There’s something that Neil Gaiman does at the end of American Gods and it’s genius: Attacking his own writing before his fans can. I’ve placed it below in its entirety so you can bear witness to the unequivocal self-awareness of a talented and well-seasoned author.
Nobody’s asked the question I’ve been dreading, so far, the question I have been hoping that no-one would ask. So I’m going to ask it myself, and try to answer it myself.
And the question is this: How dare you?
Or, in its expanded form,
How dare you, an Englishman, try and write a book about America, about American myths and the American soul? How dare you try and write about what makes America special, as a country, as a nation, as an idea?
And, being English, my immediate impulse is to shrug my shoulders and promise it won’t happen again…
Now, we all know of the existence of Internet trolls whose goal in life is to sully (sorry, Tom Hanks and Grey Worm) everything that is good and holy about the endless well of information at our fingertips. Ok, maybe not everything on the Internet is good and holy, but you get the point. Nevertheless, for everything in life there is a yin and yang; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So, when the troll emerged from beneath its bridge and placed its spindly fingers on a keyboard with the intent of spewing hatred and ignorance, the “Haters Gonna Hate” meme was born. Along this way of thinking, Gaiman is acknowledging that he has no right to write a book about America and its various myths and heritages given his nationality as a Brit, but he did it anyway and doesn’t really care what you think. In other words, a pair of sunglasses have come down from offscreen and onto his face while the words “DEAL WITH IT” appear out of nowhere.
And that’s how I feel about writing In My Hand. I’m just some schmuck who has dared (attempted might be a better word here) to write a book about a Los Angeles homicide detective in the 1950s without ever having visited the city or fully understanding how its police department operates. This is more due the fact that my research resources are limited than to actual apathy, mind you. As I’ve said before, I reached out to the LAPD and even the LA municipal archives for help with some details and never got a response, which forced me to rely more on my imagination–not always such a bad thing.
Moreover, I have gone even further on the brazenness spectrum by setting the plot in an alternate historical timeline where Senator Joseph McCarthy of Ohio has become president of the United States and has imposed a pseudo-police state system in America. As a proponent of the alternate history genre, I always say that if a writer is going to change the past, they might as well do it with gusto, go the whole hog, as it were. Some authors do this very well (Michael Chabon with The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) and others do it not so well (Philip Roth’s with The Plot Against America).
Given my personal views on the genre, you’ll see references both big and small to events that never happened in our reality within the pages on In My Hand. At the same time, however, you’ll also see things that remain the same like the numerous musical cues I have placed throughout the story, which stems from my love of film and my goal to make the book feel as cinematic as possible. Like in a Scorsese movie, I want the various tunes (mostly doo-wop) to almost have the significance of a main character and impose a real bearing on what’s going on in certain chapters.
You might be asking, “Well, if this is an alternate reality where American democracy is being suppressed, why is the music the same as it was in that time? Wouldn’t culture have turned out differently in such a society?”
The answer is yes, but my choice of doo-wop songs is a reflection of the the 1950s as a wholesome, conservative and family-friendly decade. Think of shows like Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver. All of them promoted the respectability of the American nuclear (maybe not the greatest word choice, given the fear of nuclear annihilation associated with the ‘50s) family. This was also echoed in the music of the time, which spoke about innocent things like first crushes, love and going on dates with girls.
In the case of “Last Kiss” by Wayne Cochran–the more iconic version done by The Cavaliers– is a tragic song that deals with a boy mourning the death of his sweetheart after a car accident that occurred while they were out on a date. Even if it’s considered rock and not doo-wop, my point is still the same. As a result, if the McCarthy administration is attempting to crush free speech and round up Communists, there’s nothing he can truly do about the music because there’s nothing inherently wrong with the content being sung and that’s why it remains intact. Now, the hippie-dippy, loosey goosey counterculture of the 1960s would change all that, but In My Hand is only interested in 1958 and the culture therein.
So before you start criticizing or questioning my ability to attempt an alternate history novel, just know that there is a justification for everything I’ve cooked up in my feverish brain. And of course while it is your God-given right to criticize my writing, from the style to the content, but to paraphrase my hero Mr. Neil Gaiman in .gif form: