If you build it they will come – W.P. Kinsella
Creating a new world, a new society, as I did for America in A Mound Over Hell, requires starting with a basic premise and stacking rule after rule. This America was founded on love and integrity. It doesn’t matter what you happen to be. For example, there is never any mention of gay or straight. It’s not a concept on the eve of the 22nd Century. All that matters is loving someone and working hard and being ethical to your fellow siblings and raising a family for The Family.
So in this America of 2098, religion is outlawed. Churches, synagogues, temples are all banned. Cemeteries were dug up. Houses of worship destroyed. Pockets of Catholics practice secretly, but risk arrest. The deep spirituality of organized religion has been replaced by the deep spirituality of The Family.
You start with that. But how’d we come to this? In the novel, we lost World War Three to Islam. We’re surrounded. Now you need to set out some basic facts, basic building blocks. We can’t trade with the rest of the world according to the terms of The Surrender. Los Angeles and Washington were nuked, Manhattan hit by a chemical attack. That means extensive environmental damage.
In the war, we suffered the loss of 13 million soldiers. As a framework, in World War Two, we lost 300,000. In my world war, about four million children perished. These are some of the key building blocks, the core truths of this new world. As a writer, I must follow my own rules or else all of you out there who are reading the book will bust me. That doesn’t make sense, dude.
And you’d be right.
In the novel, one of the main characters gets pregnant. Now I refer back to the loss of four million children. Obviously we’d need to replenish the population. Children would be revered. Pedophilia would be a capital crime. But what about a woman who gets pregnant? It makes sense that abortion would be illegal along with contraceptives. That all flows. As a writer, that does complicate things. Like I can’t have her walk into an abortion clinic.
What if she keeps the baby? In a world where marriage is sacrosanct and love is sacrosanct, would it make sense for a single woman to raise her child? Not to me. That required more rules and a cold provision that a pregnant woman in this society would carry the child to term and then be forced to give the baby up for adoption.
But what if she and her partner decided to marry? That’d simplify things, especially for the writer. Well no, you just can’t do that. If a society is built around love and commitment, someone coming to the table late would be viewed with suspicion. Are they getting married to simply keep the baby? If parenting is revered, then they’d have to prove their love and sincerity. If The Family encourages marriage, they would discourage divorce. If they discouraged divorce, they’d want to make sure the initial marriage is for all the right reasons.
I’ll give another example today. If we lost to Islam, would we still believe in organized religion? Remember, this is America suffering a massive blow. We lost a war. We’re not a great power anymore. How would we react in this area? Either we could dive more deeply into God and faith, but that didn’t work for me, the cliché of extremist religion. I’ll leave that to Margaret Atwood and The Handmaiden.
I tried simplifying matters. The Muslim faith and their religion and, ultimately, their God were stronger than ours. After the war, there were attempts to revive religion, but they became cults. Didn’t we just lose to the Armies of Faith? Why would we try that again? We would turn away and find something different. For The Family to make sense as a new kind of America, it couldn’t have a competitor. This is a world which is post-democracy, post-capitalism, post all sorts of “isms.”
A writer creates worlds and lives but, like any mad scientist, they also create and must obey their own laws.
There are few more challenging and rewarding moments for a writer than building a new world, which plays into our monstrously egotistically insecure egos. We are God. We give life. Yeah, how’d that work out, Dr. Frankenstein?
TOUCHING READERS WITH YOUR WORDS INSIDE THE SQUARED CIRCLE
It’s easy for a writer to forget just how they’ve touched their readers. I’m not only talking about fiction writers, but any writers. This past Sunday I had the pleasure of getting together with dear old friends from my days at Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI), the gold standard for professional wrestling.
What, you didn’t know I wrote pro wrestling stories? Yup, for nearly four years I worked for G.C London Publishing as an editor/writer on PWI (which I helped launch), The Wrestler, Inside Wrestler, along with writing some boxing for KO Magazine. But it was wrestling which touched my heart. And as I’ve learned, the hearts of many readers.
The day started with a live interview with the Living Legend Bill Apter, the most famous wrestling journalist ever, on his You Tube show Apter’s Alley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn567-l1VUY And yes, I wore a wrestling mask – with great pride because that belonged to the great Mr. Wrestling II. And also because a writer will do anything to promote his novels.
