Back from vacation, back in the saddle
Words! So powerful. As authors, we use them to create entire worlds. We elicit the strongest of emotions with them. We make people laugh out loud, we make them cry, we kidnap their attention for hours on end. As a linguist, I’m also painfully aware of the flipside of words, how deceptive they can be. That which may be oh so obvious to me may hold entirely different connotations, different meaning to someone else. Words can cause pain, intended or not.
Front cover of my coming children’s book “The Dragon Princess” about love being love. I love the way Felicity Swan has interpreted my text.
A month ago, I wrote a blog post which caused pain, completely unintended of course. For that, I would like to apologize. I have no control over people’s reactions, how people feel, how they choose to interpret my words. I most certainly did not intend to cause pain or even tears as it were in some cases. It’s been a month and the reactions still sometimes keep me awake at night. Some might find that a small consolation.
I stand by my message
I worked a long time on that blog post, and re-read it countless times. I do not regret writing it (quite the contrary) nor the message I tried to convey. You can go back on this blog and see that I have tried (unsuccessfully) to address the issue of appropriation and misrepresentation of gay men many times before, just as I have highlighted the importance of romance novels.
Sadly, to hold meaningful discourse this day and age is extremely difficult, not just within the confines of literature. In the past, when I’d use temperate words, I would simply be ignored, or patted on the back, and even though I really try hard to always see both sides of any issue, and after having thought to have built credibility in the industry over the years, I finally realized that you need to shout to be heard. That makes me sad. My message isn’t new, the delivery was. The shouting that came back, however, was somewhat unexpected. I’ll readily admit to that.
My second shitstorm, and what a shitstorm it was/is. Emotionally, it’s been difficult. Luckily, I left for a long vacation just a couple of days after publication and while I stayed away from most of it, the threats (including death) against me and my family caused me several sleepless nights. Thank big pharma for sleeping pills! Financially, it’s been a boon, as I’m literally saving thousands of dollars, euros and pounds that I was sponsoring MM events with, money swiftly returned to me as my name has apparently become so toxic that I’ve been declared persona non grata across the entire “mm” community. I choose to wear that epithet with pride. My family is most grateful for those funds that will be put to good use elsewhere. Always holes to stuff when you have small kids!
Let’s get things straight (for once…)
My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today.
I do feel strongly that I need to clarify a few things that have been claimed in the comments to the post and from (what I heard through the grapevine) online:
- I do not hate women. Nothing could be further from the truth. My issue is with the misrepresentation and appropriation of gay men in MM, not the genitals of the person doing it. Dicks can be dicks, too, just saying!
- I do not advocate censorship. We must make a distinction between our right to speak and our right to critique the message. I may not believe that some things should be said/written/published, but that is not the same thing as advocating to stop people from doing so. It is a most important distinction. The only time I may be advocating restrictions to free speech is when it directly incites violence.
There is a lot more I would like to say, could say, but at this stage, I won’t. I just don’t think I can find the appropriate words when everything I say can and will be used against me… The issues at hand are extremely complex and branch out into many different directions, from women’s rights to the definition of community and discourse in our time. Many issues need to be discussed, e.g. as we currently do within my publisher’s circle: the underrepresentation of women, non-binary and other main characters in fiction.
So many important, difficult and complex issues to discuss and analyze. For the time being, I will try to limit my contributions to smaller circles, where people are given the benefit of the doubt.
Last night, we returned from our annual summer vacation and I really want to get back to my work and try to put this behind me. I never felt I was part of the MM community, and now I have that in writing. My next two books are so far removed from everything “MM” that it will help cement that reputation: my children’s book “The Dragon Princess” and the first book in a fantasy youth series called “The Golden One”. I’ll be working hard on those two over the coming weeks.
