Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Church of the Masses - Two Stories About Not Getting It

I thought these two examples of Christian hubris illustrated not only Barbara Nicolosi's attitude about the right and the wrong way to bring Christianity into Hollywood, but how people get it wrong in Christian novels as well. People hate to be preached to, don't they? No matter what your beliefs might be, shoving yourself in someone's face, whether it's in person or through the pages of a book, just doesn't work.

In his blog, Faith in Fiction, Dave Long talks about just that: how to integrate faith into a fictional work. In a November, 2003 post, he says this:

"The problem general market readers have with religious fiction isn’t that it’s about religion. They (most, at least) aren’t biased against Christianity. What grates on them is the notion that the book they are reading is a specific piece of propaganda whose sole function is to convert them. Whether or not this is the case in the author’s writing, a book whose core plot is a conversion story is far more likely to be seen as an evangelical tool than a book that offers a glimpse into the heart of someone who already is a Christian."

Whether it's in Hollywood or within the pages of a novel, I think we need to realize that blatant evangelism is a turn off in a fictional work. We cannot--as the folks in Barbara's example did--charge into the foray, believing we should, with swords drawn, hack our way through until people understand what we're saying.

I'm thinkin' that won't work.


Church of the Masses

Friday, September 24, 2004

WORLDview Fiction Contest

There are some fascinating discussions going on at the short story competition sponsored jointly by Word Magazine and Westbow. If you read the comments section of "Mother's Daughter" by Bethany Lam you'll get an idea of the debate that rages within the Christian writing community these days. It boils down to this: some writers don't believe you can separate a Christian writer from an evangelistic presentation of the gospel. In other words, if he/she writes (and I'm talking about fiction), he/she must present the gospel message in some way, shape, or form. Other writers, like me, believe that a Christian writer has the freedom to express her art in whatever way she desires, without or without overt, explicity evangelism. And so the debate rages.

On an entirely different note, one of my former critique partners from ACRW has a short story posted here! Read "Telling It Like It Is" by Jennifer Keithley. She writes chick lit and does a great job!

UPDATE: Her story isn't on the site anymore because they're rotating them on a random basis. 10/7/04

WORLDview Fiction Contest

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Apocalypse, Nu?

Here's a great article about Tim LaHaye, one of the authors of the Left Behind series. He's signed with Bantam and has contracts in the works with Viking and Kensington. I find this very encouraging because it means there is some room for "religious" writers in the ABA!

Apocalypse, Nu?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Mean Christian Forums--Yikes!

There's a discussion in the comments section at The Master's Artist about Christian forums--writing and otherwise, I gather. It came about because of a short story contest one of the Christian publishing houses is sponsoring in conjunction with a magazine. Many of the stories have been published as part of a blog and the comments section allows anonymous postings. I've read some of them and they aren't nice. On the MA, people are saying that they've been in Christian forums where they were treated equally bad.

I am so surprised. For some reason, that's not anything I've ever experienced. I've been part of many on-line groups sponsored by Yahoo and every one has been filled with an overwhelming majority of people whom you could truly call Christians. Oh, sure, there's always the occasional rough character who needs to have his or her say, but in my experience that's been rare. Tops among all these groups is American Christian Romance Writers, where support and kindness reign. Maybe it's because their counterparts in the secular world of romance writing are sometimes catty and unkind? I'm not sure because I've never been involved with them, but the ACRW ladies are warm, friendly, and helpful.

My problem right now is that I'm not writing either romance or women's fiction, so their usefulness to me is somewhat diminished. But after hearing about some of these other groups, I think I'll just hang out with the nice Christian romance ladies!

CJR September/October 2004: Essay

This is a fairly depressing article about the state of publishing today. It came from Dave Long's Faith in Fiction site.

One of the comments made about this, however, is that the woman mentioned in this article appears to be naive. For instance, she sends her editor a six hundred page mess expecting the editor to reduce it to three hundred. Even I know that most editors don't work like that, especially ones in major markets! However, I think it isn't an accident that I read this right after I finished Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird. Anne uses the last chapter of this wonderful book to talk about why we write ... and it isn't to be published. Of course, that doesn't mean that most of us do want to be published, but it does give me at least two other outlooks to cling to every time I get another rejection: I write to glorify God. And I write for the sheer joy of it. Both, I think, make the Lord smile.

CJR September/October 2004: Essay

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Emergent Church

About a year ago, I began a novel targeted for the CBA. I hesitated at first because I knew the CBA was very conservative in what they allowed in their books. I wanted to write a story about a young man and woman living together; he was a Christian, she was not. It would be funny and romantic and nothing--absolutely nothing--would happen between them outside of the same kind of kisses found in Christian romance novels. The book was called Finding Mr. Wrong.

By January, as I approached the end of the story and began to submit it to various contests and critiques, I noticed that I was getting a negative reaction sometimes. "This will never sell," I was told. I made some revisions, worried and prayed over it, but went on writing because by then I loved the characters and the story.

I took a book proposal of that novel to Mount Hermon, the largest Christian writers' conference in the USA where, unfortunately, I was shot down by the powers that be. They liked my writing. They liked my characters. They like the voice, my skill at dialogue, a lot of great things like that. But they could not get around the fact that a man and a woman lived together. That fact alone made it too controversial for the CBA though (as one agent said) it was also too religious for the ABA.

