Impolite Dinner Table Talk: Politics & Religion
I was a latecomer to Supernatural. The show is so entirely up my alley it’s ridiculous that I didn’t get with the program sooner. I have friends who know what I enjoy to write who told me to watch it for years. Years. Yet I decided to queue it up on Netflix one day because I’d been meaning to and there was nothing else to do.
Supernatural itself is kind of its own religion. I say this as a person who flew out to Vegas in February of this year to meet most of the cast at one of the umpteen conventions they host each year. Even though I hadn’t actually been inside the fandom until relatively recently, talk of the show was impossible to miss among friends, which is how I learned that Jared Padalecki (who plays Sam) openly struggles with depression and is an advocate for mental health awareness.
I tell you, as a kid who spent her formative years convinced that she was a bad seed (a seed that literally deserved to go to Hell), that was awe-inspiring. Here’s this guy who has a platform and is using his platform to not only openly admit he has these struggles, but do what he can to help others. This is huge. This can be the difference between life and death for a kid who doesn’t understand the way their mind works, or who’s too scared of what they’re thinking or feeling to begin to seek help. I felt like a prisoner inside my own head growing up, and people didn’t talk openly about mental illness. At least not in my family—and this wasn’t even all that long ago. We’re talking the 90s, people.
Jared is an example of why representation is essential. He’s also an example of why I believe that people in the public light should feel empowered to be as vocal as they want about the issues that matter to them.
Issues like everyone’s two favorite room-dwelling elephants: politics and religion.
Yeah, I’m going there.
There is the age-old argument that diving into the world of politics and religion runs the risk of alienating a good chunk of potential readers, and for many, this is a serious gamble. But also for many, these are things we are passionate about, and I’d like to think we’re passionate about them for the same reason: we believe we’re on the side of right.
I started off by talking about Jared for a reason—in my case, my mental health struggles were intrinsically related to religion. I had what is called scrupulosity; a form of OCD that had me legitimately terrified when I was a kid, particularly with the whole “sin in your mind, sin in real life” thing that my grandfather’s church preaches to this day. The thought that I could be punished for thinking things I didn’t want to think sent me on a long journey to where I am now. This has heavily informed my writing, studies, and personal philosophies, which all feeds into how I depict Heaven, Hell and everything in between.
I’m not going to get into the dos and don’ts of getting political as an author. This is a choice every author must make for themselves. For me, though, my political and religious ideology has always been so intrinsically ingrained in the things I write that I’m confident I won’t lose readers. Or rather, I won’t lose readers who were mine to begin with.
Here’s a for instance:
I started writing Lost Wages of Sin in 2010, initially. It was my first foray into angels and demons subgenre, but the story just somewhat poured out of me. My paranormal realm had previously been reserved pretty much only for vampires (side-effect of writing Buffy fanfic for nearly a decade). But as the granddaughter of an evangelical fire-and-brimstone preacher and someone who minored in religious studies, getting into the angels and demons territory felt very natural. It was, in fact, the most fun I’d had writing any paranormal world since I stopped writing for the Buffy fandom. And suddenly, I had an arena in which to experiment with all the questions and conclusions that had arisen from my studies and experience.
If Lucifer’s job is to punish bad people, how does that make him a bad guy?
If Hell is a prison for the wicked, wouldn’t the person in charge need to be super trustworthy?
Is there any crime for which eternal punishment is justified?
The result is a series in which Lucifer and Jehovah start off as estranged BFFs (they have a disagreement about how Hell should be run) and delves into these issues and many more. Smart money’s on the bet that the series could offend people, especially as the story progresses. But this is the story I want to tell.
Another for instance:
A Higher Education (A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice) came out in April of this year. It’s a book I spent six years planning and one year writing. As you can imagine, part of modernizing the story was evaluating the character of Elizabeth Bennet in her original context and determining how she would look in a contemporary setting.
The original Elizabeth embodies these qualities:
Headstrong, opinionated, and fearless
Lover of knowledge
Passionate and argumentative
Put these things together, I could not conceive of a 21st century Elizabeth Bennet who wasn’t an outspoken feminist, unrestrained by societal nuances, and freer than ever to speak her mind. And that’s the Elizabeth I wrote. To be fair, I did include a warning:
Warning: Contains explicit language, very adult scenarios, and references to past sexual assault and drug abuse. A buttoned-down hero with a mile-wide guardian streak, a brash heroine with a nine-mile-wide streak of feminism, a little prejudice, a little more heat, a lot of pride, and a whole lot more love.
These are just two examples. I have another angels/demons book wherein God is a black woman. Another contemporary novella that discusses the politics of sex positivism. While the Sinners & Saints Series and A Higher Education were definitely planned a certain way, it’s not uncommon for unintentional biases to make their way into my work. And while I’m definitely not the only author for whom this is true, I am one who will embrace it.
The point I’m trying to make is, when I post about politics or religion on social media, I’m speaking to my readers—the ones more likely to actually enjoy the books I write. Since my books are packed with political and religious themes, it’s safe to say anyone who doesn’t like what I say on Facebook or Twitter isn’t likely to enjoy my work. I’d rather them find out there than spend money on something they won’t enjoy. So in this sense, I feel that my social media persona is part of my brand: you get an idea of what you can expect if you decide to read one of my books. In my wildest daydreams, I’d like to think perhaps the Sinners & Saints Series could reach people who struggled with religious ideology growing up, perhaps as a side-effect to an invisible disorder.
As for other authors—the call is up to them. I don’t have a ton to lose by being vocal, because those who think I’m on the highway to Hell aren’t my audience. If I wrote safer material, the story might be different, but it wouldn’t be me.
In case anyone would like to jump in the handbasket with me, the first book in the Sinners & Saints Series, Lost Wages of Sin, is wrapping up its free promotion today, and the second book, Sex, Sin & Scandal, is on a Kindle Countdown deal. And all the books, including A Higher Education, can be read for free on KU.
Until next time, be good to yourself, and to somebody else.