2018 “pride” month is over and we’re in the first of eleven straight months
That’s probably the first thing straight people will react to, a “straight month”, what’s that? Well, that’s what the LGBT community lives through when it’s not Pride day, week or – in the US – month. It’s our everyday life. Someone told me just today that “I can understand how gay people would only ever read gay fiction…” I’ve yet to meet that person. I doubt they exist. Why? School! Tell me a single school where gay literature is an integral part of the school’s curriculum, where “LGBT” isn’t just confined to sex ed, or being damned and banned altogether. We’ve all grown up watching straight TV, straight movies, playing straight games, seeing straight couples everywhere and, yes, reading straight literature, from our kids’ books to adult literature. Straight people don’t realize it, but the world is awfully straight. Everywhere. It’s a wonder we turn out alright after all that brainwashing. LOL
There is a lot on my mind these days, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I am once again enraged. Not just by the injustices against my people in barbaric countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Russia, but so-called civilized countries like the UK, where the minister in question thinks it’s perfectly okay for “female only” events to ban trans women or the US, where… Yeah, let’s not ruin the mood completely, shall we?
Worst kind of “con crud”…
A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a convention for LGBT writers, and while there was a significant LGBT representation there, most of the attending authors and readers were not (which per se would not be a problem), and at one point, when discussions began to circle around “mpreg” (the in-word for male pregnancy, and we’re not talking about trans men here!), I had to leave the room. So much of the “m/m” world is so badly homophobic that I became physically ill. When later in the evening, we were discussing an upcoming panel at another convention, the “male writer panel” was quickly identified as “that’s where we learn the mechanics of it all…” Let’s just say if that’s going to be the case, despite assurances by the organizer to the contrary, I’ll leave that panel. But let’s face it, as a man, a gay man, in “this genre” (generally depicting male-male romances, which are nothing but reading material for women to get off) I have long ago been reduced to a sex toy, or – alternatively – an instructor to teach straight women the basics of anal sex, since you can’t ask questions on porn channels. Dare I open my mouth, I’m told to shut my filthy trap and stop mansplaining.
And so I shut my filthy trap and make fists in private, for the longest time. I dared not speak up against penises as swag, at “cock-walks” which aren’t about roosters or all those perfect half-naked specimens of male models on the covers, or all the porn actors that dance around some authors like flies drawn to the … I’ve once wondered why it always had to be porn actors and not regular teachers, or mechanics, bakers or homemakers. I guess we’re not good enough masturbation material, and we most certainly suck at being PR material when it’s time to sell our latest oeuvre… Nothing wrong with porn actors per se. I’m sure they’re nice people like the rest of us, but let’s not fool ourselves. The interest in their personalities is about as deep as someones next orgasm. “I know a porn star!” Well good for you. I know many human beings, regardless of their profession, but I don’t collect them by profession.
“You hate romance, that’s why…”
If anyone were to actually read this, I’d be accused of hating romance, and they might not be entirely wrong. I’ve really begun to dislike the genre as a whole, but not because I dislike love stories, it’s because of the many rules regarding sex in romance and particularly the appropriation of gay men in M/M. Just the other day someone told me they read M/M because the het equivalent (which I depict F/M (but predictably, women put the men first and call it M/F) wasn’t realistic enough… Yeah right, I can totally see that… If a grandmother came home with her bullied grandchild from school, a child she looks after because her daughter is dead, a child she had to pick up from the principal’s office, would you deem it realistic if she sent said child to their room to be able to fuck her lover? No, of course not. No sensible female would do that, right? Totally unrealistic. She’d (rightly) be expected to realistically comfort that child, look after them, send loverboy on his merry way. But the gay grandfather in the M/M? Sure, let him be fucked brainless by the ex-Seal from across the street. It was, after all, time for that sex scene in the chapter, right? We can’t disappoint our readers now, can we? Totally believable, and so realistic. Who really cares about the grandchild. Move away, orgasm on the way here. Men are sex pigs after all. Especially those gay guys. They’re the worst. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? Redtube, Pornhub, those CockyBoys… Totally “realistic”! NOT! #DNF
I’m enraged. I’m enraged because so many of the 130,000 books on Amazon that supposedly are about LGBT people, in fact, aren’t. The men in those books aren’t real, they’re about as real as vampires or shapeshifters, probably less so. Gay men (and more) have been appropriated by mostly het white women to make money. They color their hair and nails in rainbow colors, but if you point out to them that their depictions aren’t realistic, you’re labeled a male chauvinist pig and you better stop mansplaining them, and besides, and I quote “M/M is a fantasy, created by women for women, not men!” My favorite defense of all times when faced with criticism of how they write about gay men: “I have a gay friend.” #facepalm
So where do stories about real men go? Those of us (regardless of gender) who write outside the M/M sea label them “gay fiction”, but now even that is contested because some of the M/M authors claim that if “M/M is about fiction primarily for women, then I’m not an M/M author. I write gay fiction!” Thank you very much. Now you’ve just taken our last refuge. I feel like the proverbial Indian being evicted from his reservation! No offense to my native American friends, but you get the point. These people don’t care about us, they care about their balance sheet, and gay men are the pen(ises) to balance their checkbook. #CulturalAppropriation
Great stories are lost in the vast sea of M/M. Books worth reading are like grains of sand on a beach. How do you know which is which? #NeedleInAHaystack
Actually, I don’t, but don’t let that stop you from saying so anyway…
What makes it so heartbreakingly difficult is the fact that there are some truly amazing gay romance stories out there, that there are authors, men, women, others, gay, straight, bi, other, who pour their life’s blood into each and every book they write. People who do their research, people who know what they’re writing about. I think I’ve said it before that I’m no big fan of #ownvoices because we’d never have seen characters like Othello, Romeo, Julia, Lady Macbeth or Hamlet see the light of day at Skakespeare’s hands if #ownvoices were da shit, because: how dare he write them? He was white, not black, like Othello, a dude, not a girl like Julia, a man, not a boy like Romeo, not evil like Lady Macbeth or Danish, like Hamlet. Empathy is every great author’s tool. And therefore any great het writer should be able to bring gay characters to life. There is precedent, just saying. However, in the romance genre, the rules are followed all too rigidly by far too many, strange reader expectations and author desires for a quick buck are dangerous ingredients in a foul-smelling blend.
It’s difficult to explain to an outsider how it feels to be appropriated by another group for their (sexual) amusement. Insiders have tried, like this great author friend of mine. Authors using cock-shaped key chains as swag. I ask you this: if men showed up at an RWA convention with cunt-shaped swag, would you laugh hysterically, jump up and down and scream “OMG I need one of those!”? If I were to collect money for say, a charity to benefit abused women, auctioning off countless cunt shaped objects, quilts, macramé, pottery etc., would you find that amusing? Or if I’d invite Stormy Daniels to perform at the RWA gala dinner, dangling her tits over your entré? Titillating? Would you be able to keep your hands in check or would they be all over her? What if I wrote erotica (!) where the intestines and vaginal tracts of the heroine were torn apart (literally!) again, and again, and again by (take your pick) dinosaurs, dragons or ancient gods only to magically heal by divine power or the “magic” semen of the male beast in dub-con/non-con (I call it for what it is, rape) scene after scene? Book after book?
Allow me to exemplify…
In M/M, that’s not only possible, chances are the bottom ends up magically pregnant, not to mention that all is forgiven and they end up happily ever after in the end. This is of course also true for the trans woman who is so badly injured by her rapist that she is hospitalized for months (!!!), hanging on to life by a thread. Needless to say, she ends up moving in with her rapist in the end. Why did he rape her? He was upset she had certain dangly parts left… Totally believable, right? Transphobia & rape, all beautifully wrapped on KU for Her to get off. I have read things in M/M that have left me traumatized for life, and these are just a few of the examples.
It’s weird, you know, attending an LGBT writing conference, listening to a panel about diversity (a good panel, mind you, nothing wrong with that), and how we should be more inclusive of mental disease, ethnicity, age etc. and how important it was for, and I quote “accurate and true representation”. Yet I sit in the audience and wonder, why doesn’t that basic and healthy concept of “accurate and true representation” which these panels demand for just about every nuance under the limitless rainbow, why does this basic concept not apply to gay or bisexual men? Why is it okay to see us pregnant even though so many of us are involuntarily childless, suffering that pain, that emptiness, day after day for our entire lives. To be reminded of that in fiction, callously shortened as mpreg is, is utterly disgusting and heartless, and no matter what attempts at justification these authors and readers may offer, there can be none. Why is it okay for men to be “gay for you” even though there is no such thing in real life. We’re all on a spectrum between the two poles. Denying that, to maintain that “illusion” of heterosexuality, simply because it has a higher status? Shame on you. Your homo- / biphobia disgust me! True representation? My ass! #outrage
Life is rarely simple. I know some amazing authors, but they make bad friends in real life. I know some really crap authors (with regards to the above), yet they’re good people. The same can be said about readers. Such is life. I am angry, really pissed off, but this post isn’t about you, not you personally anyway. Chances are it might just be about your reading choices or your writing decisions, but it’s not a judgment of you as a human being. Most likely I don’t know you personally, and even if I do, it’s probably superficially at best, from social media or a brief hello at a conference. So please, as you go through various emotional reactions to this post, keep that in mind. Most people are kind, some are simply ignorant. Some never actually think about the ramifications of their actions, what signals they send. I was once told by a reader of these rape books that she “liked her men to suffer, just as she had once suffered at the hands of her rapist, and then some, just for good measure.” Revenge is a dish best served horny, it seems. Might I suggest a slightly more constructive choice of therapy? Counseling maybe? I understand the pain of rape far too well (#MeToo), and if writing helps you cope, heal? Great. But does it have to be published? And why do you feel the need to punish gay men for your heterosexual rape?
