Interview with George Denny, Author of Wokelynd

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

There are three, and they are all essential. First, your story must be fun enough for someone to read it without being paid – too much reading these days are company emails and boilerplate written by lawyers. This makes it harder to get people to want to read for fun, so there’s a natural pressure to supercharge the beginning with something different, a hint to adventurous readers that you aren’t wasting their time with another Fortune 500 virtue signal.

Second, you have to create a story that ultimately transcends mere entertainment value to mean something, or impart some essential truth, opinion, or contradiction in the actual world around us. If someone sat down with your book for a few hours, what did they learn, or think about, or want to discuss with their friends when it was all over? If the answer is ‘nothing’, then congratulations, you’ve just produced a Hollywood movie! (Even if it’s a novel.)

Third, and this could be an extension of #2, is that it’s a complete and utter waste of your time repeated the tired orthodoxy of the dominant mainstream narrative. In December of 2023, that’s some version of ‘the west is evil, racist, and singularly responsible for all of Earth’s inequality.’ If you had this story to sell in any setting which hadn’t been covered before, the last few years were a great time to make hay, but now I think we’re getting bored. Western values will make a comeback. Don’t get caught pitching yesterday’s propaganda to a world that’d really rather laugh at all the nonsense they’ve already been forced to swallow.

How do you do research for your books?

It depends on the book, but for Wokelynd I seeped myself first in academic research, and all the non-fiction I could get my hands on. At first, I was amazed at how stifled this conversation is just withing the black American community, and how moderate to conservative blacks are pushed down one singular political path toward the far left. This too often turned to anarchy in the summer of 2020, but there were few outlets willing to have that conversation, and few mainstream outlets willing to tolerate a dissenting black opinion. John McWhorter is a great example of one such pilloried intellectual, and his book Woke Racism provided the name for the upper class in Wokelynd’s New California society: the Elect. It really fit Wokelynd perfectly.  

Is writing your full-time career? Or would you like it to be?

Yes, for at least the next few years. Wokelynd is the first of three books which I’ve mostly plotted in my head, and they all relate to San Francisco, and the foreshadowing of America’s intractable issues which you can so clear see in the City By The Bay. Wokelynd is the longest, most political, and hardest book of the trilogy to write, as it tackles the delicate intersection between identity politics and government with jackhammer subtlety.

When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood?

I don’t – I stay in the mood!

Ever heard of a method actor who stays in character even when the camera’s off? Well, in writing Wokelynd I remained in a dystopian headspace, with related novels and an endless run of cut-off-from-society programming playing in the background. Know anyone who brushed up on their Gilligan’s Island viewership in order to conjure up light-hearted scenes within a dystopia? Yeah, this guy. Meanwhile, it really helped that I wrote the whole thing while living in the very center of San Francisco, twenty-four hour dysfunction as far as the eye could see with no end in sight. Imaging the end of western civilization isn’t so hard when the city so vastly outspends its competitors for results that are impossible to believe unless you live there.

Describe your perfect book hero or heroine.

I like a protagonist with strong flaws that you can’t help but like anyway. Raoul Duke, from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, is a perfect example of this, as his story comes from boring journalistic assignments which the nature of his character transforms into a freewheeling odyssey that somehow strikes at the heart of the American Dream. That book is so character-based that it really only has two with recurring speaking roles.

Quinceton Rift was an enjoyable protagonist to write some time during Act II, but because he’s just a product of his environment in Act I, he’s too abrasive for genuine connection. Into an initially unsympathetic protagonist was the great challenge of Act 1, and someone looking for the simple, standard bland-nice personality of a Superman is going to be instantly disappointed.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From the world around me, and the zeitgeist. Wokelynd is the intersection between identity politics and government systems, which in the summer of 2020, rose to the surface in a new and unmistakable way. When the going got tough, Americans were pitted against each other in a seemingly zero-sum game of government sympathy and identitarian grievance. It wasn’t hard to predict how any of the “Defund Police” or “Silence is Violence” slogans would turn out, but it was shocking to see so many reasonable people cave to the social pressure of condemning America and all that’s achieved these last few centuries.  

Are there any secrets from the book (that aren’t in the blurb), you can share with your readers?

The book is filled with winks to modern culture and it’s literary influences, like 1984, which may be obvious to any reader of the dystopian genre.