Afterwards, Bill and I met Stu Saks and Craig Peters, two wrestling journalism icons, for lunch to catch up. Other than a few more gray hairs and perhaps a couple more pounds, we looked exactly the same. Okay, more or less, give us some slack. As is the way of our world, unless you post a photo on social media, the event didn’t happen. If you forgive my indulgence of Philip K. Dick paranoia, we don’t exist unless a picture pops up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.
The overwhelming response to the four of us posing at a local pizza place startled me. On Twitter, on FB, we were flooded with joyous well wishes from folks who said how much we influenced them, how much pleasure our stories had given them and, in a number of instances, how we inspired them to become writers.
When you write magazines or books, you don’t get instant gratification. I’ve written plays and the audience reacts to the live event, obviously. Either they’re laughing or leaving at intermission. But you see it right away. When someone’s holed up in bed reading your words, you ain’t there. It’s just them and your story.
What made this recent reaction so heartening is that we’re going back decades. But this is professional wrestling, where decency and good manners rule. I know, these men and women throw each other outta the ring, what are you talking about?
I’ve been in the entertainment business for $#& years and worked with a lot of celebrities and athletes. I can say that professional wrestlers are a cut above everyone in terms of graciousness and kindness. That extends to the fan base. Wrestling fans are loyal and caring and considerate, full of big hearts, and I’ve witnessed that again this week by reconnecting with old friends and making new friends. We live in a strange world that doesn’t always make sense and surely, our social standards have been greatly reduced. But the fun of life inside the WWE squared circle is a constant and I’m grateful to have been a part of that.
Mickey Mantle said: Somebody once asked me if I went up to the plate trying to hit a home run. I said, ‘Sure, every time.’
Everyone wants to hit home runs. You could be a demi-god like Mickey Mantle, my personal hero growing up in the Bronx. Or someone like me. I don’t think I ever hit a home run. Not in a choose-up game, not Little League, not hitting fungo, stickball, making one of my sisters pitch to me. Had the entire opposing team clutched their stomachs and fallen to the ground from poisoned Mallomars, I still wouldn’t have been able to rocket the ball over even a make-believe fence. Never once have I had that moment of utter orgasmic joy (as I imagine) of the fat part of the bat hitting the ball and this white smokeless missile attacking someone in the left field bleachers.
Enough of the pity party. Thirty-five years ago this month (when I was very very young), I tried out for my beloved New York Yankees at an open tryout in Yankee Stadium to promote my second novel The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. In the book, the protagonist, a former athlete whose life is falling apart, pursues his unlikely dream of playing for the Bronx Bombers and is signed as a publicity gimmick. Like character, like author.
The night before the tryout, I asked God -- this being my pre-agnostic period -- if he’d lend me the Mick’s talents for the afternoon. C’mon, he’s not using it. I swear I’ll give it back. Eventually. I waited for my glove to turn into a burning bush, angels to descend wielding Louisville Sluggers, the Mick himself handing over his awesome talents in the form a baseball card.
Guess who didn’t wake up with swelling forearms, a broad chest and a sheepish grin, much to the disappointment of my first wife. Still, try out I did. I’ve attached the YouTube link for your entertainment.
That’s me with black hair swinging and missing. Running and not moving. Yes, I stunk. Yes, people made fun of me. But I swung the bat at home plate in Yankee Stadium. Me, the kid who always played right field. In my world, that constituted a home run.
There, I finally got to the point. We all go up to the plate every day wanting to hit a home run. Baseball success is measured by only hitting three out of ten times -- .300 gets your ticket to Cooperstown punched. But there are a lot of strikeouts and dribblers back to the mound along the way. All of us get so caught up in swinging for the fences every time that we forget we’re not Mickey Mantle. Even the Mick failed seven out of ten times.
Sometimes we have to re-calibrate our definition of what constitutes a homer. Sometimes it’s all about getting up to bat in the first place by having the guts to see something through – whether it’s a success or not. Because who defines success and what is it exactly? Pretty much everyone who gets out of bed and shows a kindness and tries is a success. Is making money a success? How so if there’ll always be someone wealthier? Or someone with a better car or a bigger house or more awards? Like, always.
At the end of the day, it’s about meeting the ball with the fat part of the bat in a game you created in your head with your beliefs, not according to rules concocted by the folks next door. It’s about what you want, not them. However you define that.
See, we all need to hear that wonderful sound of bat against ball. It’s called contentment. Satisfaction. If you define it for yourself, ain’t no one gonna be able to take it away.
Please visit me at: