“Political Correctness” in Fiction

It happened again. My comments on someone else’s blog post prompted me to write a post of my own. This time, the discussion was at the Sweet Americana Sweethearts blog, where author Heather Blanton addresses the practice of sanitizing historical fiction to make it polite, palatable, and politically correct for twenty-first century readers.

Without rehashing that whole post, I’ll note that I agree with Heather. Trying to clean up history to make ourselves comfortable is indeed dangerous. The more inaccurate we are about the past, then the more we misremember it, and as the saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

With that said, when it comes to race, culture, and history, it can be easy sometimes to paint over everything, or everyone, with too broad a brush. We can think to ourselves, “Well, yeah, people were prejudiced or just said ignorant things back then, but they couldn’t really help it. Where they came from, that’s just how it was.” So it’s good to keep in mind that while there may be a mainstream idea or habit within a society, there also tend to be people who don’t conform to the mainstream of their time. In the past (as it still happens in the present), not every person thought or behaved the same way as “everybody else.” Light and truth are constants, even in a period or place when light isn’t prevalent or the truth isn’t popular.

Nonetheless, when it comes to various areas of life, including writing about the past, there’s a difference between being politically correct and being culturally competent or sensitive. As an author, when it’s time to write about unsavory parts of history, and you don’t want to offend readers, it’s a great idea to check your motives. Are you trying not to be offensive because you genuinely care about the people concerned, or do you just want to prevent negative reactions from coming in your direction?

In his book, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege, author Ken Wytsma highlights some good stuff about following the silver rule versus following the golden one. The main principle there can apply to political correctness and writing.

Political correctness can oftentimes adhere to the silver rule: “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do unto you.” It can focus on trying not to do something, being polite at all costs in an attempt not to offend anyone. Being polite so as to avoid the trouble of backlash, whether or not the actual human beings you might hurt are your real or main concern.

In contrast, cultural competence applies the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Imagine yourself in the place of the person or culture you’re writing about, even if it’s only a minor character or a small aspect of the plot. Imagine yourself in the place of readers who are a part of that culture. Consider their triumphs and their plight, past and present. Consider how you’d feel if the people in your book weren’t “other people” but they were your own friends, your own family. Consider how you’d feel if the person in your book was you. What, then, would be your attitude as you approach telling that person’s story or depicting aspects of that person’s culture or lot in life?

Political correctness often comes from a place of fear, while cultural competence comes from a place of love.

Being a culturally competent author doesn’t mean you have to whitewash, misrepresent, or try to erase history. One of my all-time favorite examples of cultural competence in entertainment is a television show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. In ways big and small, the show is historically accurate. It doesn’t shy away from depicting racism, injustice, and ignorance. It illustrates complex scenarios, brings substantive characters with room to grow or shift, and it relates powerful, relevant messages about love, acceptance, and justice without trying to ignore or erase the facts of the past.

When you’re a culturally competent author, it doesn’t mean you gloss over, sugarcoat, or tiptoe around uncomfortable social elements because you’re terrified of stepping on anyone’s toes. Rather, it means you’re active about finding ways to show love through your writing; to show that while ignorance did and does exist, it doesn’t mean it was or is okay, and that it’s possible and necessary for us to do better. There are different ways authors can convey this, whether they weave it into a plot, reflect it through a character, infuse it into a story’s overall tone, include a thoughtful word directly to readers before or after the story, or what have you.

On a related note, for authors who do or want to write competently about people of different races or cultures than their own, it’s smart to have a diverse circle. If everyone in your critiquing or publishing circle, or in your life, is pretty much the same as you are, then you may need to widen your circle. But that’s another topic to unpack.

Anyhow. A little consideration and/or creativity can go a long way in getting a message of light across in fiction, even when depicting flawed characters or regrettable portions of history.

You don’t have to write from a place of fear when you can write from a place of love.


