While the anthology Appalling Stories 2: More Appalling Tales of Social Injustice was still in its planning stages, my friend and fellow writer Ray Zacek offered to show me a piece of writing he’d done. It was fragmentary, just a few chapters, and he asked if I could help him flesh it out. Maybe we’d include it as a novelette in Appalling 2. I said sure, I’d consider it, and read what eventually became the penultimate chapter of the satirical novella Appalling Stories 3: Escape from Trumplandia.
What Ray had written was extremely funny, defying genre conventions the way good satire can, but it was unfinished: the punchline of a long joke. We worked on it for months; the cooperation spurred us to complete a narrative that said what we wanted to say in the way we wanted to say it. Ray’s a surprising writer and came up with things I didn’t expect; for example, the intimate encounter near the end of the book was, for the most part, his creation, and I found myself cringing while reading it. That made it perfect. If a piece of satire doesn’t take you out of your comfort zone every once in a while, it’s worthless.
Satire often fails because the writer hates the characters or issues it lampoons, and the reader always picks up on that. It’s why most political humor today is aggressively unfunny; we get hostility to other points of view through news and opinion pieces all day long, so why should we seek it out in fiction? Ray and I wanted you to like the characters in Trumplandia as much as we did, and, more importantly, we wanted you to understand them. Even when they do things that make little sense. If you can’t identify with them, even a little, then you won’t care what happens to them.
We worked hard to ensure that no nickname for Trump was used more than once; even if we didn’t hate him, the protagonist did, and that had to come out in the story. I think there are about 45 rude names for the president in there, which fits, considering he’s the 45th president. Orange Abhorrence, Dolt 45, Cheeto Benito, etc. If a Trump nickname was juvenile and even a little bit funny, it made it into the book. Orangeback Gorilla is probably my favorite.
Some time after Escape from Trumplandia‘s release, I wrote about how Denise McAllister got booted from some conservative publications for getting angry on Twitter. For pushing against the tide of righteous outrage, I made a lot of people mad. One of them got so incensed he wrote a negative review of Escape from Trumplandia, lying about its contents and quality when he obviously hadn’t bought or read it. This is what happens when you stick your neck out. Not a big deal, but it is something that conservative writers have to deal with.
Below the fold is an excerpt from Appalling Stories 3: Escape from Trumplandia.
I think it was after the mid-terms but before the Barbecued Brutus burglarized the second presidential election that one of those why-didn’t-we-see-this-coming harbingers of doom bobbed to the surface with an unimpressive plop. A rancher named (and I’m not making this up) Gib Gulliby in East Deliveranceville, Montana shot a strange, lupine-like mammal that was attacking his livestock. BFD, right? What else do ranchers do but fuck their sheep and shoot things?
Turns out that the mammal he murdered wasn’t a wolf: it only kinda-sorta resembled one. Its shaggy, burr-infested coat had a weird green-gray tint. Like Velcro, Gulliby told a reporter. Stuff sticks to it. Stinks too. The creature’s front legs were too short for a wolf, the torso too thin, and the hind legs were back-bent like an ibis. Its head was particularly grotesque: elongated, wedge-shaped, and earless, with two rows of tiny, sharp teeth. Wildlife biologists expressed their bafflement in the local papers, and DNA tests on the creature ratcheted up their bafflement into confusion and alarm. Unclassifiable, they said. Puzzling, they added. Even the burrs plucked from its hide defied analysis. Not from around here, the experts concluded. A none-too-bright wildlife officer said on the local Fox affiliate (naturally): Might of dropped in from another planet. Then he drooled tobacco juice all over himself.
Cue The X-Files theme music.
Had this been a one-off, we would’ve forgotten it and just lived out the rest of our daily lives under the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief’s ungentle reign. But it wasn’t. Within weeks, more of these things started popping up in the western U.S., infiltrating as far east as Michigan. Solitary, furtive, predatory, and vicious. People started calling them chupacabras, first as a joke, and then more seriously as they tore a swath into more populated areas, zipping through suburban zip codes and making off with family pets like takeout sushi.
That’s how we lost Foucault.
Before dawn in late autumn I was walking the ornery little rascal for his morning constitutional. Along the way he emitted tiny mictural sprays on utility poles around the neighborhood, looking for the best place to unload a gush of chunky diarrhea because the free-range, conflict-free, organic vegan dog food Jenny got him at the King Sooper’s disagreed with his digestive tract. Once he shat, whimpering, I would pretend to pick it up with a plastic bag and carry it to a trash can. Our morning routine.
Foucault seemed to find a hedge by the bus stop a promising toilet, so I took the plastic bag out of my jacket pocket (pre-loaded with a rock masquerading as dog shit), and waited. He sniffed at the shrub, ears pricking. Uttered a low grunt. Whined.
Okay, here we go—
But before I could say, Hey, what’s up, boy, a gray-green blur bolted out of the hedge, snatched up Foucault in its jaws, and streaked down the path toward the woods. The leash’s cheap metal fitting snapped, leaving me holding a worthless length of vinyl while our dog’s terrified yelps Dopplered into oblivion. I chased after them, and after an hour’s searching found nothing in the trees but silence. Not even a blood trail. Chupacabra 1, French bulldog 0. I shuffled glumly home, still carrying the plastic bag with the rock in it, and broke the bad news to Jenny, who cried and called out sick from work for the week. Paid bereavement leave. I miss Boulder.