Read Wild At Heart here.
I recently won an award in a short fiction contest. You’d think that would be cause for celebration, but you’d be wrong. The night I announced my success, I had more spiteful comments directed at me than any other night since joining the critique group. I very nearly got up and walked out. It reminded me of why I wrote “Wild at Heart.” Americans are hateful and spiteful, and I’m tired of that vitriol being spewed my direction.
Authors usually avoid autobiographical characters, but I figured, why not? It’s just a short story, and written in three languages. I didn’t figure it would go anywhere, let alone get an award. So my story, “Wild at Heart,” is really an essay that could just as easily be titled, “A Day in the Life of Khaliela.” The only differences being, I work for the Census Bureau, not the Department of the Interior and I want demographic information, not water samples. Unfortunately, the people I meet are the same. I’ve been shot at while working in the field and I get death threats on occasion. It’s been about six months since my last death threat, so I’m due for another any day.
The frustrating part of being a federal employee is, you are the target for the nation’s anger. In Idaho, a good many people cannot tolerate anyone who is different from themselves, and when that anger is unleashed, it gets directed at me simply because I’m the one standing in front of them at the time. Being a writer, over the last several months I’ve learned that level of intolerance even extends to Dwarfs.
That’s right . . . Gimili, from Lord of the Rings, is unwelcome in Idaho. Women should not have sex with him; marriage is out of the question! One person likened the relationship between my main character and the male lead unto bestiality simply because she is a woman and he is a Dwarf. The thought that a woman could love someone who was different than herself instilled terror in their hearts. Apparently, allowing a woman to marry a Dwarf in an fantasy novel is a gateway to real life immoral behavior. If someone read my book, they might think it’s acceptable to marry a person from another race here in the real world. Oh, the humanity!
Critique group and beta reader alike thought there was no place for something like that in a book. They insist I eliminate the “romance stuff” and stick to a “real plot” using characters with “Christian values.” The “Christian values” to which they refer are the ones where the races don’t mix. It’s saddening to know that America has reached a point where mythical beings, in a mythical place, engaged in an imaginary relationship, is the source of so much angst. The level of hate and intolerance over such a minor thing is bewildering.
In my story, “Wild at Heart,” I said 100 ml of water was not worth a bullet in your hide; my hide. The same is true for Dwarfs. I removed the word from my manuscript and replaced it with the word “Celt,” making it a work of historical fiction rather than fantasy. That immediately got approval from a beta reader and the critique group relaxed once my white people were all the same.
How did we arrive at a place where a story about Dwarfs can leave an author wondering, “If I write this will I get another death threat? Is it worth dying for?” It’s just a story, so of course the answer is no. But, it’s indicative of a larger problem in America.
At work I go from house to house, politely listening to hate filled rhetoric. That same level of intolerance is on display in my writing group. It’s left me wondering, if we cannot tolerate interaction between mythical races in a work of fiction, what does that say about how we treat our neighbors, or the brown-skinned family down the street? If respect for others is not allowed in pen and ink, is there any hope left for humanity?
I’m looking for another critique group; one who won’t feel the need to insert their anti-ethnic biases into my imaginary world. Unfortunately, it’s been a slow process. And honestly, I’m about to give up hope, on writing groups specifically and humanity in general.