Think about this for a moment…
In closing: yes, I’m angry, furious at a literary world where gay men are reduced to vibrators, and I’m incredibly saddened that this happens while my people in the real world still fight for their lives, their dignity, and their happiness. Think about it, for every sex scene that you jerked off to in your latest M/M, a gay man was hung in Iran, flogged in Saudi Arabia, tortured in Chechnya, imprisoned in Uganda, thrown off a roof-top in Syria, fired for getting married in America, disappeared forever in Russia, or China; stoned in Afghanistan, burned with acid in Pakistan, mass raped by an angry village mob in rural India, denied to adopt his partner’s child in Poland, or killed outside a gay club in London. I could go on and on (and I’ve said nothing about my sisters, bisexuals or trans/intersex people who all suffer through variations or hells similar–or worse–to ours.)
Yes, the (LGBT) world needs positive stories, we need romance, we need love. What we don’t need is to be reduced to toy boys for your reading and masturbation pleasure (or bank account.) Can we at least agree on that?
Hans M Hirschi
Writer of gay and LGBT fiction
Happy Release Day to me: Opus XV is now available in stores around the world
Happy Release Day! Sing along with me, will you? 🙂 It’s a strange sensation, not just because I think it’s a bit of a dirty word, this whole “release day” thingy. It’s just strange that we make such a big fuzz about something as simple as a new book in a bookstore. Yeah, I know, it’s all about marketing, PR, drumming up excitement, selling and what not. On the other hand, release day also means that I, the author, have to let go, physically release my characters and their adventures into the freedom they deserve.
Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover
Every release day is different
No to release days are alike. I’ve been up two hours, so it’s still early, but I can already feel that it’s going to be different, for more than one reason. First, I’m not as nervous as I used to be. And it’s not just the fact that, by now, I’m used to releasing books. It is, after all, my fifteenth book, my twelfth novel. There’s a different reason. I feel I’m done somehow. Difficult to put my finger on it, but I don’t see another novel in the near future, not from me anyway.
I’m smarter than saying “never”, I won’t, but for now, I think I’m done. I want to do something else. What? We’ll see. A day job, some hard-earned money would be nice. It’s been a while.
Martin’s story is an important one
Let’s not dwell too long on me, I’m irrelevant. Let’s focus on the book. While it’s “happy release day to me”, it’s really all about the story, the characters, and I think Martin’s story deserves telling, it deserves reading. It highlights a generation of gay men that we don’t read much about. They are the ones who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today, they were at the forefront of the LGBT organizations in the sixties and onward, the ones threatened to their lives. Martin may not have been on the barricades, for many reasons. Instead, Martin’s story is the one of why the struggle for equality and inclusion is so important.
No, writing about Korea wasn’t part of some grand scheme of mine, despite how “in” Korea seems to be right now. It’s one of the longest wards in human history, still ongoing, with a very long cease-fire. And even though we’ve seen some tiny steps (as we have in the past) toward a detente on the peninsula recently (all happening after I had traveled to Korea for research in January), events in recent days show just how fragile progress is, and how easy it is for North Korea to retreat and clam up again. Given the American regime’s split tongue messages, I can’t really blame them. Who would want to end up like Ghaddafi? Deserved or not, Kim isn’t that stupid. Stay tuned to see this unfold in the coming weeks and months. Or not.
