“I’m actually quite the bigot, you know.” – said by no one, ever.
While I’m a huge fan of the well examined life, it’s even more critical for an author to consider the role of bias in their work. An author may add a passage meaning to illuminate a certain point, then discard the context that the passage was illuminating. An author may have a personal ax to grind and be unable to separate it from her fiction. A few sentences tossed into a book can permanently color the reader’s view of an author’s entire brand.
It’s important to speak out for your beliefs, but free speech is not speech free from consequence. Years passed before I picked Brenda Joyce back up after the The Prize. I’ve never really been able to take Linda Howard seriously since she used Burn to discuss her Randian beliefs about wealth. (I’ve also switched Howard from a purchase to an infrequent library read. I’d hate to increase her wealth and force her to pay all those burdensome taxes.) One of the things that drove me to read m/m romance in the 80’s was an inability to tolerate yet another homosexual character used as an easy villain stereotype. In Eloisa James latest novella Seduced By A Pirate, she has a few throwaway lines that damaged her brand for me.
There is no point to this mention of the first Viscount other than to establish that Griffin hated hearing about his ancestry. Nothing about the Viscount factors into the tale and he is never mentioned again. Why then, must the first Viscount be repellant, and a beast? Why did he slaver at the feet of James the First? If the point is to illustrate how Griffin felt about his heritage or about men who gather riches through words (he gathers his own through theft) why does the first Viscount have to be bisexual? Why does young Griffin assume this man he dislikes was involved in an intimate relationship with the king? If the letter confirms Griffin’s beliefs, then the belief existed before the letter. If the belief is not predicated on the letter, how did Griffin form it? Does repellant slavering beast automatically mean homosexual activity to young Griffin? How did he integrate that belief into his career as a pirate, given the relationships between some career sailors? We don’t know. The only introduction of homosexuality in Seduced By A Pirate is the passage above. If it drives nothing about the character, what is the point of it’s inclusion?
And thus an author’s brand is damaged. I don’t think Eloisa James is a blatant bigot. I do think she has assumptions and norms derived from her culture that she hasn’t critically evaluated in the context of reader response. This is totally cool. You can’t write everything with an eye to who you may offend. What you can do is evaluate if what you’re writing is necessary. Do these words add to what you’re building or detract from them? Is this passage moving things along, illuminating what you want it to illuminate, or is it removing your reader from the reading experience? For this reader, it was hard to separate the author from her authorial choice.