Fiction in a World of Fear

by Andrea Scrima

Tragedies like the mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and most recently (since this panel first aired last month) in Odessa bring everything to a stop. As we read the details and look at the pictures, we all pause, look around, and take stock of our priorities and what we hold dear. Writers are no different, except for the work we do. We’re often in the middle of describing a particular part of the world—when another part is suddenly falling apart.

Jon Roemer and David Winner polled a handful of active writers and asked how public tragedies impact their current and future work—projects that may or may not portray mass shootings. We aimed to gauge how writers deal with such landmark events in practical ways and how, if at all, their writing engages with violence in America.


In The New Yorker last year, Masha Gessen described the difficulty of defending the values and institutions currently under attack, because it requires “preserving meanings” and is “the opposite of imagination.” She aspired to “find a way to describe a world in which… imagination is not only operant but prized and nurtured.” On Facebook the Monday after the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, a different writer, Grant Faulkner, simply posted two words—“another killing”—over and over, hundreds of times. Gessen described traditionally crafted work, while the Facebook post is visceral and immediate. Where do you think your next work will land?


Jon Roemer: The Facebook post reflects what I was feeling the Monday after the shootings. But the fiction I’m writing now probably won’t be read for a year or more. So I think hard about its relevance, especially if we keep rushing toward more violence. Part of the job is to be forward-thinking. Just wish I could write and publish faster.

Zachary Lazar: I’m writing the most traditional novel of my life right now (though that isn’t saying much).  I simultaneously have no faith in the power of novels and total commitment to the novel as a thing, an art form, something I like. Mass shootings seem to me to be one symptom among many of our culture’s failure to address meaninglessness, to create meaning, and even though I don’t believe there is such a thing as meaning, the active pursuit of it is essential to sanity. I just don’t give a shit about social media. I guess it did good work during the Arab Spring but I think the role it plays in the U.S. right now is more or less comparable to the crack epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s.  It makes TV look nourishing. Read more »

A Brutal Dance: The Walls of Limerick

by Liam Heneghan

From my autobiography in progress “My Life in Dance – a Motional History of my Body”


The Walls of Limerick: an Irish reel where two couples face one another with the women to the right of the men. The dance involves handholding and swinging in a céilí hold.

Does national dance reflect the national personality? Observe an Irishman at dance. Above the waist he is a vision of equanimity. If he were jigging behind a short hedge you might even pause to chat with him. From the waist down, however, that man is in a frenzy of leaping and knee-swiveling and foot stomping. In political terms this man could be doffing his cap to you, and all the while seditiously plotting your demise. The British in Ireland never learned to read the bodies of Irishmen, perhaps to their cost for those bodies in motion can be a lovely spectacle.

I wish to set out here my own experiences with dance as honestly as good taste will permit. I have a body, one that is a little succulent and that moistly disinclines to perform strenuous acts. It is not a body apt to move all that prettily. For all of that, I have tried to bend it to my will, commanding it often enough to skitter across the floor in a rhythmic and frolicsome fashion and I have witnessed its failure with displeasure. Though I can leap and skip and jump and hop, the sum of these gyrations doesn’t seem to add up to dancing. However, in perverse inverse to my skill, dancing has been a component of several of my more arresting developmental moments. I relate one here.

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