The reason why Korea became a topic was simple: given Martin’s age and the fact that he was conscripted into the armed forces, Korea was the logical choice. It was the big conflict the US was involved in at the time. I just hadn’t really done my homework and needed to do a lot more homework than I could’ve bargained for… All good though, it’s a much better story for it.
My books span across many genres, including erotica and science-fiction. Then I write YA and contemporary, family sagas and dark stories about child abuse. What are the things that bind all those books together? Two things: they are all about gay fiction (which incidentally is not the same thing as M/M romance, I feel the need to point this out, since some people seem to believe that) and they all leave you with feeling good at the end. Here in Sweden, we have a genre called “feelgood” which is odd, an English term in Swedish, but it is what it is. I’ve made it my own because it helps me to accurately describe what my stories are about. Like an elevator pitch.
Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a good example of that. I invite you to get to know Martin, Ji-Hoon, Kevin, and Eugene. You can learn more on the book’s own page here, with a trailer, buy links and a short narration of the first chapter.
Happy Release Day to me! Happy reading to you…
The Nobel Prize is the world’s biggest and most important prize. Or must I say ‘was’?
Most people know the Nobel Prize. If you’re a scientist, it’s something to aspire to. Who wouldn’t want to be mentioned along with the likes of Marie Curie or Albert Einstein? Thought so. There are five plus one prizes: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology & Medicine, Peace, and Literature. The sixth prize, the Economics Prize, isn’t originally mentioned in Nobel’s will but was instituted by the Swedish Federal Reserve in 1968 to honor the memory of Alfred Nobel.
You never satisfy everyone…
There is always criticism against the prizes, and who they are awarded to. From a generic criticism that the prizes come far too late in a researcher’s life (which is not what Nobel had in mind), to specific criticism of particular winners. In recent years, it was particularly the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee which has been criticized for their choices. Many voices mentioned the political dimension of the prize and how the Norwegian committee has been tainted by local infighting among Norwegian politicians. Here in the Nordics, we read a lot about that, but from what I gather, most people abroad don’t seem to be bothered.
The Literature Prize, however… It is debated far outside the immediate circles and the winners are questioned pretty much every year. Why not him? Why not this country/language/culture? Why no woman? Why not Bob Dylan? Well actually, that one was answered in 2015 and raised even more questions… Now picture this on top of the ongoing discussions about the winners themselves:
Sex, wine & a “jolly good fellow”
This isn’t the first time the Swedish Academy is in the news. In 1989, when the Academy refused to criticize Iran for the fatwah against Salman Rushdie, three members “quit”, which until this week was not legally possible. Their chairs remained empty. One has since died, but Kerstin Ekman‘s chair #15 is still unoccupied, after all these decades. This week, the King changes the rules (which is also subject of some debate in Sweden) and now allows members to leave the Academy or – if they haven’t been there for two years or more – to be tossed out.
The current crisis isn’t necessarily homemade, although it’s been made worse by the members of the Academy. In the wake of the #MeToo debate, eighteen (!) women retold Sweden’s largest newspaper their stories of how they’d been sexually abused and even raped by the husband of one of the Academy members. The wife is a very well respected poet. Her husband, however, has had a reputation in artist’s circles for decades as being a pig, a real chauvinist (or “Savoir Vivre” as one of his friends and Academy members puts it). So it wasn’t a long shot for the journalist to seek out these women. There are countless more than the eighteen who finally told their stories and broke the news. Just this week, it was reported that even our own Crown Princess had been assaulted. He put his hands on Her Royal Highness’s ass, all the while the King was apparently seeing it happen. They escorted him out, but nothing happened beyond that, which is in a way women’s story of #MeToo until last year…
The secretary of the Academy, Sara Danius, began an investigation and asked a law firm to look into the allegations. There were also rumors that he’d shared the names of previous winners with outsiders (apparently all spouses always know the winner beforehand, which isn’t really a surprise.) There were also allegations of economical winning and bias, which are currently being investigated by the authorities.
