Writing satire is now a form of masochism
And so is the news
Today I published the sixth book of the Jessica Christ series. Praise be to whoever that I don’t have to look at it again for a while.
But, um, <self-promotion>you should look at it.</self-promotion>
I never intended for the book to be so goddamn timely, but it worked out that way. I didn’t mean to do my final round of revisions during the three-ring shitshow of the Kavanaugh hearing, but that happened, too. And I never meant for it to be so long or take a year to write.
But writing satire isn’t what it used to be.
I wrote the first three Jessica Christ books prior to November 2016. If you don’t immediately recognize why that date’s significant, congrats! You’re either not an American or your right to basic human dignity hasn’t yet been threatened! No, seriously. I’m very happy for you.
Because of when they were written, books 1–3 have a markedly different tone than 4–6. Some of that can be attributed to Jessica being a kid in those books, but a great deal of it is a result of my own metamorphosis from “satire is fun” to “how in the hell do I out-absurd reality now?”
I published the first three books throughout October and November 2016 without much promotion, and then I proceeded to spend the next two months too busy wringing my hands to type a damn word.
Human behavior on both public and private fronts was making record little sense. The train had pulled into emboldening station, and all the racists and misogynists were like, “ ‘Scuse me, libtard. This is my stop.” Those with power were doing the most to play the victim in everything, and those without power were doing the two-step between deep depression and scorched earth social media posts.
Ah yes, not much has changed in the last two years.
And so it was that absurdity went from being my go-to carving tool to being about as useful as a plastic spork at a steak dinner.
Nevertheless, I persisted in being a snarky little shit, and the fourth and fifth books were born. And then there was Railed to the Cross, the memoirs of Jimmy Dean. That was a weird diversion, wasn’t it?
I liken my fascination with the antagonist in Jessica Christ, the charismatic and clinically narcissistic Reverend Jimmy Dean, to that of my fascination with serial killers, and I know I’m not alone here. No joke, serial killer fiction is a cash cow right now. Everyone wants to understand the unfathomable mind of white males ages 25–45 who justify horrible behavior with a victim complex and a voluptuous set of mommy issues.
(To those of you reading this who fall into that gender/age/race demographic, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my 35-year-old white husband: “Don’t worry, I recognize you’re not part of that group. But, yeah, it’s 100% your job to clean it up because women and POC are mega done with that. Also, don’t forget to take the garbage cans to the curb.” I always say this particular thing to him on Sunday nights.)
In the Details took me a while to write partly because I wasn’t mentally prepared to write it and partially because I decided to write and publish 9 other books in the meantime.
My avoidance behavior was at an all-time high, I don’t deny that.
Meanwhile, I told anyone who would listen, “Man, I really want to get back to Jessica Christ.” Mostly they were like, “No, I said ‘Welcome to Whataburger.’ Maybe you misheard.” But some said, “Why don’t you write it, then?”
And I’d be like, “But I can’t yet because it’s not on the production schedule,” and they’d be like, “As an indie author, don’t you create your own production schedule?” And I’d be like, “I’ve been meaning to tell you that you’re kind of a know-it-all and also don’t forget I asked for fancy ketchup,” and they’d tell me to pull forward to the first window.
In the end, putting off writing the book came down to fatigue. I was exhausted from watching the news and thinking, Oh, it can’t get any worse than — Whup. Nope, it’s already worse. Way, way worse.
Now, before anyone accuses me of getting too political, I think any sound mind on either side of the aisle can look at some of the things happening in this country and go, “That’s batshit insane.”
However, if you do think the country is finally becoming great again or whatever, then … why are you still reading this? And have you read any of my books? Honestly, I’m curious. If you have, why not stop right here, log into your Amazon account, give my book a one-star review full of misspellings, and then email me an out-of-context Bible verse like so many others whose family tree never quite branched out?
Because reality has blunted my instrument of absurdity, I often had to go subtle rather than over-the-top to get the point across in book 6. For instance, <very mild spoilers> Jimmy’s scandal is obviously creepy. You wouldn’t want someone who’s done what he did to babysit your kids. But because it wasn’t outright monstrous, the defense exists of “he didn’t molest them,” which is a low bar indeed. And one we would obviously see used today. Actually, I think I saw something like it on the news this morning.
And during Jessica’s visit to the Nu Alpha Omega house, you might have even read some of the sisters’ “is it rape?” stories and thought what they were describing didn’t constitute assault. That’s fine. You’re wrong, but it’s okay. Maybe just take a little time to think about power dynamics and fear, and figure out why you’re so very wrong.</very mild spoilers>
Personally, I could never get fully on board with the #metoo thing. Yes, I think that it’s great whenever women (and some men) can feel less ashamed of being sexually harassed or assaulted. And I think some healing conversations and awareness have spawned from it.
