We have a special treat today. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Julia Spencer-Fleming. Julia has been nominated for or won pretty much every award there is, and with good reason. Her new book, One Was A Soldier, comes out today, and I can't wait to get my hot little hands on it.
Besides her thoughts on the maddening downward spiral that seems to be our world today, Julia is also offering a remedy--the one most of us fall back on, the kind that comes between covers. And this isn't metaphorical, either. Julia has a couple of advanced copies to give away. To enter, all you have to do is post an answer to the question she poses at the end.
READING AT THE END OF THE WORLD
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
I used to start my days by listening to Morning Edition on NPR. Then after I got the husband and kids off to school, I’d sit down at my computer and enjoy my first cup of tea while reading the New York Times and HuffPo and whatever news items looked interesting off my Twitter feed.
Not any more. I think it started with the relentlessly bad economic forecasts - or worse, the happy-happy good news on Marketplace about the recovery of stock values and the rising market. It’s hard to cheer on Wall Street when you’re listening to this while driving past closed businesses and houses whose for-sale signs are two years old.
Then it started to seem like every other story made me want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my ears. Revolutions. Rockets. Radiation. I began to dread the dulcet tones of Scott Simon and Renee Montagne. I’d let my eyes skim over the headlines and instead open “news” stories about comical crimes or fashion bulletins from the Spring Collection. I know the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, I’d think. Now show me the goddamn baby red panda video.
Some people escape into television, but most of the programming seems designed to drive home the point that we’re sliding into a culture of voyueristic debasement as we repeat the history of empires before us and fall from within. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out 3rd century Rome had a wildly popular “Baia Shores” play starring Snookia and Casus Averus.
Music can elevate you for a time, yes, but my family objects after the first couple hours of Gilbert and Sullivan or the Metropolitan Opera. Besides, five minutes after blissing out to the sublime Nessun dormi, I’ll remember that arts funding is going down the drain, along with teachers’ salaries, decent bridges, and the space program. Next thing I know I'm in the pantry, making lists of what we need to stock up on when society collapses.
I need something upon which to sail away for hours, until that nasty kink beneath my shoulder blade unloosens and I can contemplate the future without wanted to stab myself in the eye with a spork. There is no frigate like a book. Yes, indeed. But what to stock in the library at the end of the world? Cutting edge experimental fiction? The Man Booker shortlist? 19th century Russian novels?
Hell, no. When everything is circling the bowl, I want a complete escape. I want happy endings. And I want a guarantee that I'm going to enjoy the read.
For the first, I’m partial to apocalypses, disasters and dystopias. Reading about a future immeasurably worse than anything I forsee is very soothing. Flesh eating zombies? You bet. Plague wipes out nine-tenths of the earth’s population? I’m there. Mysterious force leaves most of America an uninhabited wasteland? Oh, yeah, baby. Spending a couple evening trapped in a dying community surrounded by vampires helps put those school board meetings in context.
Know what else I stock in the hold of that frigate? Romances. Specifically, romances set 200 years ago, when the telegraph was a still-undreamed of technical innovation and Napoleon threatened all of Europe. I can deal with Napoleon; he’s dead and his penis is stuffed and owned by a professor at Columbia. Between the covers of a Regency, he’s a convenient bogyman, adding a shiver to the story of love, loss, adventure and, inevitably, a happily-ever- after.
The last thing I want when I weigh anchor are old friends. I find myself revisiting my favorite fictional places; Barrayar and Aurora, MN, Three Pines and Longbourn House. I already know where I'm going, I know I'll enjoy the trip and I know I'm in good hands. No uncertainty, no disappointment, no risk; just pure satisfaction, like sinking into your own freshly-laundered bed after a long day. I don't know if we're going to be stuck in Libya for the next eight years. I don't know if Michele Bachmann is going to run for president. But I do know that Margaret Maron will always deliver a story that makes me forget these dreadful possibilities for a few hours.
Where, dear Reader, do you find your escape from reality?
Julia Spencer-Fleming is the Agatha and Anthony-award-winning author of the upcoming One Was A Soldier, the seventh Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.