This is author Philip Wyeth here to announce the publication of Reparations Maze—the fourth and final book in my future history series. It’s been quite a journey for me as well as the whole country since I first wrote Reparations USA back in the summer of 2017, so I’d like to discuss these books within the broader political context.
First, here’s the setup for this speculative fiction world: The year is 2028. There’s a new bureaucracy called the Historical Reparations Administration which uses a document-crunching supercomputer to collect and pay restitution for colonialism and slavery. Near-total surveillance seems to have accompanied the program, and we see the effects of this “scrutiny state” through the diverse cast’s eyes: white, black, Asian, Hispanic; rich, poor, young, old, male and female.
Now, in light of the controversy surrounding the book American Dirt, let me make some distinctions between the four Reparations novels and what Jeanine Cummins wrote. First and foremost, I did this on my own—my own ideas and on my own time without any publishing industry money, network access, or its agenda promoting me.
I recently read the beginning of American Dirt and the bottom line is this—beyond the charges of cultural appropriation or lazy stereotypes, it’s just a transparent propaganda piece meant to manipulate people’s emotions into having politically correct opinions on immigration. It’s as obvious in its construction, as it is blatant in having been written to serve an agenda separate from so-called literature.
So… how do Reparations USA, Mind, Core, and Maze differ from this other book? This is important, because I’m the trifecta of badness—a straight white male, with no Puerto Rican grandma to pull out of a hat. There are literally hundreds of ideas in my series. Over a dozen characters whose arcs are expressed genuinely and in authentic voices. There’s heart, humor, outrageous spectacles, and real people struggling through the fog of confusion to make empowered decisions.
And I don’t play it cheap or obvious. I think a lot of entertainment that’s so-called progressive sells itself short—or reveals its hollowness—by taking the obvious path with overblown revenge fantasies. As if they’re only looking backwards or for enemies to punish, and not trying to create a more desirable future after settling the historical ledger.
Here’s where I really go for broke with one of the weirdest elements in the series: a new religion called the Church of Modestianity. They parlay their fear of a surveillance state that’s recording their every move into wearing conservative clothing, behaving politely, and most importantly—seeking fulfillment through intimate engagement with daily life, rather than chasing after social media likes.
The books alternate between macro-political events and everyday vignettes. If the 2028 presidential election campaign is my vehicle to extrapolate today’s major issues, then the journeys of my black teenage rapper Clyde, and Latino college student Luis, are ground-level explorations of poverty and life in a multi-cultural America. I also give a thorough examination of the white progressive mind with the character Kate Donohugh. What motivates them, as well as what planted the seed to put them on the path of playing savior.
And here we tap into my own journey, both as an author and a person, during the course of writing the series. We’ve all gone through so much the past four years, and I spaced these books out by at least three-quarters of a year each time. So the debut, Reparations USA, could be characterized as an exuberant reactionary affair—but even here, the careful creation of Clyde Jenkins and dipping my toe into the forward-thinking philosophies of Modestianity—there’s much more to this novel than just some predictable white screed.
Reparations Mind came out in April of 2018. It is by far the longest book of the four, a heavy slog that grapples with big ideas through extended conversations. The characters are as much asking “am I really myself?” as “what can I do to break free?” The book ends nervously on election eve, with a series of vignettes showing how each member of the cast is spending that night—and I swear, that exercise in writing concise mini-scenes changed the course of the series, as well as boosted my confidence as a writer.
The follow-up, Reparations Core, is a lean, mean political thriller. Published in March of 2019, it features many shorter chapters that balance action and dialogue. In some ways, it may be the best book in the series. I was in the zone creatively, and the world-building and character maturation had reached the sweet spot.
I was very tempted to wrap up this Reparations series at three, but felt that with the 2020 election season looming, I would want the option to tap into the cultural zeitgeist one last time. So I typed the fateful words “to be continued” last March, and therefore obligated myself to another five hundred hours of unpaid work.
For the entire remainder of 2019, a voice of dread in the back of my mind reminded me what I was required to do: no more world-building, because now you’re ending it. I had to obey all the rules I’d set up, land every character’s arc in a satisfactory and rewarding manner, and of course tell an entertaining story.
Well, Reparations Maze came out in January of this year, and I’m glad I wrote it. In some ways it’s a dreamy affair, bouncing between a dozen character arcs in very short chapters, as it slowly builds up thematically to an incredible final act.
Now, after it’s all over… To think that I was able to transcend my spite and assumptions, to not only humanize the diverse cast, but let them all speak authentically. For them to act and make choices with dignity, but not because I was pandering or romanticizing these characters, as so often happens. It means that, if I was able to get past myself, then maybe someone who picks up the books skeptically can also get over themselves and be open to the ideas within.
Because I checked—no one else has written a fictional dramatization about Reparations in the 2017 to 2020 window. In fact, the only book out there that’s remotely close is something I just discovered, an incredibly ambitious project by K. Anderson Yancy called Reparations I: The Attorneys. The background information says it took over twenty years to research and produce, and I will most definitely check out the audiobook, which has over fifty performers and covers the oppression of many different ethnic groups throughout history.
We do not live in a one-issue vacuum, and whether it was reckless or ridiculous, I seem to have taken it upon myself to try and address the biggest topics of our time: race, identity, immigration, the burdens of history, technology and surveillance, government power, and even some spiritual and philosophical elements. And woven within it all is my own personal brand of quirky humor and earnest exploration of ideas.
Since we live in an age when self-publishing often sets readers up for disappointment, I make you the following promises. One, my prose is solid. Two, my stories are efficient and dense—because no one has time to read a 90,000-word book by an unknown author. Three, you get great characters and tons of ideas—some big, and some just playful little zingers to keep you on your toes. The only thing I can’t guarantee is that you’ll always agree with me—but at the same time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected turns and breakthroughs.
This is Philip Wyeth, author of Reparations USA, Reparations Mind, Reparations Core, and Reparations Maze signing off for now. I hope this talk has piqued your interest and you can support my writing by making a purchase. If not, well… The good news is that there’s no book tour to boycott and get canceled. Because I’m not Oprah-approved. And Salma Hayek didn’t get paid to praise me in a blurb.
Reparations USA is free as an ebook on most sites, if you’d like a no-risk taste. Ebooks and paperbacks are available from most of the major online retailers as well. Thanks for listening.
You can find these books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Smashwords. Signed paperbacks are also available for purchase on my website, philipwyeth.com.
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Video was originally uploaded on February 5, 2020.