|Emotionless, by Timie, via Flickr|
But I throw that caution out the window when I write standalones. I haven’t yet written a protagonist that disgusts me, but I certainly have created some unusual characters. In the Jackson series (#8, Rules of Crime), I introduced Carla River, a transgender FBI agent, who underwent a change from male to female while working for the bureau. All that’s in her past, and I don’t focus on her sexuality, but still, her nature surprised some readers. I created this character four years ago—long before Caitlyn Jenner became a household name.
Point of Control, features an FBI agent who happens to be sociopathic. Why? I read an autobiography of a high-functioning sociopath and was fascinated by how her mind worked. Further research revealed that four percent of the population is sociopathic. The most interesting aspect, though, was that those with the disorder fall along a continuum of behavior. Many aren’t dangerous, or even destructive. They just don’t empathize with other people—which allows them to make decisions based on need and logic rather than emotion. They feel some emotions (but never guilt)—and none to the same degree as most people. If emotions were colors, their world would be black and white.
Guess what? Some of the most successful people in the world are sociopathic, because it’s hard to get to the top without stepping on a few competitors. Surgeons, lawyers, CEOs, and politicians—we’ve seen them in news stories about their misdeeds. So why not an FBI agent? What better place than the bureau for a self-aware, high-functioning sociopath to use her brilliant mind while keeping herself out of trouble? Thus, Agent Andra Bailey came into being.
I enjoyed the research, and I loved crafting a plot that involved disappearing scientists and a rare-earth metal shortage. But writing from her perspective was challenging. I’m the opposite of Bailey—a total empath. I feel everyone’s pain, and I make emotional decisions every day. So I had to keep stopping to back up and rewrite her thoughts to keep them accurate.
But I think I pulled it off. Many readers have commented on the character and how fascinating she is, as well as praised how I handled the POV. Publishers Weekly called Bailey a “deeply flawed, but sympathetic lead.” Other readers have not been so endeared. That’s the risk of writing peculiar characters. Some readers simply won’t relate to or like the protagonist. They may finish the book if the story is compelling, but they won’t leave a five-star review.
I can live with that. I love to explore all the rich possibilities of the human race. There are so many kinds of people in this world that I refuse to limit myself to writing about good-guy cops or the girl next door.
In fact, the standalone thriller I’m working on now features a protagonist who works in a morgue and is gender fluid. But again, I don’t focus on that aspect of his/her/their life. The story is fast-paced, speculative, and intended to keep readers on the edge of their seats. IF it also happens to expose them to new ideas and new types of people, then all the better.
Does the idea of a sociopathic protagonist turn you off to the story? Would the term gender-fluid in a book jacket make you pass on the novel? Tell me what you think.
|L.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/thriller series—a four-time winner of the Readers Favorite Awards. She also pens the high-octane Agent Dallas series and provocative standalone thrillers. Her 17 novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and she’s one of the highest-rated crime fiction authors on Amazon.|
L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where many of her novels are set, and she’s an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes and hurtle down zip-lines.