Who We Are Online, Who We Are Offline, How They’re Different and How They’re the Same

Over on Facebook, a person who claims to have met and interacted with me (and he may have! I meet and interact with a lot of people) suggests that he wouldn’t want to associate with me because, among other things, there’s a difference between how I present myself online and how I present myself offline, which this fellow takes to mean that I say things here, that I wouldn’t say there. Which means, apparently, that I’m false/dissembling/a coward and so on.

This is interesting to me! I have thoughts on this! I am going to share them with you now!

One: Of course, and I think obviously, people who don’t want to associate with me should not associate with me. Whatever reason you have for not wanting to associate with me — including having no reason at all! — is perfectly acceptable. It’s your life, and life is too short to associate with people with whom you have no desire to spend time, even if that person is me. Maybe I’ll be sad about that, if you are someone I like or admire or thought I might one day like to get to know. But I’ll just have to be sad about that. If you don’t want to associate with me, I celebrate your choice. Go! Be associative with others who are not me.

Two: Also of course I am quite happy to say in the offline world the things that I say when I am online — in point of fact I do that all the time, because frequently, in both public and private conversation, people want to talk to me about things I’ve said online. Why? Well, for one thing, that’s how a lot of people know me, either through this blog or through my various social media presences. So naturally that’s going to be an entryway for actual conversation, or, when I’m doing a public event, a way for people to get me to further expound on a subject. I’m frequently saying offline what I’ve said online. It’s actually quite common.

Three: But what I suspect this fellow means is that I wouldn’t say negative things I might say about someone online to their face offline. For example, upon meeting, say, Ted Cruz, I wouldn’t, to his face, call him “a jowly gobbet of tubercular phlegm,” or “a necrotic self-regarding blight on the face of American politics,” which are things I’ve called him here. And here’s the truth of it: If, in fact, circumstances required that I had to meet Senator Cruz, and I couldn’t get out of it by saying “I’d prefer not to meet him” or alternately by faking a massive head injury, when the moment came that I was required to speak with him, I would say, “Hello, Senator,” and try to keep it to that. But if Cruz then said to me, “Hey, aren’t you the fellow who called me ‘an odious fistula that walks the earth in a human skin?’ I would say, ‘Why, yes, Senator Cruz. Indeed, I called you just that thing.'”

But I wouldn’t lead with it, because, you know. I’m not that kind of asshole. Unless I am specifically and affirmatively going to meet someone with the intent of telling them how much I dislike or oppose them — which is very rare, because there’s usually something better to do — I’m happy to be courteous and civil with the people that I disagree with or have arguments with, online or off. Why not? It’ll let everyone get through the day without being pissed off (more). And, here’s the thing — if someone I’ve had arguments with online shows civility and courtesy to me offline, in the world, good for them. Rather than chalk it up to cowardice or hypocrisy, I’m going to give them credit for understanding that context has a bearing on discourse. It doesn’t mean I forget the things they’ve said about me, or the things I might have said about them. It does mean we both understand that going after each other with hammers in one medium does not necessitate all hammers, all the time. You get credit in my book if you understand that.

(“But Scalzi,” you might say. “Aren’t you the one that says that the person who is an asshole online and polite offline is still an asshole?” Yes! Yes, I did. That goes for me as well — if your opinion of my online presentation is “what an asshole,” then no matter what you think of my offline public presentation, it’s perfectly valid for you to continue to have “asshole” as part of the foundation of your opinion of me. I’m okay with you thinking I’m an asshole. But in public, in the real world, I do try to be a decently socialized asshole.)

Be that as it may, if you’re determined to have me say to your face what I wrote about you online, then yes, in fact, I will absolutely say it to you, to your face. Why wouldn’t I? I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t mean it — or at least, didn’t mean it at the time. It’s possible that over time I might have changed my opinion, and if that’s the case, I’d say that too. And if in time I decided that what I said was wrong, I would apologize, to you, to your face! (Yes, I’ve done that before.) But if I wrote something about you, and it still stood, and you asked me to repeat it to you, to your face, then, yup, that’ll happen.

