The vast majority of my fiction involves the fantastic, the numinous, or the supernatural in some way. It’s the kind of fiction I like to read, and people always say that you should write the stories you’d want to read. Still, it’s good to branch out sometimes and write fiction that’s a little more grounded in reality. But it’s got to be interesting. It’s got to be credible.
With that in mind, I’ve got an idea for a novel I’m working on, and I’m looking for feedback to determine if it’s believable or not.
The novel focuses on an actor, the son of political activists. Despite his political connections he’s a relative unknown, skating by on looks, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to make his career. He’s fortunate enough to land a role on a mid-list television show that showcases his ethnicity and sexual orientation, but it’s not enough. It’s not catapulting him to the stardom he deserves. So he creates some fake, threatening hate letters that he mails to himself, and shows them to the television studio. He figures that if they think he’s important enough to get hate mail, he’s important enough to get a bigger role with a larger salary.
No dice. A few people are properly sympathetic, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Frustrated, he takes his efforts to the next level. He hires a couple of men to beat him up (but only a tiny bit: remember, his face is his fortune) and make it look like a hate crime focusing on his politics, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. In planning this hoax, he makes some fundamental mistakes: he hires people he knows to perform this fake beat-down; he arranges for the beat-down to happen on the coldest night of the year when people are trying to stay warm instead of hunting for gay, black no-name actors to assault; he makes sure the beat-down happens near security cameras that are pointing in the wrong direction; he describes the assailants as white conservatives in one of the most left-wing cities in the country; and he pays the assailants with a personal check.
In one way, the attack is a success: his story makes the national news. Politicians, A-list actors, and journalists across the country unquestioningly swallow what is an obvious pack of lies, and amplify it as a symbol of the country’s appalling bigotry. He’s feted as a survivor and civil rights activist. Half-witted journalists conduct softball interviews designed to make him look like a suffering saint. Anyone with the gall to question his hoax is pilloried as racist and homophobic. He becomes the perfect victim-hero. A household name.
The local police, however, begin to pick at the massive holes in his account, and despite that they work for the most corrupt city in the United States, they indict and arrest him. Not in the interest of justice, as he’s told exactly the kind of made-up story they love to hear: racist white conservatives hunting for innocent black men. No, they indict him because he made the city look foolish with such an obvious hoax, pulled off so poorly. And, more importantly, they indict him because he’s shone a spotlight on the inner workings of a hopelessly corrupt city infrastructure, and that can’t happen. Almost-nightly murders are one thing: they’re bearable. Stupid hoax hate crimes are another.
The actor’s foolishness in planning and execution makes this a slam-dunk case. He’s fired from the TV show. He’s mocked for his stupidity and derided for his blatant attempt to incite a race war in the style of the Rodney King riot. Nevertheless, he protests his innocence throughout. Why not? What does he have to lose? With his political connections and first-offender status he’ll never see the inside of a jail cell. So he bluffs it out.
And it works. A former First Lady (or maybe even a former POTUS; I’m still working that out) who lived in the city where the fake hate crime took place makes a call to someone, who makes a call to the State’s Attorney, who drops all charges against the actor. He pays a nominal fee, does a few meaningless, comfortable hours of community service, and goes free. Then he does a victory lap in which he continues to maintain his innocence. When asked about why they dropped the case, the State’s Attorney gives multiple answers, none of which ring the slightest bit true. The State’s Attorney’s office is perfectly aware of how horrible this looks, how it puts the city’s fundamental corruption on full display, but simply doesn’t care. This will all blow over in the wake of the next news cycle. And if you don’t like it you can call the chaplain; he’s available for counseling.
As for the actor, his name is still known worldwide. He’s a free man. He beat the system.
So, what do you think? Is this a believable story or not?