In October of 2020, James Thompson, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of the James A. Garfield Center for Public Leadership, published his second novel, “Meanwhile in France.” In the novel, Thompson’s team of characters jump from one French landmark to another in an effort to stop a plot with global political ramifications. When considering the locale for his novel, Thompson, a self-proclaimed Francophile, wanted to include the areas of France where he had personally visited – or in some cases, lived – for his characters to inhabit. According to Thompson, “A novel set in France, populated with lots of French characters, allowed for a storyline which could be very inventive and filled with nuance.”
Thompson first began writing “Meanwhile in France” shortly after his first book, “Making North America: Trade, Security, and Integration,” was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2014. In “Making North America,” Thompson analyzes the political and economic relationships between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Having written a nonfiction text, he began to consider using fiction as a way to explore the ideas from his first book, an exercise he has found to be helpful for his students in the past. In his Politics and Architecture course, he often asks his students to read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and finds that students respond more to the novel than to other non-fiction reading. “A key reason for writing political novels is that I know, from experience, that a novel is a particularly useful mechanism for getting students to really engage intellectually with political ideas,” says Thompson.
After writing a portion of “Meanwhile in France,” Thompson set the draft manuscript aside and was soon busy with another novel, the first of his to be published, “The Prince of Mars.” In this science fiction story, death row inmates are selected against their will to travel to the red planet. With a completed, published novel under his belt, Thompson returned to his previous manuscript with a renewed energy. “I kept trying to stop writing the novel,” says Thompson, “but no matter how many times I decided that ‘this is it, I’m done,’ the story kept calling to me, demanding to be written.”
Thompson found that his experience in writing “The Prince of Mars” was invaluable when working on his second novel. “The single most important lesson I learned from ‘The Prince of Mars’ was just how much reviewing and editing is required to truly get a novel into its ideal form,” recounts Thompson. Rather than relying on his skills as a nonfiction writer, Thompson learned to focus on the “literary flow” of a novel and ensure that every element, from narration to dialogue, worked well together. “Whereas writing a nonfiction book is like playing a single musical instrument, writing a novel is like conducting a symphony.”