President Donald J. Trump’s “America first” campaign isn’t an original idea, as several historians have pointed out. There was the isolationist America First Committee that sought to keep the United States out of World War II and that featured aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh as a member. Needless to say, the committee ended with the attack on Pearl Harbor, life having a way of forcing your hand.
But in “Water Music” (2014) – the first novel in my series, “The Games Men Play” – Sen. Morris Severance campaigns on the idea “Keep America Safe, First.” Under investigation for some financial malfeasance, he seeks to divert attention from himself by raising a cloud of improbable terrorist suspicion around Alí Iskandar, the world’s top-ranked tennis player, who immigrated to the United States as an Iraqi Catholic refugee. In this, one of four story arcs that come together, driving the novel, Alí is a prodigy whose talents are discovered by an American soldier later fatally wounded and who is sponsored in this country by a defense contractor with the worst of ulterior motives.
At the time, I was looking to explore a character who escapes war – the greatest game men play – only to find that war is everywhere. There were subthemes, including the unending rivalry of East and West, the plight of minority Christians in the Middle East. But never did I think that they would come to the fore the way they have in our current political situation.
Sen. Severance and Alí will encounter each other again in the fourth novel in the series, “The Magnus Effect.” (I have a long way to go. The second, “The Penalty for Holding,” will be coming out later this year.)
In the meantime, I can’t help but wonder at the relationship of truth and fiction. Do writers intuit the zeitgeist? You can’t really make this stuff up, as the saying goes.
Except that you can.