(Here I go stepping in it…)
Many woman have been forced to relive their most traumatic moments for over a year now, confronting them each time they scroll through their Facebook feed looking for a dank-ass meme or dog pic and instead see a post about that time their friend was felt up or fired for refusing to be felt up… or worse. And we’ve all felt the social pressure to share our stories publicly (because the internet is a FANTASTIC place to lay yourself emotionally bare). Meanwhile, those of us who haven’t done so in a highly visible manner are tacitly viewed as less courageous or generous because of our reticence to put pearls before swine. Sooie!
Anyway, after months and months of this, us women are real good and traumatized now. We’re raw, which I understand is not the best word for this, but now’s not the time for sex jokes.
All that collective trauma has been at the forefront of my mind, so as I wrote this sixth book, I kept thinking, Dial it in, Taylor. Less angry feminist stuff. The menfolk will never go for this.
But then I remembered all the menfolk who’ve stuck with the series so far (remember all that period stuff in book 1? Yucky!). I wasn’t giving y’all nearly enough credit. My apologies. You are truly kings among men.
When it came time for my final revisions, Supreme Court Jerkoff nominee Brett Kavanaugh was gearing up to have the biggest crybaby session the Senate has ever seen, and that’s saying something. It was right around that time when I told my husband to log me out of Twitter, change my password, and not tell me what it was (if you follow me over there that’s why I’ve been silent).
I was maxed out on the nonsense. I needed a break from it all.
But I couldn’t actually get away.
That particular media circus was all my female friends were talking about, because we’ve seen various incarnations of this asswipe our whole lives. Brett Kavanaugh is the archetypal prick. And, yeah, we didn’t need to hear his testimony to know that a guy like that thought he was entitled to whatever he wanted.
“You admit you already found him guilty before he gave his testimony!”
Uh, shit yeah, I did. On top of that, I charged him with First Degree Punchable Face. And after he went into his bizarre monologue about how much he likes beer, his chin quivering, his cheeks a patchy red, I was only more certain that he was guilty of trying to sexually assault a woman or three and had an extremely punchable face.
That’s because I, being the cynical bitch that I am, guessed from the start there would be no happy ending to this scenario. There never is. Yet again, we would see a woman share her most traumatic experience in front of an unfathomably large audience, and we would show her that whether or not her story was credible was irrelevant. From the start, it was never a question of if those in power believed her, it was a question of if they cared. And I already knew the answer to that.
And yet, it’s a gut punch every time we’re reminded, isn’t it?
Listen, all us women wanted was to see someone who hadn’t tried to rape another human (or animal, to be clear) nominated for the highest court of law.
I know. Women are so picky. Such nags.
I’d hoped the country would have grown since it did the same thing to Dr. Anita Hill as it did to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. It would be absurd for it not to, right?
Ah, but nothing is too absurd anymore.
About a month ago, I asked my husband if all this talk of sexual assault was leaving him emotionally fatigued. He thought about it, because he’s a thoughtful guy and because he’s learned by now that when I ask questions of this nature it’s usually not a case of “there is no wrong answer.”
But this time, there wasn’t actually a right or wrong answer. I was just curious, because I sure was fatigued from it. He said that, yes, he was emotionally exhausting from thinking about men assaulting women so much, and he’d never given the reality of it this much consideration. That’s sort of what I’d figured. And when you think about it, it would be weird if he had spent this much time thinking about men assaulting women when it wasn’t a major part of the national dialogue. That would raise a lot of questions …
Me (resting my head on his chest in bed): Whatcha thinking about?
Him (stroking my hair lovingly): Men assaulting women.
Regardless, I think we’re all maxing out on this discussion. And I don’t know if that means we should keep insisting the conversation continue or give ourselves a break to recover so we don’t burn out completely before we change things for the better.
I really don’t know.
But I think, after battling with all 450 pages of this book, I’m going to take a brief break from it personally. Or at least as much I can.
Of course, I can’t actually escape it.
I’ll still have to consider if it’s worth wearing a cute outfit, knowing men will honk or say disgusting things to me.
And when they do that, I’ll have to consider whether flipping them the bird is worth the risk of retaliation.
I’ll still have to decide if I should politely answer the door to my own home when a man I don’t recognize knocks in the middle of the day after having already seen me at my desk through the front window.
And if I do answer the door, I’ll still have to lie about my husband being asleep rather than at work so I don’t seem like easy pickings.
I don’t get to take a break from that, or from that dumbass keys-in-the-knuckles thing that absolutely cannot be effective but we all do anyway when we’re walking to our cars at night.
But as much as I can, I’m going to take a break from it. At least for a little while.
And I hope that if you need a break, you’ll take one as well.
Because it sure seems like a bunch of good people need a fucking break, doesn’t it?
And maybe a good laugh.
And a president who isn’t a well-documented sexual predator.
Oops, sorry. There I go again, being a nag.
H. Claire Taylor is a novelist and the founder of FFS Media. She’s published 19 humorous novels under various pen names and has at least a half-dozen more on the way in 2019. Read more from her at www.ffs.media