Richard North Patterson — famous for writing nearly 20 best-selling novels anchored in current events — has shifted his authoring gears and is now penning non-fiction articles instead of a new novel.
Reality, he believes, seems to have overtaken any fictional tales that readers would reasonably believe.
In a profile published in last Sunday’s New York Times, Patterson explained that the obvious novel to be written today would use politics based in the Trump era as an underlying theme.
“But the things that have actually occurred during the Trump administration seem improbable enough without trying to turn up the dial to 11 in an invented story,” he said, according to the Times. “It would lapse into parody.”
I can relate.
In my three published novels — “The Fracking War,” “Fracking Justice” and “The Devil’s Pipeline” — the political, environmental and sometimes criminal activities of mega-energy corporations and their operatives were woven into dramatic stories. The plots and characters were fictional, but the science was real.
To add to the drama in each of my three books — a la Richard North Patterson — real current events were sprinkled through the novels as part of the story lines and details. “The Fracking War” (set in the Finger Lakes region) looked at the heavily reported air and water pollution problems associated with hydrofracking. “Fracking Justice” examined corruption in a small Pennsylvania town fostered by a wealthy, powerful corporation intent on control of the people, and the oil and gas resources of the region. “The Devil’s Pipeline” contained those themes, too, but added a madcap technological solution to the then-pervasive droughts in Western United States.
But in the last year two years, a fourth planned environmental thriller novel ran into a wall of real-world events.
Ideas for plotlines about federal government-energy corporation collusion to drill in federally protected areas on land and offshore, mind-numbing denial about the effects of climate change, and the likely interference in the next U.S. presidential election by foreign countries have all been reported as facts well beyond what I would have dared posit in any work of fiction.
As American author Mark Twain summed up more than 100 years ago: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
That said, fiction writing is not dead.
The same edition of the NY Times that highlighted Richard North Patterson’s new writing regimen featured a front-page story about the best-selling, blockbuster novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a coming-of-age tale in North Carolina by retired wildlife biologist Delia Owens.
The surprise bestseller tells the story of a girl wrestling with loneliness while living alone in a wilderness area in the Southern U.S. and the suspicion of her neighbors because she is so different.
“Crawdads” reportedly has sold more printed copies this year than the combined print novels of Margaret Atwood, John Grisham and Stephen King.
That’s a pretty big literary trio to best in book sales.
Most of Richard North Patterson’s writing is now for a digital current-affairs magazine titled “Bulwark.” The philosophy behind the publication is to find some middle ground between the politics of progressive Democrats and the Republican Party under control of the president.
And so for now, Patterson maintains he’s not sure about more novel writing.
Perhaps I should abandon my stalled plans to write another energy corporation-political-environmental thriller, at least until the air clears sufficiently to let fiction top reality again.
Maybe in the meantime I should write an apolitical coming-of-age novel set in the Finger Lakes. It could be sort of a Huck Finn-Tom Sawyer-Becky Thatcher examination of life along the shores of Seneca or Canandaigua or Keuka lake.
And the title of such a work?
“Where the Algae Blooms.”