One of my favorites, which may be clearer on the page than in the audiobook, is the capitalization of Social Justice. When Ibram X. Kendi cites the term that he all but invented, he never puts it in capitals, as it’s generally understood that when Kendi talks about the method of “Social Justice” that he’s helped invent, he is talking about his own concept of “social justice” (uncapitalized) in the world, so he need not capitalize it. However, in Quinceton’s New California, Ibram X. Kendi’s definition of “social justice” has now become an official doctrine, putting it in capitals for the almost the duration of the novel. Or for as long as it takes Quinceton to reclaim the word.

(Hint: the last chapter, which covers most of Act III, is called “social justice” – no capitals.)

What is the significance of the title?

Wokelynd is the fusion of two words which are precisely chosen (and spelled) to foreshadow the many ways in which language is manipulated and changed. The word “woke” rose from black American music to initially mean a form of social consciousness toward oppression and disadvantage, but soon became associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement and a simplified historic view of all current group differences being the sole result of oppressor and oppressed populations coming into contact. “Woke” soon became a pejorative for conservatives and critics of the Critical Social Justice movement (or whatever else it may occasionally be preferred to be titled, such as “intersectionality”) when ideas like “Defund Police” were proposed by the far left and shunned by the rest of America. The word may mean whatever it means by the time the book is released and you may read it, but so long as it remains an undefined (or constantly redefined) classification of our culture war, it’s the perfect word to suggest the story that follows.

The suffix “lynd” sounds a lot like “land” said with a certain accent or slang, but the spelling isn’t entirely explained until the last chapter of Act III. However, anyone who read the title and assumed that “lynd” was just a misspelled “land” would be pretty close to the intended meaning.

Your story is set in xxx. Why did you choose that as the setting for your book?

In order to emphasize the politics of the identitarian left, I wanted to remove all their contemporary political opponents from the scene and endow them with complete control of a government. San Francisco is a place where the Democrats face more competition from Socialists than conservatives (such as in my former neighborhood, District 5, which is run by a millionaire Marxist); it was not hard to conceive of the current trends holding or accelerating, which is all it would really take. The city has been shrinking and descending into a political disaster they may write about one hundred years from now. When you look at San Francisco you don’t see a bigger budget than New York…but that’s what you’re paying for, results be damned. The world of futuristic New California is the world the current left of San Francisco is demanding whether they know it or not.  

What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?

Quinceton is a black man, and I’m not, which in our current climate can be considered anything between offensive and tone-deaf. It was also a critical decision for his character, as parlaying the historic victimhood of your identity is the best way to get ahead in New California, and since Quinceton lacks any other victim-identity characteristics, it was essential to make him black so as to reflect on the current race grift.

But this turned out to be easy compared with writing Quinceton in Act I, when he is still very much a product of his identitarian environment, as is all but incapable of friendship. It’s hard to root for an asshole and it’s hard to read without a rooting interest; Quinceton becomes the hero he was always capable of, but begins in the same guarded, abrasive place as everyone else.

Excerpt from Wokelynd:

A thin mist hovered over the water, the beach, and the highway as Quinceton used his scope to zoom in on individual trees and other dark corners of the land. The quiet in the air calmed him, as did the smell of pine. His partnership with Sarah blossomed with the simplicity of her having no sexual appeal to him whatsoever: she may have been feminine-leaning, but it was the kind of feminine you’d see on an old recruitment pamphlet for a womxn’s backyard rugby team. She was, however, Quinceton’s kind of comrade, and from her response to his jokes he saw her as a soldier for whom JSS orthodoxy existed as guidelines, rather than God’s gospel.

“I don’t see any Americans anywhere,” he whispered, gazing beyond the border through his sights. Harrah’s and Harvey’s, the two closest Nevada casinos, shimmered less than one hundred yards from the grisly gate, and the entire scene looked deserted. This wasn’t necessarily news; JSS government command hadn’t announced the appearance of an actual human being on the American side in forever, or at least as long as Quinceton had been aware of the Nevada border, and the roughly fifteen foot gate mostly concealed their street level. Both sides had contributed to the bramble of barbed wire and reinforced barricades that separated the nation-states, but any information about past skirmishes existed as hushed speculation among the older folx. The Elect assumed that whatever the Americans set up for defense had been done some time ago, given that they hadn’t been seen recently, and JSS government deserters would probably pick any other point of entry to abandon their home.

Even though American refugees were to be shot on sight anywhere in New California, Quinceton yearned to meet one, and didn’t even know what they’d look like, or what clothes they’d wear. How did money-hoarding Racists treat each other, what goals did their movement have, and how did they determine who got to generate knowledge and show everyone else?

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