But those who have read it might wonder what comes . . . afterward. That’s what I want to write.

Anyway, in terms of the above passage, I got the idea not long before 9/11, while watching the Taliban blow up and destroy thousand-year-old statues of the Buddha, evidence of a long gone Buddhist culture that once thrived in Afghanistan but whose relics the Taliban viewed as “un-Islamic.” I remember thinking at the time, do they really have the right to destroy historic icons and vestiges of the past that truthfully belong to all humanity?

Then, while brainstorming political and world events that might lead to my fictional apocalypse, I wondered what would happen if a similar regime took over in Egypt and declared it an Islamic Republic. Would the world stand by and watch as their government blew up and destroyed the Sphinx or the Great Pyramid at Giza as un-Islamic?

I still do wonder about that, but it seems pretty clear now that the recent revolution in Egypt is fairly secular in nature, and that the right’s new boogeyman, the Islamic Brotherhood, does not really have the power or constituency to play anything other than (at least right now) a supporting role in any future Egyptian government.

Now, I may still use the above in my (I probably won’t even write it but really really want to) apocalyptic opus. Maybe it’s the next Egyptian government that falls prey to their worst instincts. But it got me thinking that it’s not the first time events have overtaken my writing.

For example, I wrote my Red Sox novella “A Truck Story” in 2005, coming off their first world championship in 86 years. Among the players I used in the story were Doug Mirabelli and Manny Ramirez. Of course, by the time the anthology it was slated for fell through, years had gone by, Mirabelli and Ramirez were no longer with the team, and the Sox had won yet another world championship. And so, prior to self-publishing the thing, I needed to make a few changes.

Same thing happened while writing “Swash,” my novel in which eighteenth-century pirates come back to reclaim their ship from the sands of Cape Cod. In that one, I had already written a section that referenced the wreck of the Somerset, a British ship that foundered off the Cape and hadn’t been seen since 1980. So what happened while I was finishing the novel? The Somerset reappeared on the beach one day for the first time in thirty years.

Get me rewrite!

Anyhow, not sure the point of this. But it is funny how events can overtake both novels you’re only thinking about, and novels and short stories you’ve already written.

Happy Writing!

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