Saturday, August 25, 2012

Politics and Paper

A point of artistic responsibility for me is to create stories with a moral center.

The sticking point here is that people have different concepts of what's moral, and then we dress our respective senses of morality in different political clothing. To a great degree, the political discourse in our country has lost the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. Instead, we've come to relish zapping the other side.

That's what made an email I received the other day all the more remarkable. A reader named David let me know how much he enjoyed reading The Last Ballot Cast — despite the fact that his politics were considerably different than those espoused in my novel. That all but took my breath away.

If you'd care to search the reader reviews of my work on Amazon — and elsewhere, I presume — you'll find one-star reviews and accompanying diatribes that mock my work precisely because of my political views. Some people feel that the only good political thrillers are the ones that reinforce their views.

In the interest of letting you know how I feel about things, about the ideas that underlie any inspiration that might come my way, about who this guy Joseph Flynn is, here's a little bit about me.

All four of my grandparents immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century. None of them came with a bankroll to get him or her off to a flying start. All four of them worked at the kinds of jobs young newcomers could find: a doorman, a streetcar conductor, a nanny, a hotel housekeeper.

They set up their households, raised and educated their children, sent their sons off to World War Two and were lucky enough to get all of them back. Their children married and set out to make their way in a country that offered more opportunities than my grandparents had been given.

My family was middle class because my dad worked sixty hours a week, and with union benefits got paid for seventy hours. His job in a steel-making plant was tiring and dangerous. He took public transportation to and from work. But even after a very long day he was so eager to see his wife and kids he would run the last half-mile home from the bus stop.

I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college. My dad wanted me to be a dentist. I thought I would become a lawyer. But on my way to my first day of college, on public transportation, I got the idea for my first short story. It came out of the blue. My first gift from the greater storyteller. After that, there was no question what I was going to do. In order to actually make money as a writer, I became a copywriter at the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency. I was able to apply for that job because I had a college degree.

My wife and I were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, a child whose gifts make mine look pale. She became the first person in our family to go to an Ivy League college. She's fluent in French and Russian and was selected for an internship with the U.S. State Department. She also, God love her, is a fantastic writer.

The progress our family has made through a span of three generations has been matched or far exceeded by innumerable other American families. The opportunities for people of humble origins to succeed is what has made the United States great.

So, from my point of view, the most important responsibility our government has is to build, sustain and protect the broadest, deepest, most secure and most accessible middle class possible. Make it entirely possible for anyone who is not yet in the middle class or who wants to get back into the middle class to rise. Make it doable for anyone in the middle class with vision, passion and drive to rise even farther.

With that point of view, the first question that should be asked of any bill that comes before Congress is: Will this be good for the middle class?

Right now, all the Republicans and far too many Democrats place their first concern with the rich. If you have any question about that, look at the figures for increases in income over the past 30+ years and see who's done well, who's stagnated and who's falling behind.

I think the rise of the Tea Party was the first sign that the duopoly of the Democrats and the Republicans is about to yield to new parties. Occupy Wall Street was the first sign of a countervailing movement on the left, but it was too incoherent — by design apparently — to survive. But another iteration on the left will emerge. That will leave room for a centrist party or coalition to fill the middle. Then it will be up to the right or the left to see whose ideas will prove more compelling in attracting the moderate middle.

Anyway, that's how I look at politics, in part, and those will be the views reflected in my writing.

Again, I'd like to thank David for thinking well of my writing even though our political views differ.


Now, on to the matter of paper. A relatively small number of readers are waiting patiently, I hope, for the trade paperback edition of The Last Ballot Cast to hit the online booksellers. We plan to have this edition available by mid-September.

Let me say that I love printed books. Always have. Lately, though, I've come to love ebooks, too. When it comes to making a living as a writer, ebooks are my first love. They pay the freight. If it weren't for ebooks, there never would have been more than one Jim McGill novel.

As things stand today, the company my wife and I started, Stray Dog Press, Inc., publishes trade paperbacks as a courtesy, but we don't do it for all of our titles. It's not too hard to imagine a day arriving when only a small percentage of all titles on the market are printed.

So, dear readers, take a chance with ebooks, if you haven't already. They're really quite likable. They're becoming ever more affordable. They'll give you the opportunity to find new authors that you wouldn't have otherwise.

Please take the leap. When it comes to reading, there's no need to be monogamous. You can play the field and your literary soul will be unsullied.

One final small note: Stray Dog Press, Inc. is looking into the possibility of doing audio books. What do you think of audio books? If this turns out to be a good business idea, we'll let you know.

1 comment:

  1. I hope print books will be around for a long, long time. Sometimes, reading is the story — it pulls you in and carries you along. The medium isn't so important. But other times, reading is the experience: the story, holding the book, turning the pages, pictures perhaps, where you're reading it and the opportunity to share it by handing it [the book] to someone else. That requires the print version. There's room for multiple media. Thanks Joe, for sharing your take on artistic responsibility, writing, history and ebooks.