Four: I should note that for my own self I don’t go out asking the people who say horrible things about me online to repeat them to my face. First, why would I willingly want to spend any time with people who say horrible things about me? I’m 47, man. More years behind than ahead. I endeavor to spend that time with people who actually like me. Second, in the cases where I am in the same space as they are for whatever reason, I generally try not to be the one determined to drop a turd in the punch bowl. Third, I don’t automatically assume that just because someone appears entirely jerky to me online, they will be the same way offline, because, again, most people understand context and are socialized, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get along otherwise. It’s happened before! Fourth, running around being an exposed nerve all the time is tiring. And fifth, generally speaking, people are entitled to their opinion of me, even if it’s not a nice one.

Five: This person who says he won’t associate with me rather proudly asserts his presentation is the same online or off. He seems to think this is a virtue, which is his right. I think it suggests an unsophisticated understanding of how people present themselves in the world, online and off, and how we tune ourselves for different contexts and different purposes. My online presentation, as I’ve noted numerous times, is a version of me tuned for performance — I’m usually telling you what I think, in a hopefully entertaining way. It’s me, but it’s me in a way designed for a specific declamatory purpose. If I used the same version of me in one-on-one conversation, it’d be fucking awful. The version of me for that context is tuned very differently — again, still me, but in a context that’s not all about me.

I have different modes: One for when I’m doing public events, one for when I’m at home with family, one for conversation with friends, one for meeting strangers one on one, one for when I’m collaborating with people on work, and so on. I don’t think this is a particular revelation for anyone, in no small part because I talk about it as a thing I do, but also because pretty much everyone does it; everyone presents differently in different circumstances. I suspect this fellow who maintains he’s the same online and offline is wrong about that, but if he’s not, then he’s a rare individual who perhaps should be studied by sociologists.

The larger point here is that it’s not (necessarily) insincere or bad if your presentation in one medium varies from your presentation in another. Certainly one can have a presentation of self that is false or hypocritical, or have such a wide variance between one presentation and the other that it gives the appearance of either (or both). But there’s a ways to go before you get to that point. I don’t tend to think my presentation in any circumstance is false, although I admit ego and self-interest keeps me from being a perfect observer of me (and sometimes I will willingly lie to people if I think it’s in my interest to do so. Hello, I’m a human and that means I’m complicated). But generally speaking, however I tune me ends up being me. I think this fellow who apparently doesn’t tune himself to circumstances may be making life unduly harder on himself.

Six: There certainly are people I wouldn’t associate with willingly but generally speaking I don’t make a public spectacle out of it. I just… don’t meet them. It’s a big world and one can do a pretty good job of avoiding people if one likes. One can even be at the same convention or in the same building or even at the same party and still do a good job of not spending time with people if one wants. Likewise, I have a (very) small list of people who, if they went out of their way to get into my face, I would tell them to fuck right off. The list is small because a) most people, like me, tend to avoid people they don’t want to associate with, b) my life is good and part of the reason it’s good is that generally I don’t let the assholes get to me. But it’s also small because, again, most people are reasonably socialized and can be polite to each other, even if they’re otherwise at odds. Civility! It can happen.

Seven: To sum up: I totally will in fact say to your face what I say online, but I’m also happy not to unless you decide to make a thing out of it. I suspect most people are that way, and that’s not a bad thing. Also, go ahead and avoid me if you must, I’m cool with that.

Thoughts?

New Books and ARCs, 9/23/16

It’s been a busy week for new books and ARCs here at the Scalzi Compound — he’s another stack of fabulous titles from excellent authors. Which ones will you be adding to your own “To Be Read” list? Tell me us in the comments!

Dispatcher Audiobook Cover Reveal

Less than two weeks now until October 4, which is the day my audiobook novella The Dispatcher is released into the world, so today is a very fine day to reveal the audiobook cover. And here it is!

Pretty cool, yes? Who is that dude in the overcoat? Why is he looking at concrete? Does he just really like concrete? Who knows the answers? Well, I do, since I wrote the thing. And very soon now, you will have the answers as well. That is, if you download the audio to listen to. Did I mention that it’s narrated by Zachary Quinto? Well, it is, and just after it was recorded I got a note from the producer that said, essentially, ZOMG IT IS SOOO GOOD. Which I think is a positive response.

Oh, and also, this is where I remind you that until November 2, you can download The Dispatcher entirely for free (and you can pre-order now, so it will be ready for you on October 4). Why are we just giving this story away? Because we like you. Yes, you. And don’t you deserve a free audiobook from me, read by Zachary Quinto, from Audible, every once in a while? Sure you do.

(Also, you know. If you try this and like it, maybe you’ll check out some other audiobooks too, which is what Audible is all about. Heck, and maybe even some of those other audiobooks will be from me. So we do have a tiny bit of self-interest in there, too. Hope you don’t mind.)

I say this every time I talk about The Dispatcher, and it continues to be true: I’m really excited for you folks to listen to this story. I think it’s a really cool story, and the thought of Quinto reading it to you all just makes me squee like the nerd I am. I think you will, too. It’s going to be great.

Not long now!

The State of the Living Room

In our living room we have a gas fireplace that is frankly dreadfully bad at all the things you might want a fireplace for, so after several years of having not used it at all, we decided it was time to finally just pull the thing out and replace it with an electric unit that would be more efficient and aesthetically pleasing. This would necessitate tearing up the wall to get it out, and redoing the carpet (because it would otherwise have bare spots where the fireplace used to be. So as long as we were going to have to do that anyway, we decided that now is the time to redo the whole damn room.

So: Here it is, the first day of the renovation, with (most of) the former carpet torn out and a big ol’ hole in the wall where they’re going to haul out the fireplace. After which we’ll patch up the wall and put up shelving and a wall mount for the TV and we’ll have a nice, cozy kinda-home theater setup. It’ll be great! When it’s done. Right now, well. It looks like my house is torn up. And it’s confusing the hell out of the cats. I guess we all make sacrifices. I will say I’m happy I woke up ridiculously early and hit my word quota for the day before the contractors arrived, because they are not the silent type.

In any event: This is what the next few days will be like around the Scalzi Compound. Whee!

New Books and ARCs, 9/20/16

I went to Hawaii for a vacation and to be a guest at HawaiiCon, and when I came back these new books and ARCs were waiting to me. What looks good to you? Tell me in the comments!

Also, hello. I am back home. My cats missed me.

Hawaiian Update

It’s a little breezy this morning. 

Otherwise it’s been lovely here on the big island. Today the the last full day I’ll be in Hawaii; tomorrow it’s back on a plane and flying against the time zones, so won’t be arriving in Ohio until Tuesday. Will be sad to leave but glad to see family and pets.

Aaaand that’s all I have for you today. See you all again in a couple of days.

18 Years + Bacon Cat 10 Year Anniversary

I’m posting this relatively late because I’m in Hawaii (where in fact it’s not that late at all): Today is the 18th anniversary of the first Whatever entry, back in the now far-gone year of 1998. My blog is now a legal adult in the United States and can vote (and if it could vote, would definitely not be voting for Donald Trump this year). As I often am on this date, I’m amazed that I have kept on doing the blog; eighteen years is a long time to be doing anything, much less writing more or less daily in a public fashion.

It’s an interesting time to be doing a blog, still, because I think it’s safe to declare the Age of Blogging well and truly over, inasmuch as personal blogging as been superseded in nearly every way by social media, including Twitter (my favorite), Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and so on and so forth. I’m not planning on mourning blogs in general — as a phenomenon they had their moment and it was a relatively good one — but it is interesting to watch the blog tide recede, with just a few die-hards left to do them old-school, like I do.

Again, as I note every year, at the moment I have no plan to stop writing here, although this year in particular I have been writing less here as I have been wrestling with a pair of books for Tor, including the upcoming novel The Collapsing Empire. The books have been giving me fits and have been taking much longer than I expected (on the other hand, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun with TCE in particular, so the wrestling is worth it), and the result here has been relatively fewer posts, and a larger ratio of cat pics and sunsets. I think that’s okay. When I have been writing longform here this year, it’s been good; as good as it has ever been.

Which is why I keep at it. As much as I love Twitter (and tolerate Facebook), at the end of the day I want to say what I want to say, at whatever length I want to say it. The blog was, is and is likely to continue to be the best way to do that. I’m happy I’ve kept it up. I’m going to be keeping up for a while longer.

Today also marks another milestone in the history of Whatever: 10 years ago today I posted the infamous Bacon Cat post, in which I taped bacon to my cat and the Internet went entirely nuts for it. Today the Bacon Cat incident seems almost quaint, and would be good for a momentary trending hashtag at best,. But ten years ago apparently no one had thought to combine cats and bacon on the Internet before, and I was the beneficiary of this brave new combination, and my cat Ghlaghghee was, briefly, the most famous cat online.

Not that she cared; she was a cat. But I had fun with it. It was a moment in time, and I’m glad it was there, and glad the now-departed Ghlaghghee still shows up whenever people Google the terms “bacon” and “cat” together. Internet fame: Both temporary and forever.

Hawaiian Sunrise, 9/12/16

Looks like it’s going to be another pretty decent day in paradise. 

Hope you’re all doing fine. I’ve got a chapter to write, and then, you know. Hawaiian things to do.

View From a Hotel Balcony, 9/11/16: The Big Island

I’m in Hawaii! Which is good. I still have daily word count to hit, however, which is while bad is not great. On the other hand, this is where I get to do my daily words while I’m here, which is pretty great.

Back to it for me.

Vacation Week Has Commenced

Hey, I’m mostly gonna be out this next week. I might pop in briefly on the 13th (on account it’ll be the 18th anniversary of Whatever), but otherwise don’t expect too much; I’m planning to be mostly offline. I expect you’ll be fine without me.

See you later!

New Books and ARCs, 9/9/16

Some very fine books and authors in this week’s stack of books and ARCs. See something here that is begging for your reading attention? Tell us about it in the comments!

In Which I Turn Out To Be a Surprisingly Poor Agent of White Genocide

So, yesterday, after engaging on Twitter with some particularly low-wattage racists who were exercised about, you know, jackass racist things, I made the following observation:

Which these fellows, because they are, as previously mentioned, low-wattage racists, who also apparently don’t understand how language works, took to mean that I was fully endorsing the idea of white genocide.

Well, this was news to me — as a general rule, I don’t endorse genocide of any sort, it just seems rude — but on the other hand I didn’t want to disappoint. So, today I thought I’d give white genocide a try. Here’s how it went (some of these are in reply to others’ questions about the white genocide; click on the tweet for the question).

Having scheduled the white genocide, I went off to attend the rest of the day.

And then it was time!

Seriously, I’m the worst white genocider ever. Sorry.

The Scamperbeasts at One: Today You Are a Cat

The Scamperbeasts came to us on November 1, 2015; at the time we were assured that they were eight weeks old, i.e., old enough, just barely, to be taken home to us. Working back eight weeks from November 1, took us to this week in September for them being born. So, somewhat arbitrarily within the confines of that week, we’ve decided that today would be the day we mark as the Scamperbeasts’ birthday. Happy Scamperday, you adorable monsters!

Today being their first birthday, it’s also the day the Scamperbeasts graduate from being kittens to being cats, with all the rights and privileges that accrue unto, which really are no different from the rights and privileges they had yesterday, since they already get free room and board and roam the Scalzi Compound at will. And honestly, the Scamperbeasts neither know or care that it’s their birthday. It’s just another day at the Compound for them. As it should be. They have a good life, and are good cats.

Be that as it may, I know that at least some of you will be excited by my kittens graduating into catdom, so I hope you celebrate this auspicious day in the manner that seems most appropriate to you. I suggest petting your own cats or other pets and telling them you love them. They may or may not care, depending on species and personal inclination. But it’s still a nice thing to do. The Scamperbeasts, I’m sure, would approve.

 

Spice Enjoys Her Labor Day

She’s clearly not laboring at the moment. Nor should she be! For not laboring is what Labor Day is about!

How’s your Labor Day coming along?

Sunset With Mercury and Duck, 9/3/16

How cool is this: For the second time in less than a month, I’ve captured a picture of Mercury, the most elusive of the classical planets. It’s the bright spot up and to the left of the setting sun. Mercury is hard to spot precisely because it’s so close to the sun, and it’s often covered up in the sun’s glare. And indeed, I didn’t see Mercury here with my own eyes — I snapped a picture of the setting sun and found it hanging out there. The camera’s sensor and lens have a much wider aperture than my own eyes and picked it up pretty easily. Also captured: A duck, to the far left. Truly, a fine sunset picture.

Kristine Blauser Scalzi, 9/3/16

Because I like taking pictures of my wife, that’s why.

Hope your Labor Day weekend is coming along nicely.

5 Writing the Other Fails And How To Avoid Them: A Guest Post

As we head off into Labor Day weekend, here’s some food for thought from K. Tempest Bradford and a number of other writers, all instructors of the Writing the Other series of online classes, developed to help writers do a better job at writing people whose experiences are not like theirs. In this piece, they’re looking at examples of how writing the other didn’t work, and what you can learn from those.

 

K. Tempest Bradford:

Writing the “Other” seems like a daunting task to many writers, especially writers who are white, or male, or able-bodied, or are in some other major way part of the mainstream, the majority, and who exist in some part of the “Unmarked State.” There are a ton of pits to fall into, and it feels like there’s always a group of people out there waiting to pounce if you get it wrong.

Is it even possible to get it right?

Yes. Because, as poet Kwame Dawes has said: “Racist writing is… a craft failure.” Any writing steeped in stereotype, prejudice, or bigotry (unintentional, unexamined or not) is a craft failure. And authors should always strive to improve their craft.

But before you can attempt to get it right and do better, it’s important to understand where writers and creators go wrong, as they so often go wrong in some of the exact same ways. To that end, I asked some of the smartest media critics I know to talk about particularly memorable fails around writing the “Other.” Not-coincidentally, these are also the people teaching a series of online seminars to help writers improve their craft in this area.

 

Debbie Reese on J. K. Rowling’s Magic in North America:

In March of 2016, J.K. Rowling released Magic In North America, which is a series of stories about a school of magic located in North America. Most of her fans were ecstatic. Her Native fans, however, were stunned. Many expressed a sense of betrayal that a much-loved writer had taken–and badly used–spiritual aspects of Native cultures. It was, in short, painful to see Rowling repeating the appropriations and misrepresentations that characterize depictions of Native peoples in children’s and young adult literature.

That body of misrepresentation is the norm in American and British society. In most people, it passes as “knowledge” of Native peoples. The thing is, it isn’t. Native people know it isn’t. But for most people, that “knowledge” of Native peoples is so ingrained in society that it didn’t occur to Rowling (obviously) or her editor (again, obviously), or to most readers (sadly) that what she did in Magic In North America is wrong.

Where, specifically, did she go wrong? We could start with her use of “the Native American community.” Written that way, it suggests there is one community of Native Americans. It may sound OK, but the fact that it sounds OK points to the first problem. There is not one Native American community. At present, there are over 500 federally recognized sovereign nations in the United States. Amongst them, as one might imagine, is tremendous diversity of language, spirituality, history, and material culture. By using the singular, Rowling sets readers up to accept and, indeed, embrace troubling stereotypes that are harmful to the well-being of Native youth and their sovereign nations.

Native spiritualities are not the stuff of folklore, though they’re presented as such. In fact, they deserve the respect accorded to stories rooted in Christianity. Most people recognize those stories as sacred. Ours are, too, but visit your local library. You’ll find Native creation stories shelved with folk and fairy tales. They ought to be shelved with World Religions.

Rowling is far from the only writer that has failed in depictions of Native peoples. Children’s and young adult books are cluttered with failures, and so is film and television! Society is inundated with problematic representations of Native peoples.

Much of this can be interrupted if writers would, for starters, see us and our cultures as we are–in the depth and breadth of our existence–past and present. It may require that you erase what you think you know about us. If you’ve got Native peoples on a pedestal for their noble way of life or some idea that we revere the earth? You need to get rid of that pedestal.

Debbie Reese, founder of American Indians in Children’s Literature, is an enrolled member of the Nambé Pueblo Tribe and holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Illinois.

