Is It Bad to Be Controversial?

How the Dystopia in Drag Series Began

Readers often ask me where I get the ideas for my books. I appreciate the question, but I can’t always answer it. The inspiration for The Dragon Who Didn’t Fly came from my appreciation of the Florida Everglades, but how a dragon got into the story and other important details escape my memory.

With Dawn of Dystopia and the other books in the Dystopia in Drag series, though, I can trace the sources of my inspiration, although it almost seems wrong to call such grim pieces of history “inspirational.”

As a child, I knew of the concentration camps established for Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and others who didn’t meet the Nazi ideals. In addition, my parents were close friends with a Japanese-American couple who’d been put into an internment camp during World War II.

Although my knowledge of these atrocities always had a strong impact on me, a story I read years later planted the seed for the series. A North Carolina preacher, Charles Worley proposed putting lesbians and gay men behind an electrified fence fifty or a hundred miles long and provide food drops.

Writers have a button that signals they’ve come across a story that may be worth writing. When it gets pressed, it asks the question, “What if . . .”

My button got pushed, but I was beginning the dragon series, and I didn’t want to get sidetracked. I put the idea for a new series aside.

“What If?” Reconsidered

When I was ready to start something new, I reconsidered my “What if”s. Did I want to write a dystopian series that asked the questions:

What if the extreme religious right got a bigger hold on US politics?

What if they decided to incarcerate anyone who disagreed with them or who violated their standards of behavior?

What if they succeeded?

I Hesitated Because—

Some “experts” advise that fiction authors shouldn’t write about controversial subjects because it will alienate their readers. I considered this in light of the series, A Dragon’s Guide to Destiny.

Though it takes place in a fantasy world, the series addresses issues that exist in our world, such as ecological destruction, invalidation of emotional realities and intuition, and human-species superiority. These issues are controversial. Not everyone agrees that the environment is in danger, that the rights of other species matter, or that intuition is a reliable way to make decisions.

The new series, though, would take on the issue of religion, and history has taught us that few issues are more controversial. Writing it would give me a special challenge because I needed to make it very clear that I don’t oppose religion in general.

I don’t respect theological interpretations that give rise to bigotry, hate, persecution, and rigid thinking. However, I have been a member of religious groups and may be again. I deeply respect and share the values of those many people of faith who live their beliefs of mutual respect, tolerance, and love. They make the world a better place.

To make this distinction clear in a fictional form without getting heavy-handed about it presented a huge challenge. I’ve done my best to fulfill this challenge.

Getting Clear

In the process of writing this series, I have clarified my goals as a writer. My first goal as a fiction author is to entertain the reader. Within that, I want to express my values.

I read many works of fiction that have plots or subplots that serve as vehicles for beliefs I don’t necessarily share. When the authors of these works tell good stories, I will read and continue to read their work.

Sometimes they express their beliefs in a way that makes me re-examine my own. I welcome that.

For myself, in the dystopian series I have sought and continue to seek a creative and hopefully entertaining way to express what I believe.

And one of the things in which I most believe is the freedom to ask “What if?”