Writing Political Fiction – ‘The Brothers Wolffe’ in “Everything Is So Political”

Everything Is So Political, ed. Sandra McIntyre, Fernwood PublishingI am very proud and excited to have my story “The Brothers Wolffe” included in the recently released anthology “Everything Is So Political” edited by Sandra McIntyre and published by Roseway/Fernwood Publishing.

I didn’t set out to write a political short story. Somehow, that never works for me.

With “The Brothers Wolffe” I was simply writing in reaction to an image on a postcard that I noticed in a café in the UK when I was visiting on holiday.

The postcard showed two men sitting side by side, knees agape, hands on thighs, looking directly out of the card at me. They were wearing white wolf masks, white shorts and white hairy gaiters. The white was brilliant, giving the picture an other-worldliness that instantly made my fingers itch to grab pencil and paper.

When I write in “gut reaction” mode, I don’t analyze the prompt or plan where to go with what I am about to write. The main idea is to get out of my own way and let the words keep coming. In fact, I was so quick to start writing that I didn’t realize only one of the masks was a wolf!

It would have been surprising if my response to the image had not been political. Here were two characters who were half-human, half-animal or neither human nor animal. Issues of ‘other’ and ‘difference’ were bound to be in the story somewhere. And where there is ‘difference’ there is the issue of power – who has it, how do they use it?

Or did the story emerge from my own sense of never quite managing to be entirely an insider?

After nearly forty years, I consider Canada my “chez moi” but the minute I open my mouth in front of strangers in the bilingual city I live in (whether I am speaking English or French), I am asked “Where are you from?” or “Where are you visiting from?” or “Have you been here before?” It doesn’t stop me having a wonderful life here, but it is inevitable a sense of ‘outsiderness’ is embedded in me, in my artistic expression, and in my world view.

Yet I wasn’t thinking of any of that when I started working on the story that had popped out. My interest was in the narrator’s disgust for (and attraction to) a hairy, stinky body. The politics of the story at this point were the politics of body aesthetics. Society requires people – women especially – to do anything, pay anything to rid themselves of body hair (yet they will do anything, pay anything to ensure a luxurious head of hair!). Who does not try to hide natural body smells with deodorants and various manufactured fragrances? What happens when people repress ‘nature’/the natural body? Is something lost? Or only gained?

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. Pablo Picasso

Of course, all that skitters through a writer’s mind in the process of working on a story does not necessarily appear in the final story, or is perceived in the story by the reader.

In her Introduction, editor Sandra McIntyre wonders why some authors are reluctant to consider their work political. My particular process here certainly confirms her view that “People are political.”

You can read “The Brothers Wolffe”, excerpted courtesy of Fernwood Publishing at The Fern Blog

What political issues can you see in your writing?

Do you ever start a story intentionally political?

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2 thoughts on “Writing Political Fiction – ‘The Brothers Wolffe’ in “Everything Is So Political”

    • My sentiments exactly! In her Introduction, Sandra McIntyre looks at Salman Rushdie’s example of Jane Austen as an example of a writer who wrote “without a reference to the public sphere”. Very interesting.

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