 

Ashley Lauren Rogers on (Re)Assignment, directed by Walter Hill

It was announced recently that Michelle Rodriguez (Fast and Furious franchise) would be playing a male hitman “who is tricked into undergoing gender reassignment surgery by a “rogue doctor” (Sigourney Weaver) who turns him into a woman. After the apparently violent surgery, the newly female Kitchen goes on a hunt for revenge.” This is the type of story which stigmatizes body confirmation procedures and the people who receive them. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an Adam Sandler flick starring Nicholas Cage, but everyone involved are folks who take their craft seriously.

Let’s start by saying trans people should be playing trans rolls, especially in the case of Rodriguez who has tweeted transphobic crap in the past (Come to think of it, it makes sense Rodriguez is doing this movie…) but from a writing perspective we’ve heard this story before. “Mad scientists,” or “Rogue,” doctors in this case, forcing genital modifications on people that don’t want them because we all know that’s what they mean when they say “turns him into a woman.” This doctor didn’t go rogue to file an official change on Kitchen’s birth certificates. This also frames Rodriguez’s character and their sense of being around their genitalia. Which is a huge misstep when it comes to writing about the trans experience, and in this case the “Body horror, forced feminization,” narrative that this movie is actually peddling.

All of this could have been avoided if, legit, they asked any trans person. If this piece wasn’t focused on “The Surgery,” and was focused on anything else all of this could have been avoided. If it were portrayed by a trans person… it’d still be problematic as hell but, if they also hired the trans person as consultant, they might have found ways to suggest changes that weren’t so “Body horror revenge,” and more “Revenge.” I would have rather heard Laverne Cox was playing a detective who’s partner (Romantic or detective-wise) was murdered while she was recovering from some surgery since it takes some time to do. Admittedly that still frames the plot around the trans woman’s body but it puts the control in her hands and allows for her to have one of those “I can’t blame myself for what I had to do…  But I can get my revenge,” type moments.

Ashley Lauren Rogers is an actress and playwright with a Bachelors of English Literature and Theatre degree from Fitchburg State College.

 

Lauren Jankowski on Sirens, USA Network

Whenever someone thinks of a failure of the portrayal of asexuality, most times they’re expecting to hear about the now notorious episode of House, which will probably go down in history as the most offensive and damaging portrayal of asexuality ever committed to celluloid. However, it was so genuinely terrible that it’s just a little too easy to point at it and declare, “But at least I didn’t do that!”

No, no, no, let’s try something a little more tricky to spot: Sirens, the short-lived USA series that featured a supposedly openly asexual character who went by the nickname Voodoo. I write supposedly because the only thing that distinguished this character as asexual was that she referred to herself as such. Even when on screen, she was basically just another love interest.

Putting aside the fact that Voodoo was a traditionally attractive cis white woman (which the media seems convinced is the only sort of asexual out there), Voodoo was never shown with her friends. The only relationships in her life that were shown on screen were her romantic ones, always with men. Her asexual identity was played up as a joke among the other characters or as an obstacle that Brian, a heterosexual cis-man coworker who was in love with her, needed to overcome. Voodoo basically existed almost solely to show what a great guy Brian was.

All of this could have been avoided if there had actually been an openly asexual writer in the writers room. Or at least someone who knew what the heck asexuality actually is. There is nothing wrong with portraying an asexual person in a romantic relationship, but when it’s written as the only or most important relationship in his/her/their life, then it becomes a huge problem. Voodoo must have had some friends, some platonic relationships in her life–why didn’t they write her having a girls night out? It would have been amazing to show an asexual woman with strong platonic relationships that were just as important as the on-off romantic relationship she had. Instead, Voodoo was a flat one-dimensional character who could have been replaced with a sexy lamp.

This show made no attempt to humanize Voodoo. Instead, it put her through the “how asexual is she” test, including an episode where Brian asks where whether or not she masturbated. Hey, allos, don’t freaking do that! It’s super gross. If you’re putting a character through a “okay, he/she/they say they’re [X], but really, how [X] are they?” test, you’re doing a really poor job of writing.

Lauren Jankowski is an author, the founder of Asexual Artists and co-founder of Pack of Aces . She holds a B.A. in Women and Gender Studies from Beloit College.

