Some Darkness and Grit

City View by Robert Kim

Writing is hard and slow. Writing about writing is a little easier and a little faster. So I thought I’d do some of that, being the pretentious wastrel that I am.

Back in 2008, some friends and I started writing a story. It was about resistance, revolution and underground struggle, or at least as we—a gaggle of college kids who were raised on space opera, were in love with the romantic, revisionist narrative of World War II, and thought George Bush was as bad an antichrist as America could conceivably anoint—understood those things. The story was called “White Rose,” after the resistance group formed in Nazi Germany in 1942, whose core members were university students in Munich: kids about the same age as we were, and who, as Christian pacifists, must have rolled in their graves every time our protagonists mowed down a battalion of government jackboots with machine guns.

We did this, basically, for fun. We had a collaborative writing process that was loosely derived from years of playing Dungeons & Dragons. We still called it that, but by then it didn’t have much in common with tabletop games anymore—less math and multi-sided dice, more dialog and plot, world-building, romance, philosophy, political intrigue, and breathtakingly frequent usage of the word “fuck,” because we were edgy. (Again, my deepest apologies to Sophie Scholl.) I personally found this much more rewarding than any of my classes, and as a result it received the larger share of my energy and effort. That wasn’t a healthy choice, and I’m not proud of it; on the other hand, the work I did on and for White Rose has served me better in my life and career than anything I did for my degree. So if I’m being honest, I’m gladder to have the story under my belt.

We arrived at a satisfying conclusion after 15 months and God knows how many thousands, maybe millions of words. I still have them all, preserved in about 180 AIM and IRC chat logs. And you know what? It’s a damn good yarn. For sure, it’s in dire need of editing: a lot of plot holes to plug, names and dates to streamline, portrayals of characters and events that would benefit from a few extra years of life experience, not to mention the handful of political science degrees that we’ve collectively acquired. But as messy and even embarrassing as it is to revisit now, it’s built on a solid foundation. We come back to it maybe once a year and talk about how we could turn it into something publishable. Not in its original format, obviously, but rewritten, as a novel or maybe a screenplay. Whatever it becomes, I don’t think any of us can stand the thought of just letting it sit on our hard drives and gather dust. So consider this the first baby step toward letting the rest of you in on our little world.

Because now’s the time, isn’t it? Our “White Rose” was conceived about the same time as Barack Obama was taking office. Now he’s in his last week as President, and the world we’re all about to enter looks way too much like the one that we’ve naively fantasized about for all these years. The new leader of the free world is an ignorant, vengeful, impulsive authoritarian, supported by people who like him, not in spite of these qualities, but because of them. He’s handing out cabinet seats—and incidentally, slots in the line of succession—to bank executives, oil barons and a serving military general. He’s talking about evicting the press corps from the White House, about jailing his electoral opponent. He lies, daily, constantly, blatantly, intentionally, in order to overwhelm you, exhaust you, make you so sick and tired of the news that you’ll ignore it right up until the moment that you can’t because it’s your job, your house, your insurance, your family and friends, your body and your brain. He acts as if rules about ethics, financial disclosure and conflicts of interest don’t apply to him—and since no one in his party, his Congressional majority or the executive branch appears willing or able to stop or even delay his inauguration, we have to conclude that he’s right. His most consistent behavioral pattern is to attack, delegitimize and punish anyone he sees as an enemy, and that’s a large and growing category of people that, to begin with, includes the majority of the country that voted for someone else. In six days, his available weapons of war will include actual weapons of war. Institutions that we have taken for granted for the last seventy years, that have made the world as peaceful and prosperous as we sometimes forget it is, are on the verge of breaking down or simply evaporating, and nobody has the slightest idea what will happen in their sudden absence.

I wrote a story about a world like that. Eight years ago, it was fantasy and escapism. Now it will have to be something different—or maybe it will be what it always was, and the only thing that’s different is that the author, for better or for worse, will now be able to hear what the story was trying to say.

(Like I said: pretentious wastrel.)

I’ll use this space to talk about the story, and other stories I’m chipping away at, and the fictional (now less-fictional) universe that they all share. Later, some samples. Eventually, maybe, something you can buy and read. Do let me know if that’s something that interests you.


Michael Engard was born shortly before the Berlin Wall came down. By day, he does web design and development for a marketing agency in northern Virginia. On weekends, he helps his local Starbucks fulfill its legal obligation to have at least one pretentious introvert writing a novel in the corner. He uses words like “tautological” in conversation. He will pet your dog.

Kaelri is an Internet pseudonym. It means nothing, and you’re welcome to pronounce it however you want to.