Writing the Politically Incorrect Novel
by Libby Malin
by Libby Malin
Have you ever read Katherine Anne Porter’s novella Pale Horse, Pale Rider? If not, run out and buy
it right now!
No, wait! Buy my comedy, Aefle and Gisela, first! J
Porter tells a serious story (about contracting influenza during the 1918 epidemic), but it has a scene
in it that’s been rolling around in my head lately as I think of the themes I explored in Aefle and Gisela.
In Pale Horse, Pale Rider, the protagonist, Miranda, a newspaper society page writer, is being
pressured—bullied, really – to buy Liberty Bonds, which she cannot afford. After a man points out to her
that she could afford one if she paid for it “five dollars a week,” Miranda thinks to herself:
“Suppose I were not a coward, but said what I really thought? Suppose I said to hell with this
filthy war? Suppose I asked that little thug, What’s the matter with you, why aren’t you rotting in Belleau Wood? I wish you were…”
A few moments later, she finds her editor nearly in tears. She, too, was pressured to buy the
bonds. “My God,” her editor says, “they told me I’d lose my job.”
Miranda and her editor feel powerless. It would take courage to resist.
Porter handles the issue seriously and straightforwardly. In my Aefle and Gisela story, I take a
comedic angle, but the subject – courage in the face of overwhelming pressure to conform—is no less
In Aefle and Gisela, Thomas Charlemagne, a thoughtful medieval history professor (whose life work
has centered on an obscure poetry-writing monk, Aefle, and his lady love, Gisela) doesn’t even realize the subtle push to conform until he starts to swim against the tide, by accident at first and then by deliberate choice.
The accident occurs when he accepts a dare to stop a wedding back in his sleepy home town. Luckily (or unluckily) for him, the bride, DeeDee McGowan—a woman with whom he’d had a brief fling many summers ago—was having second thoughts about saying “I do,” and she grabs the chance to leave the altar.
Trouble immediately ensues as lawsuits fly back and forth between the bullying jilted groom and DeeDee, all involving Thomas as a partner to the “crime.” When word of his escapade gets to his department chair at the prestigious university at which he teaches, Tom’s tenure application becomes…tenuous. But Thomas’s bosses are really using his misadventure as an excuse to snub him because it turns out he’s been less than an enthusiastic team player on a number of issues, just barely conforming to the lockstep approach to life and politics shared by his professorial colleagues.
It’s not that Thomas is a rogue. If anything, he’s been somewhat apolitical and non-ideological until
the wedding caper. But once he’s involved with defending DeeDee, he suddenly finds his mind filled
with dangerous thoughts. Until now, he’s not even realized how uniform his peers’ views are. Here’s a
“She’s a nice diversion,” Beewater said of DeeDee. “But hardly a good influence.”
A good influence? Since when had Beewater turned into a Puritan?
Thomas didn’t have time to pursue the thread of conversation, though, because Beewater
was called into another group by a friend. As the department chair wandered away, Tom studied the crowd, thinking of Beewater’s comment.
They were all puritans in their own way. They dressed the same -- tan khakis for the men,
meticulously bohemian skirts for the women, expensive beaten-looking boating shoes or canvas sneakers on their feet. They ate the same organic foods and drank the same fair trade teas with wild honey. They drove the same Priuses. They taught from the same bible of secular humanism. And they shunned -- sometimes with startling coldness -- unbelievers.
When DeeDee’s red figure appeared in a corner of a room, Tom beamed with recognition.
Her dress was a scarlet A in this crowd, a bold statement of sin against their rigid creed.
I have to admit to choosing the academic setting for this romp because it was a target-rich
environment to satirize. We’ve all read news stories of feckless professors spewing a bunch of nonsense,
and, if you have children in college or recently graduated yourself, you know that there’s an awful lot
of tomfoolery masquerading as scholarly work that takes place on most campuses. In fact, as I noted at
the end of Aefle and Gisela, my daughter and her college roommates used to play a game where they’d
make up titles of doctoral dissertations, trying to top each other in ridiculous pomposity. She aided me
immeasurably by constructing the titles of Thomas’s papers and co-writing faculty meeting scenes.
(And, before any readers get upset, I try to balance these satiric rhapsodies with similar ones aimed at
DeeDee’s “rugged individualism.”)
I also couldn’t resist getting in a gentle poke at college writing professors who are so absorbed in the
world of what’s known as “program fiction” (writing programs, that is), that they don’t help their students
learn how to break into commercial fiction. I’ve blogged about this particular bugaboo of mine, if you’re
interested. (If you check out that post, sign up for the Istoria Books mailing list while you’re there!)
Anyway, whatever your own personal ideology or outlook on the world, I hope you enjoy Aefle and
Gisela, a book that deals with a serious topic in a humorous way –standing up to bullies— eliciting smiles
at the same time it raises questions. You can buy it for Kindle, Nook or other e-readers!
And, by the way, it was a great joy to e-publish this book. As an author, I felt a tremendous sense
of freedom, knowing I didn’t need to worry about whether an agent or editor would shy away from the
project because it was too “political.”
Please feel free to email me at Libby_Malin (at) Hotmail (dot) com! I love to hear from readers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: LIBBY MALIN
Libby Malin is the award-winning author of romance, literary, mystery and young adult fiction. In an attempt to thoroughly confuse her reader fans, she writes comedy under the name Libby Malin and serious fiction under the name Libby Sternberg. Her first young adult mystery, Uncovering Sadie’s Secrets, was an Edgar nominee, and her first romantic comedy, Fire Me, was optioned for film. She lives in Pennsylvania, has three children and one husband, and confesses to watching “Real Housewives”
shows despite enormous amounts of culture-guilt.
Visit the author’s website at: http://www.LibbyMalin.com
Visit the Istoria Books blog to read an interview with the author by her alter ego: http://istoriabooks.blogspot.com/2011/09/libby-interviews-libby-about-aefle.html
Thanks Libby for the great guest blog! Stay tuned for my review of Aefle and Gisela later today (a hint: I loved it!)