When Life is Stranger than Fiction

 I love this photo of the Skystar in Golden Gate Park.  For me, it’s  simultaneously romantic and creepy – the lights sparkling in the twilight of an emptied almost dystopian landscape thanks to the pandemic and San Francisco’s shelter in place order.  It’s the kind of thing you would read about in THE STAND or STATIONS ELEVEN, some artifact of fun abandoned by illness. And yet here we are watching it unfold in real time as we deal with the ravages of COVID 19. 

The notion of facts being stranger than fiction is something I decided to play with in the third and final installment of the Dark Horse Trilogy. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t read a story about the temperature of a city or state exceeding previous records, or the loss of a species, or about some kind of weather phenomenon never seen before because of the warming of the planet. I wondered if I could weave that theme into Book 3 using Stoner Halbert – the evil political consultant of the series. As he travels the country for his work, he leaves behind scenes of devastation that mimic the headlines. Fires breakout, local bee colonies die and ice and hail fall from the sky damaging property.  I take things even further by suggesting that his need for power is actually damaging the fragile balance of good and evil in the world. I borrowed that concept from Ursula K. Le Guin whose Earthsea Series has been a great inspiration to me as a writer. 

In Book 3 politics also takes on a stranger than fiction feel when Olivia is called out for being a witch by Stoner’s allies as part of a plan to discredit the candidate she’s helping. Set in today’s social media landscape where rumors spread like wildfire, Olivia’s status as a witch serves as a play within a play. She is a witch called on to use her powers as part of her job, but she is also identified as a witch as part of a propaganda campaign. The press covers the absurd allegations as if they were a salacious joke, but the people behind her outing are deadly serious.  Here is how it plays out in the book: 

I looked over at Elsa expecting her to agree with me, but she barely acknowledged me, her focus on a video playing on her laptop.

    ‘What are you looking at?” I asked. 

    “You,” she said. “I’m looking at a video about you.”

    “What the hell are you talking about?” Josef asked. 

Rather than tell, Elsa opted to show. She pivoted her screen and restarted the video. There, clear as day, despite our best efforts to destroy the images, was me being hit by the car and not falling down or even moving during the impact. That image was followed by a grainy picture of me floating in the reservoir just before the EMT must have come to rescue me. Elsa increased the volume just as the pastor began speaking.

“This is Pastor Richard Goodbury. Do you remember that I told you that there is evil among us and that women who do not heed the word of God will suffer the wrath of the Lord? Well, here is proof that there are witches among us, working to corrupt our way of life. Behold a woman who does not die and like her ancestors hundreds of years ago, floats to the top of the water when she should have drowned. These are signs that the devil is among us. Keep an eye out for this woman. She must be brought to us to answer for her sins.”

“Merde, that is not good Olivia,” my father said. 

“When did you arrive and where is Madeline?” I asked. 

“About an hour ago. I dropped her off at the hospital to assess things, and I drove straight here to meet you,” he said. “I walked in as this video was playing. Who is this man?”

“His name is Pastor Goodbury and he is the leader of an on-line religious movement that is shadowing Dianna’s campaign and advocating violence on biblical terms,” William said. “Somehow they managed to get footage of Olivia being hit by the car and coming out unscathed.”

“Can we destroy the video?” Gabriel asked. 

“It’s already been viewed a half a million times,” Josef said peering over Elsa’s head at her laptop.

I pressed my fingers to my eyes to stop the pressure. Stoner was everywhere at once and nowhere at all. We were being hunted and distracted while Dianna continued on without her supernatural escort. I needed to get a control of things or our mission was going to fail. “We have five hours to plan our next steps and get this bus back on schedule,” I said. “Let’s go to Sabine’s hotel room and order room service. We need a private place to eat and hash out a game plan.”

You’ll have to wait for me to finish the novel to see how it all ends, but I can tell you things get hot for Olivia as she tries to stay one step ahead of Stoner. Do you have an example of something that seemed stranger than fiction? Send me a note and tell me all about it – Evette