The Academy falls apart
Within the Academy, how to deal with all this created a huge rift and as the scandal blew up, three male members left. Since then, the secretary and an additional member have left the ranks, leaving it a sad bunch of ten people rather than the usual eighteen. And among them are only two women. The average age is high, some of the members are in their eighties. The oldest will be ninety-four in a month’s time. Some of them suffer from dementia or are extremely senile.
The infighting is extremely public these days, and the members have been very public, despite their credo of “what happens in the Academy stays in the Academy!” Which is detrimental to their many tasks. They’re a rich organization, with tons of real estate and they hand out many prizes every year. The Swedish Academy is also responsible for charting the Swedish Language, and the Swedish Vocabulary, charting hundreds of thousands of Swedish words and how they were/are used in our language. As a linguist, and having worked near this project as a student, I can’t express how important that work is (it’s no coincidence that Casper, one of my protagonists, is a professor in data linguistics at the University of Gothenburg, where much of the practical work was done.)
What about the Nobel Prize?
Apparently, there are only five names left for consideration for this year’s prize which is announced early in October. However, the Academy announced this morning that they will not hand out a prize this year, after consultation with the Nobel Foundation, who is overall responsible for the prize and the prize money (roughly one million USD.) Instead, they will hand out two prizes next year.
Here’s my question as an author: who would’ve wanted a prize this year? Any female winner would be accused of being the token #MeToo winner, rather than a worthy literary genius. A man would be seen as “typical” for such a backward organization where rapists are considered “having a good reputation” and whatever literary qualities a winner would bring to the table, they’d be questioned, as most writers have left the Academy. Those who are left are linguists, priests, and philosophers. And they’re only TEN. And they’re old. Not to mention the fact that what some of them have said in public in recent weeks would have any decent author run the other way, rather than accepting a prize from them.
Would you want the Nobel Prize this year?
I think this is the question at the core of it all, and while it’s a sad day for literature, this was a good decision. Personally, I’d have scratched the prize for this year altogether, rather than handing it out next year, because the 2018 Prize will always be tainted. Among scholars of literature, the Nobel Prize isn’t “equal”, some are regarded as ‘secondary years’, even in Sweden. The fact that one of the very first prizes was awarded to Selma Lagerlöf was impressive, although it did little to help the prize abroad. But she was an amazing writer and a woman. The fact that she was later voted into the Academy also decreased the value of her prize. The worst ones? Probably the awards in 1974 when the Academy rewarded two of its own, again! But there are definitely others, just read the linked Wikipedia article. You can’t really compete in art, so… Even the modern approach to award the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan backfired in 2016, as Dylan didn’t give a flying fuck about the award and didn’t come to Stockholm to meet the King. He finally accepted the Prize money by giving the mandatory lecture at the last minute. But it was an embarrassing moment for the Academy.
So would you want one? From a splinter Academy who thinks that rapists have a “good reputation”, a “sense for Savoir Vivre” and “lots to teach our young”?
Is there hope for the future?
This is really the big question. Will things quiet down? Abroad most likely. Here in Sweden? We’ll see. Eight members must either be re-engaged or replaced. This will need to happen before the end of the year. There’s a lot of protocol around this and new members are only admitted once a year, in early December in what is a bit of a ceremony. So finding eight new members, or to get the six who recently jumped ship to re-engage? Given all the bad things that have been said, I doubt that. Plus there’s always the chance that mother nature swoops in and weeds out some of the older members… 94, 91… This isn’t the Supreme Court of the United States, where the justices are mostly figureheads with hundreds of staffers doing the real work. The Academy is a small organization, and the members pull a lot of the weight. Just saying…
I think the Academy has done what they had to, under the Damoclean sword of losing the privilege to award the Nobel Prize altogether. The real work starts now, and given the ten remaining members, I for one remain skeptical. I just don’t see any progress in most of the ten “remainers”. But who knows? This article was just about the Nobel Prize, not the Academy itself. I could write a lot more, but I won’t bore you with that. Not today.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.
Hans M Hirschi
How do you deal with reality, when it trumps your fiction? When it threatens to make it obsolete?
Three weeks left to the release of my next book. Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story where Korea plays a major role, not just the Koreans depicted in the plot. When I first began to write about Martin, an octogenarian in America, you realize quickly that people in his age were very likely to have been conscripted, or “drafted” as we normally say. Given his age, the Korean War was also a given, not that all drafted young Americans would’ve ended up there, but Martin did, and the story took its course. Mind you, at the time I began to write the book, Korea was in the news almost daily. And not in a good way.
