These are interesting times to be a writer. Last night, I was chatting with four other writers when one took another to task for including the phrase “had no dog in this fight” in the body of his story. The one who called the other out worried that because the phrase traced its origins to the practice of siccing dogs on one another to watch them fight to the death, the reference was likely trigger pushback from sensitive readers.
I had two thoughts on this in rapid succession. First: You’ve got to be kidding. Second: Okay, so what? My squint on the world is such that the harder an individual searches for a reason to be offended, the more responsibility the offended must take for his own discomfort.
A couple of weeks ago, I did a live two-hour Zoom seminar for a writer’s group in the Midwest. My topic was a craft-oriented one that focused on some of the granular elements of writing a tight, tense story. During the final Q&A, an attendee (whose camera was turned off, of course) asked me what efforts I take in my stories to make sure I include a cast of characters that is widely inclusive of ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.
I confess I was not ready for that one, but I was fully aware that my camera was on, and I was in closeup. I defaulted to the truth: I don’t do anything along those lines. I don’t write sex scenes, so what difference does their orientation make? And I rarely–rarely–describe the ethnicity of even my primary series characters. If an ethnic reference does not directly affect the story, then I see no reason to include it. Obviously, when Chechen terrorists are the bad guys, we can conclude the ethnicity, but I see no reason to mention if they are Muslim or Christian. It doesn’t affect the story, so I don’t care. My answer seemed to work because there was no follow-up.
As an interesting side note, one of the primary characters in my Jonathan Grave series (Stealth Attack will hit the stands on June 29) goes by the codename Boxers. He’s close to 7 feet tall, bends the needle on most household scales, and is deeply lethal. I’ve never described his ethnicity, but I was surprised to learn that everyone–including my editor and my agent–assumes that Boxers is black. He is not. Do I mind that people see him as they do? Not a bit.
Last week, I received this email from a fan:
I just purchased “Against All Enemies” and am looking foreword to reading it. Tell me, what are your views on the 2nd amendment?
That was the entirety of the email. I smelled a trap. I considered ignoring the email, but I promise on my website to reply personally to every email I receive, and, well, a deal’s a deal. Here’s my reply:
Hi, [Name].I hope you enjoy the book. Thanks for the support. As for the Second Amendment, I have little respect for entertainers who expound on political issues. I just tell stories and try never to write politics. My characters have strong feelings about many issues. I agree with some, disagree with others. I figure I’m doing my job if readers can’t tell one from the other.