Diverse characters ≠ an evil liberal agenda

Thousands of people read my books. (Quick aside: that phrase still rattles my melon — thousands of people read my books. Livin’ the dream, boss.)

But in any large enough population, you get groups of people who look at the exact same thing and see something completely different. People tend to imprint their worldview upon what they experience. Most of the time this is beneficial to my work; most of my readers tend to believe I think just like they do, because that’s what they see in my stories. I treat their particular group well by making deep, realistic characters that are a lot like them. For the simple reason that I do not marginalize any group or make people stereotypical negative caricatures, people seem to feel I am on their side. Crazy right-wing gun-nut? Bible-thumping Christian? Hard-ass atheist? Athlete? Gamer? White, Black, Hispanic, etc? You’re in there somewhere.

Thomas Huxley quoteIf you think that not insulting your group means I’m “one of you” or “on your side,” you’re probably wrong. I would prefer you don’t see the hand of the writer at all in my stories. I want the characters to stand on their own. We are a world of different people, so I put different people on my stage.

Most of the time me positively representing many races, colors, world views, beliefs and political stances works out like gangbusters. Sometimes, however, the perception can flip the other way. Some readers see me being positive about something they don’t like, and therefore feel I am pushing a political agenda on them. That’s right: they read the exact same text you read, Stalwart Junkie, yet like the classic optical illusion of “faces or vases,” they see something completely different.

Case in point: an email I received about my novel PANDEMIC, the final book in the INFECTED Trilogy.

Scott-

I am reading “The Pandemic”, and it is good so far, but.

A female heroine who is gay, a female heroine who is Hispanic and married to a Black, and a female President…  Trying to make a point?

That’s OK, but also 100% of Republican bloggers are unable to spell?  Conservatives are not a uniform group, and not all uneducated. Liberals are typically not as open-minded as they like to think. I am conservative, an atheist, and love my gay daughter. You seem to be grinding an ax to iron filings. It detracts somewhat from a good story.

For the most part — as I mentioned above — people who read beyond the story think I am on their side. When they think I am against them, however, they sometimes make their perceptions known. Once upon a time I was dumb enough to engage angry readers on Amazon, in blog comments, etc. I’ve learned that people who post such things probably aren’t interested in dialogue to begin with. They don’t want to converse, they want to lecture, to berate, to reinforce their worldview no matter what information you give them. It all falls into that “if you don’t agree with me, it’s because you are evil” mentality that dominates the internet.

So we avoid comments and reviews and most blog posts, but when those letters are sent directly to us we tend to respond. Now you might think something like, “Awwww snap! Sigler’s going to go off on this dude!” You’d be wrong. Even when people come at me from a position of hate or ignorance (which often times go hand-in-hand, oddly enough), I try to at least address their concerns with compassion and logic. Hence my reply:

Dear [redacted],

Thanks for your note. Happy to see you put so much thought into it.

I’m wondering how far into the novel you got before writing that note? In particular, did you not notice that the “female president” was Republican and a devout Christian? In fact, the character was my take on “what if someone like Sara Palin became president, and in a time of ultimate crisis, proved to be the perfect leader for the job.” So, in short, an ultra-conservative president who unifies the nation and makes decisive, difficult decisions at a time when most leaders would drag their feet. Yeah … sounds like I’m trying to make a point.

And “100% of Republican bloggers are unable to spell?” Are you talking about the blog posts in PANDEMIC, or the people comment on those blog posts? Maybe you’re referring to the Tweets listed in the book? I ask, because comments and Tweets are not “blogging,” so Internet slang or misspellings in those are not maligning “conservative bloggers.” The “100%” claim is extending your argument to absurd lengths. Which “conservative” blog posts in PANDEMIC, exactly, feature misspellings? If you ever read Tweets and blog comments (as I do, frequently), you know full well that they are full of misspellings, typos, poor grammar, and knee-jerk reactions by lever-pullers on all sides of the political spectrum.

What I think you might be referring to are “blog posts” or comments by the anti-vaccine movement. So, are you trying to equate the anti-vaccine movement and conservatism? Because if you are, I am a conservative, and I am offended by your assertion. If you are an anti-vaxer, I’d rather you come at me for that political viewpoint than try to hide it in “conservatism,” because that is an analogy that will not support even the most cursory look at facts. As you pointed out, many conservatives are highly educated, and highly educated people tend to see the value of immunization.

If you’re sad that there aren’t enough White Male Heroes, just keep reading. There are plenty later on, including both the kind of blue-collar guys I grew up with, active members of the United States Armed Forces, and a veteran who moved into government work after earning the Purple Heart while serving his country in Viet Nam.

I write books primarily about Americans. Americans come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions (or lack therof) and orientations. If you don’t like books with Hispanic heroines or “Blacks,” then possibly you should seek your entertainment elsewhere.

I hope you keep reading, and I hope you see that the characters in PANDEMIC cover a wide swath of my countrymen.

-Scott-

Strangely enough, I did not get a reply. I would like to think that this reader continued the book and saw he’d fired off his email a tad too early, before he saw the full scope of the book.

About The Author

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Comments

  1. WeS Hendrix

    A great story is a great story. Who gives a damn about the authors views. People like that just need to watch dancing with the stars and shut it. I am all over the map when it comes to these many ideas conservative, liberal; blah, blah, blah they need to just enjoy a great book especially one like Pandemic. I love your books and the stories; I thought that is why we read to be entertained. I guess we’re suppose to read between the lines now a days to get the “hidden agenda” (insert sarcasm). Anyway, just a couple of thoughts. Your awesome man; keep doing what your doing.