Trump v Kim
One was called “dotard”, the other was insulted with regards to the size of their “buttons”, and for a while, it seemed as if the fragile seize-fire at the 38th parallel was seriously threatened. North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles even had some of my friends in California afraid for their personal safety. I remembered the eighties and our fear for Russian missiles raining over Europe. War, a world war even, seemed suddenly possible. Having visited Korea in the past, I was afraid for my friends in Seoul, who live less than fifty miles from the border and who can be reached by conventional artillery fire from the north, let alone nuclear weapons. I later learned what Kim’s grandfather did to Seoul during the first days of the Korean War, and it scared me.
My trip to Korea
When I began to write the story about Martin, it was not meant to be a novel. I quickly realized that there was more to the story and let it take its course. I also realized that my knowledge about Korea wasn’t good enough, that I needed to know more. When I set foot in Seoul in Mid-January, things were quickly changing on the ground. All of a sudden, North Korea seemed to be interested in detente with its southern neighbor, and as I watched the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of Seoul, we learned of North Korean delegations coming to PyongChang to attend the impending games, and eventually, even Kim’s sister showed up, and Mike Pence was glad his wife never left his side…
Kim Jong-Un surprises the world
A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.
As I was watching the images on my TV screen last week, of the quickly arranged summit between the two leaders of Korea, of Kim crossing the border (last time a leader from the north “visited” the south was Kim’s grandfather, when he rolled into Seoul after more or less having flattened the city in four days) at Panmunjom, I had tears in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a softie. I watched on as the two men shook hands, all smiles, how Kim – unscripted apparently – invited President Moon to take a step back across the border into the north, have pictures taken before they anew crossed the border to the south for their meetings.
At the end of the day, the two leaders had agreed on a range of topics, including negotiations to finally put an official rubber stamp to the war, which officially was never ended at the ceasefire in 1953.
How this affects my novel…
Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover
I finished writing my book in February, which says a bit about just how fast things are developing on the Korean peninsula. Because when I wrote the book, the Olympic Games had ended, and the symbolic visit of Kim’s sister had been a success. But the thirty-head cheerleader group had drawn more chuckles and head-shakes due to their weird behavior, than being perceived as a serious step toward detente. The story ends in early April, just a few weeks ago, and I don’t mention any of this in the book. And just last week, we worked through the edits and sent the book into proofreading.
Now I’m wondering if I need to rewrite it. Not a lot, but do I need to mention the detente? It may not need more than a sentence or two, but on the other hand, we’ve seen this political tango in Korea before, two steps forward, two steps back. But Kim Jong-Un is a different person. Raised and schooled in Switzerland (his Korean accent raising eyebrows in Seoul), he is the first dictator in the family, only the third leader of North Korea, to be “protected” by a functioning nuclear deterrent. He’s young, he’s healthy, and he knows about the west in terms of how much better our lives are compared to what his citizens have to live with. Who knows, he might even miss walking the streets of Berne…
It’s the uncertainty of it all that is the biggest dilemma…
Not knowing what the future holds is making this so difficult. Not that we ever know what the future holds, but here in Europe, we can at least assume that the next years will be similar to the ones we have behind us. Development, not revolution. In Korea though, right now? I honestly don’t know. I’m always a skeptic, but even I have to be honest and admit that Kim’s moves have me surprised. Is he serious or what is he up to? Motivation in the south is different. The official stance of all politicians in the south is unification, just as it was in West Germany before 1990. That the population in the South, particularly the young, see things differently, is a different thing. They see just how big a sacrifice from the South would be needed to bring the North up to par. I’ve written about this before.
So what do I do? What if I write the detente into the novel only to have reality suffer another setback? As a writer, I want my books not just to mirror my time, I’d like for my stories to be “timeless”, not primarily for commercial reasons, but because timeless stories are more relevant. It’s why we still read Shakespeare. His stories, the conflicts he describes are truly timeless.
I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do. I’m still thinking, talking to my publisher. If you have any recommendations, thoughts, please let me know. We have about a week or ten days to come up with a solution to this conundrum.
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Hans M Hirschi