Before jumping into this week’s rant, TG would like to point discerning Thriller Readers to a nice interview with TG’s writer pal Matthew Quirk, whose latest book, The Directive -- the second in his Mike Ford series -- has recently hit the stands. “Hit the stands,” now there’s a phrase that marks TG as a publishing dinosaur. Hit the screens is probably more accurate these days. At any rate, if you haven’t read his first book, The 500, do so and then follow it up with The Directive. And read the interview in this month’s copy of The Big Chill here. On to the aforementioned rant.
Did Thriller Guy catch your attention with that headline? TG recently reviewed a legal thriller by a big name professional (not John Grisham) who must remain nameless for professional reasons, and TG was shocked, yes, shocked! by the level of vituperation the author held for the Democrats and President Obama in particular. The author is, in real life, (meaning when he’s not writing novels, even though he probably doesn’t really write them as he’s known to employ a ghost) a high state government official. He’s obviously a Republican and in his new novel, an entry in his long-running series, he pulled out every stop to sneer at the federal government, democrats and Obama. In fact, at times TG was embarrassed for the guy. He could almost see the flecks of foam flying off the author’s lips.
TG must insert here his usual disclaimer and apology for not using the author’s name so he could flay him personally. Because of TG’s exalted position in the pantheon of working book reviewers, he is not allowed to reveal names and titles when excoriating authors and/or books that he has reviewed. Especially those he has recently reviewed. Sorry, folks, that’s just the way it is.
So TG was pleased to read an amusing article by Ron Charles in the Book section of the Washington Post on June 29th about an article the conservative book critic and publisher, Adam Bellow, wrote in the National Review. The theme of Bellow’s rant (not Charles' article, Charles was making fun of Bellows) is that the world of arts and letters, particularly the fiction industry, has been co-opted for years by bleeding-spleen liberals who have used their media platforms to crush the artistic hopes, dreams and novels of conservatives and those of the further right-wing variety. TG had to laugh. Yeah, it’s a damn shame about the fortunes of such beaten-down conservative thriller writers like Tom Clancy and Brad Thor. Those poor guys have made nary a cent in the business.
What we have here is another dope who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, stepping into the fiction book-writing business, in particular, as far as TG is concerned, the thriller-writing business, and spouting off, revealing not only his lack of information but his own wild-eyed political biases that leave him virtually blind, deaf and decidedly dumb in a larger discussion of an interesting topic. So it was with a sinking heart TG realized that he was now going to have to read the original article in the National Review, and not just the clever piece Charles wrote about it in the Post. Oh the burdens TG must shoulder just so his readers can remain sitting comfortably in front of their computers. Instead of picking each paragraph apart, TG is simply going to excerpt some of his pronouncements.
“We (conservatives) need our own writing programs, fellowships, prizes, and so forth. We need to build a feeder system so that the cream can rise to the top, and also to make an end run around the gatekeepers of the liberal establishment.
“What good will it do to write a novel? May as well ask what good it did to show the revolutionary flag at Bunker Hill (a battle we lost, by the way). We need to hoist our flag and show the strength of our resolve in order to build morale and win recruits.
“Remember, this is still a fight that can be lost. Will we as a society reject the new regime of liberal thought control or will we let it impose a politically correct orthodoxy on us that we will all have to live with for the rest of our lives?
“Yes, conservative voices can now be heard throughout the land, and the GOP is poised for victory in the upcoming midterm elections. But even as we appear to be winning the political argument, for the moment anyway, we are losing on the cultural front. For proof, you need look no farther than the recent successful attacks on conservative spokesmen. Do you oppose any aspect whatsoever of Barack Obama’s transformative agenda for America? You’re a racist. Racist, racist, racist!
“This is a bare-knuckled attempt to enforce an ideological orthodoxy by policing the boundaries of acceptable speech. The methods used — anonymous accusers, public shaming, forced apologies, reeducation programs — come straight out of the Stalinist playbook, and they are not only shockingly illiberal. They are shockingly effective.
“The Left has adopted this strategy for obvious reasons: They cannot win the argument on its merits, and unlike their counterparts elsewhere they can’t consistently win (or steal) elections. Political power eludes them. But like Mark Antony at Caesar’s funeral, they have become expert at using the media pulpit to turn the passions of the mob against their enemies.
“Fear not, however — this is no doom-and-gloom scenario. I actually come bearing good news. A second front is opening in the oddly misnamed culture war (which has nothing to do with culture). The tools of our salvation are at hand. There’s a new posse in town. We just need to wake up and support them.
“Meanwhile, more and more, I started hearing from conservative authors asking if I would look at their novels. I read quite a few of these, and while some of them were awful, many others were entertaining and well done. But they didn’t rise to the level of proficiency required for mass-market publication, and no sectarian market existed for conservative-themed fiction. So I suggested they self-publish, making use of the new digital-distribution technology.
“How do we fight back against this liberal establishment with its politically correct regime of thought control? There is only one way that I know of and that is by turning their weapons against them and channeling the spirit of the Sixties counterculture.
“The new conservative counterculture is a rebellion from below and from without. Fueled by the rise of digital self-publishing technologies, it is a simultaneous revolt against the hierarchical control of mass media and the ideological narrowing of acceptable discourse.
“In short, conservatives should remember that mainstream popular culture is still largely driven by books. Fiction therefore is and will remain the beating heart of the new counterculture. This is not just my bias as a publisher. It is a practical reality — and a fortunate one for us, since there are hundreds if not thousands of conservative and libertarian writers out there today producing politically themed fiction. The conservative right brain has woken up from its enchanted sleep and it is thriving. Instead of banging on Hollywood’s front door, a better approach is to go in the back by publishing popular conservative fiction and then turning those books into films.”
If this is the sort of thing you feel is right and true, TG heartily encourages you to read the entire piece. As crazy as some of this seems -- at least to TG -- he is happy to read the endorsement of digital technology to come to the aid of writers who can’t get published. (Even though they admittedly haven’t reached the level of proficiency for mass-market publication.) And rather than TG having to refute all the dopey theories Mr. Bellow is espousing, TG would just like to suggest to him that liberal writers, even the proficient ones, have just as much trouble getting the legacy publishers to accept their work and publish it and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with their political bent.
TG does agree with another of Bellow’s statements, that is that most conservative writers, at least working in the thriller genre, know to keep their political opinions down to at least a low simmer. When they let this worldview take over, (like the author TG began this discussion with,) the fiction is subsumed beneath politics, and thriller readers, no matter what their political bent, don’t like that. They’re reading for thrills, action, and story, not polemics. That’s the real message Bellows should be trumpeting, but instead he has produced the usual self-pitying screed that blames the forces of his political opponents rather than the limitations and short sightedness of his aggrieved compatriots.
Mr. Bellows should read the thriller genre. The political leanings there are far more heavily weighted on the conservative end of the spectrum, but the better writers wisely tamp down much of that bias and just try to write terrific stories, because they know if they push the buttons that Bellows is urging them to push, they’re going to lose readers. And not just liberal readers.
Several years ago TG wrote an article about political thrillers. As part of his research he interviewed a number of well-known thriller writers, intending to use this as a sidebar to the article, and asked them about their own political leanings. It will come as no surprise that many, if not most of them, were conservative. But their answers surprised TG with their thoughtfulness. For unrelated reasons, the sidebar was not used with the article. In his next blog, TG will run some of these thoughts. Stay tuned.
Did TG mention that Adam Bellow is the son of the great novelist Saul Bellow? Does anyone besides TG hear the whoosh of someone whirling in his grave?