The result of this was that I began to look for alternative ways to write what I wanted to write. I was understandably frustrated because I felt the publishers'/agents' guidelines were too stringent. One of the things I found was the whole concept of an emergent church, a movement of people whose thinking was more post-modern than modern.

I was attracted to the emergent church crowd because they were not as caught up in some of the attitudes/concepts of the American evangelical church. For instance, they had a more relaxed attitude about language use, especially "bad" language. I wasn't interested in returning to my pre-Christian days and the sometimes-ugly language it contained, but I did find it frustrating that I couldn't include some of that language in my novel when necessary. If a character has just learned his wife has been cheating on him with his brother, he is very unlikely to say, "Oh, darn!" although, come to think of it, "darn" is merely a replacement for "damn," and both are not allowed by some CBA publishing houses.

What I am learning, though, is that you can take the woman out of the modern church, but you can't take the modern church out of the woman--at least not easily. I made a comment on the blog of a emergent church pastor that I thought, in all my modern ways, was perfectly in line with the teachings of Christianity, and was shocked by his vehement reaction. In fact, he called me a hypocrite and said my ideas might be similar to that of an Islamic fundamentalist! Boy, were my feelings hurt! I'm still trying to decide how I feel about what he said, but the point is, it's not a simple thing to do. I spent fifteen years as an evangelical Christian and now all of that has been called into question. Not (I don't think!) the fundamentals of the faith, but almost everything else. More hard thinking to do!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Rules

This, you might say, is part of the ongoing rant of unpublished authors everywhere. I know I've heard versions of this from many writers.

When we, the unpubs, notice that the writing rules we're taught to revere, to memorize, to live by, have been broken by published writers, we're always told one thing: learn the rules before you break them. Okay, fair enough. There's certainly a difference between writing passive sentences and choosing to write them. However, I am beginning to wonder if sweating the rules is really the most important thing for a writer. I like rules--don't get me wrong. And I follow them in my writing. But, like other unpubs, when I read published works, I see a lack of attention to that kind of detail in both ABA and CBA works. I've just read a couple of ABA books considered "brilliant" by some of those who reviewed them. Right away, I noticed the POV shifts within scenes, something which is supposed to be a huge no-no. Yet, they were published and none of the reviews mentioned how these authors "head-hopped" from person to person, sometimes within paragraphs of one another.

I've always been good at POV and never had a problem understanding how to do it. Yet, I sometimes stray out of my main character's POV, usually in a subtle way. Or I go from a very deep POV to something more expansive or authorial. One of my crit partners usually mentions this. My question is: does this really matter? Will anyone ever notice that kind of thing especially when published authors are getting away with far greater "sins"? Am I spinning my wheels sweating over such details?

It seems to me that one of the most important "rules" about writing is that there are NO rules, really. In the end, it's all a matter of taste.
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Friday, September 03, 2004

Fuse Magazine: Where Art & Faith Intersect

My crit partner, Candy, has had a short story published in Fuse Magazine. You'll need to establish a user name and password to read the story, but that's free and it's a great magazine. The story is entitled "The Green Thumb." You'll enjoy it!

Fuse Magazine: Where Art & Faith Intersect

Crit Partners!


These are my crit partners, left to right, Candy, Linda, and Diane. This was taken at Mount Hermon, in April 2004. Linda came to the conference from South Africa! Diane came from Papua New Guinea. Pretty amazing that we were all able to attend the same conference since we'd never met prior to that time.  Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 02, 2004

My Writers Group: Blogs in general

Here's another great sign of the times. A second editor of a Christian publishing house [Dave Long of Bethany House being the first] has a blog going where he talks about writing and what it means to this post-modern generation of Christian writers. Take a look!

My Writers Group: Blogs in general

Deep Doubt

Well, it's happened again. I'm doubting myself. It seems to be a common "disease" among writers whether they're Christian or not. In the last few weeks, it seems like every chapter I've sent to my critique group has met with a lukewarm response. No one says it's terrible, but no one is raving either. Do I need raving? I guess I do. I like to think that what I'm writing has the power to move people, and when that fails to happen, I get depressed. Of course, it's unrealistic to believe that every chapter will be viewed that way. I know that logically, but we're not dealing with logic here, we're dealing with feelings.

So, when this happens, I start looking at the novel as a whole. I wonder why I'm bothering to write it. If my crit partners, who are friends and understand my writing, don't particularly like what I'm doing, how can I possibly think the rest of the world will care? A + B = C. They wouldn't care. Whom am I writing it for? Me? Sometimes it seems exactly that way, as if I entertain an audience of one. Then I want to never send in another chapter for critique. I want to sulk. I want to stomp my foot and be angry.

The writer's life. Such fun.

UPDATE: After some discussion with my crit partners, we decided to institute a color-coded crit system. One of the problems, for me, is that I'm writing a first draft and don't need my vision of the book challenged while it's still being created. I realize we are all different in this. So, we now have a great system that allows us to ask for the type of critique we want, everything from I-just-want-to-share-this-with-you clear through to take-no-prisoners-this-will-go-out-to-an-editor. It's done wonders for us. 10/4/04