Even serious people who understand the need to change the world need entertaining, compelling page turners to enjoy reading during their down time, says the author of the FAKE NEWS series which is set in an era of resurgent right wing extremism, growing economic inequality, disappearing jobs for journalists and a U.S. president who constantly attacks the media.
“I wrote the four books to be both entertaining and informative,” says Gary Engler, a former journalist at one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers. “We live in a time where knowing what is going on in the world is more important than ever, but so is an escape from the depressing reality that the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world is an impulsive, cartoon-like caricature of the pushy, self-absorbed, over-the-top capitalistic Ugly American.”
“I have tried to write novels that once you pick up you won’t want to put down — something you can read at the beach or in bed on a cold winter’s night and really enjoy — but feel, once you’ve come to the end, that you understand sexism, racism, hobbies that take over your life, neo-Nazis, white nationalism, journalism or being a parent, a little better.”
The central character in the FAKE NEWS series is Waylon Choy, who, because of his name, is constantly confronted by people who assume he is a hyphenated Canadian. In fact he is an at-least-seven-hyphens-Canadian who often makes up stories about the reason for his surname but lack of Chinese features.
“In writing stories that happen in the era of Fake News and often involve racists, the alt-right , the new KKK and outright self-proclaimed Nazis, I thought it would be appropriate to have a post-ethnic journalist as my protagonist,” said the author. “He is the new face of North America confronting the old face.”
Even though the books are fiction, Engler insists that most of the events in the stories he writes are based on real incidents, reported in the mainstream media, usually “toned down” from what really happened.
“Some people might question the plausibility of certain things that happen in the books, even though they are based on real events,” says Engler, who worked as a reporter and editor at the Vancouver Sun for over two decades. “I’ve been a voracious reader of the news for almost 50 years and one thing I’ve learned is that truth can be much stranger than fiction.”
“Fiction is constrained by the imagination of individual writers, but journalists face no such restrictions — their stories are generated by the imaginations and interactions of billions of people around the world.”
The four books cover important contemporary themes — the rise of the so-called alt-right, the opioid crisis, the relationship between sexism and right-wing extremism, the possibility of American fascism — and the means by which journalists struggle to uncover the truth in a time of shrinking newsrooms. The reader is allowed inside the mind of the main character, a former “soft news” reporter as he learns about new people, ideas and activities.
“It’s really important to me that Choy is constantly learning and re-evaluating what he believes, based on new information,” says Engler. “He does what any person committed to the truth must do, keep an open mind.”
“My least favourite feature of the current era is that so many people have closed their minds to any information that challenges what they believe.”
Even though the author admits to a left-wing, pro-union, science-based bias he insists that he does keep an open mind. In fact, he says, keeping an open mind leads people to challenging the existing economic and political system. “Conservatives understand that keeping an open mind leads you to a left wing perspective, that’s why they are against science, rationality and evidence-based decision-making,” he says. “Since the French Revolution conservatives have played the same game over and over. They pretend to challenge some imagined ‘liberal status quo’ that doesn’t exist in order to capitalize on ordinary people’s discontent and mobilize them against their own objective self-interest.”
“Trump was nothing more than a particularly crass snake oil salesman in a 200-year-old right wing medicine show.”
And, Engler adds, the mainstream media has always been a willing participant in selling whatever those with a big enough advertising budget are offering.