  2. Profile photo of Insignificant Blood SplatterInsignificant Blood Splatter

    Kinda-not-really-related, but if one of your characters happens to be trans or nonbinary in the future, this agender chick wouldn’t complain. =p

    On a more related note, while I’m here for the stories, the fact that you write real characters to populate these stories certainly doesn’t hurt in keeping my interest. Characters are a major part of the story, after all.

    And no, unfortunately, not a whole lot of people are looking for an actual dialogue when they write things like that. I wish they were, though.

  3. Profile photo of ChazChaz

    Never take yourself to seriously. Never dismiss others as fools. Like Lucie said..read the book..dive into it! Don’t worry if the hero is a cross-dressing Mexican Evangelical Communist Dwarf! Worry about whether they will make the right decision and save the day! There are no stereotypes…we are all unique. I think Scott gets that. That is why he is one of my favorite authors. Thanks for the tense moments and bursts of laughter. “Drives like an one armed retard on red bull”….man I laughed for days over that. Sorry limb/intellectually challenged individuals that prefer energy drinks. Does that make me a bad person!?

  4. David Grizzly Smith

    Sonnet 121: ‘Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed
    By William Shakespeare

    ’Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed
    When not to be receives reproach of being,
    And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed
    Not by our feeling but by others’ seeing.
    For why should others’ false adulterate eyes
    Give salutation to my sportive blood?
    Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
    Which in their wills count bad that I think good?
    No, I am that I am; and they that level
    At my abuses reckon up their own:
    I may be straight though they themselves be bevel;
    By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown,
    Unless this general evil they maintain:
    All men are bad and in their badness reign.

  5. SW Hammond

    Sig- do you ever get blowback from minorities or cultural groups that you yourself don’t represent? As in, have you ever received criticism for writing about “hispanic females who are married to black men”, even if you portray them positively, because you are not a hispanic woman married to a black dude? Are people ever offended when you write from the perspective of “their culture” / worldview because you don’t share those personal experiences?

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      SW Hammond: I have experienced some blowback, but not very much. Oddly, I’ve encountered zero from non-white readers regarding my non-white characters. I would like to think that’s because I just write about the commonalities all people share, as in the need for love, acceptance, success, dealing with loss, feeling rejected, feeling defeated, etc. We all have so much in common.

      Part of that is, though, that I don’t pretend to be an expert on the experiences of minorities in America. I focus on the larger picture of human issues that we all share. If I was going to write about the Black experience in the inner city, you can bet I would vet that through readers and friends to make sure it didn’t come across as uneducated and stereotypical.

      The most push-back I’ve had has been from women regarding my female characters, and even that hasn’t been that much. For example, one lady pushed back hard regarding Margaret using sex to deal with high stress, because “Women don’t get horny at times like that” (which is a fairly accurate paraphrase). Several examples like that, mostly from women who, for some reason, think every other woman in the world acts and thinks just like they do. Which, of course, is nuts — while we are all very similar, the differences from one human to another are significant.

      1. SW Hammond

        That’s good to hear- I’m glad most people don’t go after you for that. I think our creators and entertainers of the world need to be more daring and paint the world accurately, as you have, full of color and diversity. As you said, if approached with proper research and vetting, I think anything in life is fair game regardless of sex, race, creed, etc.

        Thanks for the thoughtful response!

  6. Profile photo of GianniGianni

    So, glorious future dark overlord, you say people who read beyond the story tend to think you’re on their side whether or not it’s true. That’s pretty clever. Gotta let you know though, I can see right through it. Yeah, I know with certainty that I’m being pandered to. You’re clearly favour people who enjoy “mega awesome” stories with your books. I know it. Can’t fool me.

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      Gianni: Pandering is one thing you’ll never get from me. It seems to be pervasive in the scifi/fantasy community right now, to the point where it seems like some authors’ entire marketing strategy.

      But I am glad you are not fooled. “Writing awesome stories” is my main agenda. You have found me out.

      1. Profile photo of GianniGianni

        Hey Scott,
        Rest assured that I’ve never had the impression you were actually pandering to me. While there definitely is some pandering in scifi and fantasy it’s also become the go to accusation whenever someone doesn’t like a creator’s work, so I hope you don’t let haters in that or any other regard get you down; Junkies know what you’re all about.

  7. Lucie Le Blanc

    When I read a book, I get lost in it. I take it at face value, as pure entertainment, and just… get lost in it. Some consider me simple because of that. But reading, to me, is my way to get away from real life. Why would I apply my limited point of view to a story? What would be the fun in that? What would I learn from it if I did that?

    Sure, I come from a different country, a place where the Conservative Right is still way more to the left than what is considered extreme liberalism in the States (Mr Terra still handed my ass to me for bigotry this week. Yeah that stung, but I learned from it,) a place where everything is compartmentalised. State and religion? Never the twain shall meet. Religion and education? Never the twain shall meet. Money and State? Same. It’s not perfect, just very different.

    That probably explains why I don’t tend to overthink when I read for fun. I compartmentalise. A story just is. It has a life of its own. I don’t see an agenda behind it, or I very rarely do. Like I said, I’m simple that way. 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Profile photo of scottsiglerscottsigler

      Lucie: That means you are the kind of reader I write for. I’m creating fictitious stories about made-up people. Sure, I want to draw from reality, but I am not one of those arrogant, sanctimonious authors who put themselves up on a pedestal and feel they have the right (no, the obligation, because they have everything figured out) to ridicule those that do not think like them.