Friday, July 04, 2008

Pol Positions

Today is Independence Day in the United States (cue the fireworks, barbecues and patriotic speechifying!) -- a perfect occasion on which to catch up with Los Angeles author Gary Phillips’ developing political thriller, Citizen Kang.

In case you haven’t been keeping track, Phillips -- who’s best known for writing the Ivan Monk private-eye series (Violent Spring, Only the Wicked), but also edited the recently published anthology Politics Noir -- has been penning Citizen Kang for The Nation magazine’s Web site for the last six months, ever since mid-January. (New installments appear each Monday.) The story follows Cynthia Kang, “a left-wing, bisexual, 40-something Chinese-American congresswoman from California,” who is struggling in her bid for re-election. Making her task particularly onerous have been the suicide of her mentor, Kang’s discovery that “a mysterious billionaire is pulling strings to affect this year’s presidential election,” and the disappearance (kidnapping?) of her chief of staff.

Writing in our sister publication, The Rap Sheet, Phillips lays out some of his own challenges, as he tries to keep this weekly serial hopping and -- in the next few months -- bring it to a bang-up, 40th-episode conclusion. One of the chief hurdles, he writes, has been smoothly incorporating real-world political developments into his evolving tale:
[I]n Citizen Kang I reference topical and newsy issues now and then, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark ruling on gun ownership, John McCain’s gaffes and flip-flops, and so on. Those events may occur out of their real-time sequence, for I’m having to collapse my storyline in order to give this serial novel a feeling of immediacy. Two days in Congresswoman Kang’s world might, as a result, contain a week’s worth of real-world occurrences. But that’s just the way these things work.

This business of syncing up my fiction with real-world developments is something I can smooth out later on, when I get around to re-editing Citizen Kang for publication in book form. Real-deal politics also messed with me early on, when I was conceptualizing this work. As I’ve mentioned before in The Rap Sheet, Cynthia Kang was originally supposed to run as an independent candidate for the Oval Office, á la the satirical Tanner ’88 that showed on HBO (created by Robert Altman and Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau). Although former Michigan Congressman Jack Tanner was actually running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, in both Tanner ’88 and Citizen Kang, real, developing political stories were meant to influence the fiction’s progression. The trouble was, as states started moving up their primary election dates, and as Barack Obama began raking in money like it was free lunch, who in their right mind would have jumped into such a race?

I mean, besides windmill tilters -- or is that would-be spoilers? -- like Bob Barr and Ralph Nader.
You’ll find Phillips’ full post here. And to catch up -- and then keep up -- with Citizen Kang in The Nation, simply click here.

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