Arts and Entertainment, Books, Fiction

High Treason by DiAnn Mills

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

High Treason by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Monica Alden, a CIA operative, is brought onto an FBI task force with Special Agent Kord Davidson after an assassination attempt on Kord’s friend, a Saudi prince. Having come to Houston, Texas to seek cancer treatment for his mother, the prince can’t pick up and leave the country, but the extent of his real plans in the US makes his FBI protection all the more crucial in High Treason, a novel by author DiAnn Mills.

With this book, I knew I’d have to settle in for a read that would take me a while. But as I’ve come to find with this author so far, no matter how long or short the read, there’s not a dull moment in it for me. Whether it’s high-stakes action, the thick of investigation, or engaging inward and outward dialogue as characters deal with their personal challenges and forge various relationships, I’m kept on my toes from start to finish.

I’m all for a heroine like Monica: sharp, no-nonsense, gutsy, and driven, but with a sense of humor, compassion, and a vulnerable side. I also appreciate that her inner conflict has complexity to it, that it’s not just a token pain or a too-easy source for angst or drama.

And Kord is rather sharp himself. While I’m pretty sure the “missionary setup” will never be my preferred scenario for ChristFic romance (it tends to muddy up the couple’s motives and makes the inevitable conversion feel trite, contrived, or both), I do like that the romance here isn’t instantaneous or dripping with sap. The characters’ tenderness doesn’t make them lose their edge but rather enhances it.

Since this is only the third book I’ve read by Mills, it may be too soon to say she’s my favorite romantic suspense author. Even so, I’m kind of scratching my head as to why I haven’t read more of her books by now.


I started the FBI Task Force series with a novella, Trial By Fire.



Arts and Entertainment, Books, Fiction

Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Jennifer Lamont Leo

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ by Jennifer Lamont Leo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

While looking for a way to get her singing career up and humming, Dot Rodgers is right in the thick of the sparkling Jazz Age in late 1920s Chicago. But she may be in a little thicker than she wants to be. Meanwhile, the small-town, Great War veteran who loves her, Charlie, is hoping his family’s business–as well as his investments in the stock market–will make him the man of means a woman like Dot would go for in Ain’t Misbehavin’, a novel by author Jennifer Lamont Leo.

This novel has a nice take-off point, following the novel before it, You’re the Cream in My Coffee. Given all that’s evident or revealed about that previous story in this book, I’d highly recommend reading that novel before this one.

The covers and Roaring Twenties settings of both these novels just get me. Jazzy tunes, women’s bobbed hair, “the cat’s meow,” and newfangled gizmos like heaters and radios built into automobiles, no less. Yowza! Besides that, some of my favorite moments in the story are away from the city’s “roar,” in a cozy farmhouse setting. Call me sentimental.

I came to like Dot more than I thought I would. She’s flawed and makes mistakes, and she doubts herself, but she’s also competent and capable when she puts her mind to things, and she’s a real sweetheart without being too syrupy.

I did, however, find it hard to follow the course of her thoughts and feelings sometimes, as well as Charlie’s. The two of them can go up and down pretty fast, or they jump to conclusions. While Charlie expresses some early concern for Dot’s spiritual state, his actions don’t really show that he considers it to be a priority. And his behavior toward the end of the book left me feeling iffy about him for other reasons, which is an unfortunate feeling at the end of a romance novel.

There’s also a thread of suspense that seems to be left open-ended…

Anyhow, I could say more about what I liked in the novel, so if the Roaring Twenties series continues, or if a spin-off carries into the thirties or something, I plan to be there.


Here’s my review of the first book in the Roaring Twenties series, You’re the Cream in My Coffee.



Giveaway: Deep Extraction and The Dog Who Was There

A murdered oil and gas magnate was her best friend’s husband.
Deep Extraction by DiAnn Mills

A courageous dog bears witness to the greatest story ever told.
The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco


Find the giveaway for these two books in the Faith, Hope, and Book Love group on Facebook.
Giveaway ends March 16, 2018.