 

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry on Daredevil, Netflix

In multiple episodes of the television show Daredevil, Matt Murdock is seen flinging his white cane – an important tool for blind people – away from himself so that he can go fight. The writers don’t use the cane as a weapon (which it can be adapted into), and they don’t bring his adaptive tech into the 21st century. The whole series relies on the idea that Daredevil’s powers basically make him not really blind, even while pretending to be. Blindness becomes the Clark Kent glasses of Matthew Murdock, and that’s not acceptable. It gets so bad that fans of the show will tell blind people that he isn’t “really blind” in defense of the show.

All of this could have been avoided if the writers treated disability as part of a person, and not as a personality quirk or a costume people can take off.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a half-blind, half-deaf, half-Scandinavian horror & SFF writer, editor, historian and theatre professional with a BA in Theater & History and an MA in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College.

 

Cynthia Ward on Bones, FOX Network

I have seen so few specifically identified-as-atheist (as opposed to coded-atheist or generically secular) characters that the fail is more in our absence than in our misrepresentation. I’ve only seen a few episodes of House, whom I gather is our Poster Boy, and Bones, which I guess has our Poster Girl. However, in the episode of Bones I saw I did note one of the common tropes associated with atheists and skeptics.

The episode, “Harbingers in a Fountain,” shows a skeptical scientist and self-proclaimed atheist developing a credulity-snappingly quick acceptance of purported psychic powers on remarkably thin evidence.  While not all atheists would be familiar with probability or science, a skeptical atheist scientist would be familiar with how common “unlikely” coincidences are (cf. Littlewood’s Law, not to mention be familiar with reproducibility and the rest of the scientific method. Given she’s a skeptical atheist scientist (forensic anthropologist and kinesiologist), Temperance “Bones” Brennan is neither a likely nor a believable atheist character in this episode.

To my experience, when an explicitly atheist or skeptic character turns up in fantasy literature, it’s in a story where the atheist/skeptic discovers s/he’s wrong, the end.

I would guess that a non-religious publisher presenting stories in which a Christian or Jewish character discovers s/he’s wrong, the end, would receive a lot of flak (and deserve it), but do this to an atheist or skeptic character and it usually goes not only uncriticized, but unremarked.

I’m not saying no one should ever write such fiction about atheists or skeptics – I have, myself.  I’m saying such an experience for an atheist or skeptic isn’t the end of the story.  It’s the beginning.

It’s also not the only role or plot available to the overtly atheist character.  Atheists have full lives, we have families, friends, morals, ethics, loves, hates, hopes, dreams, fears, and everything else other humans have.  We can fill every character role available to the believer and to the agnostic.  And if you’re thinking “Well, except for man/woman of God,” can I introduce you to my partner, the atheist minister?

Cynthia Ward [http://www.cynthiaward.com/] is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and, with author Nisi Shawl, developed and has taught the Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction seminar for over fifteen years.

 

K. Tempest Bradford:

Want to avoid falling in the many Failholes outlined above? Want some specific help learning how to do that? Then you’re in luck, because this is happening:

Writing Deaf and Blind Characters with Elsa Sjunneson-Henry – September 10th, 2016

Writing the Other: Comics and Graphic Novels with Sara Ryan – September 10th, 2016

More than Eunuchs and Extraterrestrials: Writing Positive Portrayals of Asexual Characters with Lauren Jankowski – September 11th

Writing for Trans and Non-Binary Narratives with Ashley Lauren Rogers – September 11th

Beyond Belief: Writing Plausible Atheist and Religious Characters with Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward – September 27th

Writing Native American Characters: How Not To Do A Rowling taught by Debbie Reese (this seminar already happened, but the video and resources will be available to purchase soon).

All the classes but one still have spaces available right this second. You’ll not only get a chance to learn more about what not to do and what you should do, instead, but you also get to ask each of these smart, talented people specific questions. You then improve your craft, get better at writing, and create art that doesn’t contribute to cultural toxicity. Isn’t that worth striving for? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

And Now To Close Out August 2016, Please Accept These Pictures of Two Delightful Hummingbirds

So long, August. See you in a year, more or less.