Last month on this site I read a post by Lynette Mae that hit me where I live. She said retreat is not an option, and while I had not consciously considered retreating in the face the current madness, I had consciously tuned out—no more NPR, no more TV news. I didn’t want the stupidity in my consciousness.
I still don’t.
But as I read Lynette Mae’s passionate post, and the equally passionate responses to it, I realized that what we’re facing is not stupidity. If it were just that, we could ignore it and wait for it burn itself out, as stupidity usually does. No, what we’re faced with is an ugliness that cozies up real close to evil, and that’s too dangerous to tune out because what it spawns, and how it manifests, is in overt vitriol and hatred—and that we certainly cannot and must not retreat from.
Which brings me to how Lynette Mae hit me where I live: I write the Mimi Patterson/Gianna Maglione mystery novels, which, I’m pleased to learn, are being discovered by a new generation. The stories take place in Washington, D.C., where Mimi is a top investigative newspaper reporter and Gianna is a top cop—head of the Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit. Yep, déjà vu all over again, and anybody who knows that famous malapropism is as old school as I am—and I’m claiming Old School as a good thing!
More about that later.
For right now: Twenty-plus years ago the first Mimi/Gianna novel was considered ground-breaking: A bi-racial couple fighting hatred—one with a pen, the other with the force of law—as they struggled against the odds, not only to build a passionate, loving relationship, but to keep it safe from prying eyes.
That first Mimi/Gianna novel was called KEEPING SECRETS, and the plot was about married suburban and very closeted gays being murdered because somebody didn’t like their secret. Waaaay before we could imagine gay marriage, Ellen, Modern Family, Barack Obama and Laverne Cox with her own TV show, being gay was a secret one kept if one wanted to keep one’s job, one’s apartment, one’s family. We take so much for granted now that unless we decide to remember how it was, we won’t.
But what’s really startling is that it wasn’t that long ago in the scheme of things. In such a short time, so many things have changed, but when I launched the Mimi/Gianna novels, governments didn’t have hate crimes laws on the books and in one of the novels, Gianna had to fight to have crimes against women considered hate crime, and that remains a fight to this day: The notion that women are brutalized around the world simply because we’re women still is not a widely accepted truth.
That’s one of the plot points of the NEW Mimi/Gianna novel, which will be ready to read at the end of June—just in time for the GCLS confab in Chicago. The working title of the new novel is DEATH’S ECHOES, and in addition to the sex trafficking taking place in the Nation’s Capital under the noses of a jillion law enforcement agencies, it also will focus on an especially violent and ugly hate crime that strikes very close—too close—to the hearts of Mimi and Gianna and threatens the fabric of their relationship.
Now, back to the Old School subject, with a nod to my New School readers who are discovering Mimi and Gianna for the first time: I know it’s difficult for you to imagine (for me too!!!), but there was a time when we didn’t have cell phones and lap tops and other means of instant and immediate communication—regular citizens didn’t and neither did the cops.
So many things have changed in such a short time, so have no fear: DEATH’S ECHOES is totally up to date…but Old School lives within me still, which is why I’m breathing new life into the Mimi/Gianna novels with their focus on confronting hatred because they’re needed as much as they ever were as demonstrated by a new feature on the Opinion page of the New York Times: It’s called Hatred This Week. Really. If you haven’t seen it, the paper’s editorial board, and I’m quoting now, “tracks hate crimes and harassment around the country since the election of—” you know who. (I don’t speak his name or write it and I try not to think it, and yes, I know that gives me a head-in-the-sand look but there it is. If I don’t call his name, then I resist the urge to call him ugly names, to do to him what he does to others.)
But back to Old School and this rampant proliferation of hatred: I remember when we could agree to disagree. We don’t all think the same way about the same things and we never have, but there was a respect for the opinions of others and an acknowledgement of their right to have those opinions. Was all of that a lie? Did we all really hate each other and just pay lip service to the notion of live and let live?
I don’t think so because hatred is an out of control fire that consumes everything in its path and we’d have self-destructed long before now. That’s what I think. I also think that, despite the fact that so much has changed—and changed for the better—it’s not enough, and we must continue to go forward, each in her own best way, whatever that is. My way will be to write about women who battle hatred even when it threatens to consume them. Their weapons are the pen, the law—and love.
Another Old School-ism: Love conquers all.
Novelist, playwright, journalist, teacher Penny Mickelbury writes the Mimi Patterson/Gianna Maglione mystery novels which are set in Washington, D.C. Two of the four Mimi/Gianna novels are Lammy finalists. She is the recipient of the Audre Lorde Estate Grant. Penny and her partner live between Atlanta and Los Angeles.