Disclaimer: In general, I kind of hate politics. But when it comes to healthcare and advocating for my patients and family, then yes, I have opinions. My position is pretty much if a politician is a bastard to human beings, then I don’t support that behavior. That’s quite cursory. I have other opinions, but voting based on whether the politician actually has a soul seems like a good place to start.
So, here’s the situation that got me thinking. I was at a writing conference last year, chatting with a nice woman who sat next to me for dinner one evening. We were discussing how the most recent governmental cruel and cold decisions would likely hurt many of my patients and family members. You know – the usual kind of conversation a preoccupied doctor might have in a time of political upheaval. (At least – I hope that most doctors feel outrage about how patients are potentially being hurt by current decision-making.)
Anyway, our conversation then turned to the usual conference discussions about what kind of books we wrote and enjoyed reading. She wrote historicals based in Scotland, which I think is pretty cool. (Because … kilts!) I then mentioned that I had a paranormal western series that had started earlier in the year.
And that’s when it happened.
The woman leaned forward in her chair, pinned me with a perplexed expression, and said, “I already know you have the new series out. But I didn't want to read your westerns.”
“If you don’t mind me asking … why?” I asked, breaking into a sweat. Gosh. Maybe I’d somehow pissed her off with my earlier books. They weren’t super controversial, maybe a little dark, but no one was punching puppies or anything awful like that. Maybe she’d sat in on one of my talks and was offended by something I inadvertently said. So what gave?
Also, at this point, warning alarms were firing off in my head, because I once went to a workshop two years ago by a Famous Author who said that, as authors, we should never, ever engage in politics on our author platform for fear of losing audience. So I’ve gone fairly light on commenting on the disaster around us because the Famous Author said so. (Honestly, though, at the point of humans being harmed, that’s when I stopped listening to the Famous Author and put my opinions out on social media. Because, well, "no uterus, no opinion" is a nice place to start.)
The conference-goer gave me her answer. “Well, I figured if you were writing westerns, that you were a Republican.”
Me: stunned silence. Blinking. Crickets. Finally, I said, “Pardon?”
“Because it’s western. The locations are in red states. The characters are often on ranches and in rural areas. I figure those authors lean to the right.” There was a certain logic to her statement.
Other than the fact that it wasn’t true. Because not all people who live in Wyoming are Republican, just like not all people who live in Massachusetts are Democrats.
But to extrapolate political generalizations into the author's work in the romance genre?
It’s true that I have lived in red areas of several western states (and a few eastern ones). Hell, I grew up on the buckle of the Bible Belt. But yet, I still believe that politicians who make decision that harm patients are, not to put too fine of a point on it, dicks. (I have other thoughts, but don’t feel this is the correct venue for my thoughts on why taking money away from hardworking people while the top 1% get richer makes you a bastard. Anyway. I need to stop or I'll do that thing that Famous Author said not to do.)
So our conversation has stuck with me for the many months since the conference. I’m still thinking about it. This reader made me look at western romances in a way that doesn’t feel comfortable. In the past, I’ve picked novels based on the blurb on the back of the book and the cover on the front. (Ok, let's call a spade a spade. If it’s a chesty dude in a flannel shirt, I’ll buy that book every single time – call me shallow, but that’s the truth.) But now I have started thinking about the backgrounds of authors in ways that I never thought necessary. And I’ve thought about my own readers. Do they think that I’m politically red, blue, purple, green, what? Does it even matter? What about if my characters need to carry a sidearm because of bears or in the line of their work duty, so does that suddenly alienate an audience?
When it comes to romance, I think it should be accessible and enjoyable to anyone who wants to read a certain genre. Maybe this conference lady's opinion was a unique one. Maybe it is more prevalent than I realize.
So will I change my writing? No. I still dig ranchers and characters who can hunt/fish. I always have a soft spot for rural settings and western states. But I also subscribe to the concepts of respect for fellow human beings and folks being able to make personal choices in their own health and leveling the playing field for people whose situation or background puts them at a disadvantage. It’s interesting that those opinions these days (both reader and author) may factor into decisions on hitting the buy button in the romance genre.
In the meantime, though? More hot, psychic ranchers, please!