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).

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Supporting All Kinds of Art

Art for Christ's Sake
While I may not agree with a couple isolated examples of grant dollars ill-spent, I refuse to let them define or abandon the vast, prolific body of creativity that every culture needs from her artists: We, as human beings, need to see people being like God.
I'll probably get into trouble for this since I'm sure many of you have heated opinions about men like Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. Let me say, then, that I don't enjoy their work and the referenced article by Louie Weber makes clear that he doesn't either. Yet, I agree with his basic premise, that creativity is a God-given ability and to be creative is to emulate God. Sometimes, the artists doing the emulation go way out of bounds and produce art that goes beyond controversial to shocking and downright disgusting. But does that mean we shouldn't support the arts through an organization like the NEA? Or in general in our lives and our churches? In some (please note: some) evangelical churches, no fiction of any kind is allowed in the church bookstore much less anything else outside the rather kitschy Christian consumer items normally found (think Testamints). It seems a shame that we concede the world of artistic beauty and truth to people who likely know nothing about Jesus when we should be out there among them writing our books, painting our pictures, composing our music.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Celebration of New Christian Fiction III

The Celebration is up for April!. Check here and enjoy some of your favorite bloggers plus a few new ones! And thank you Jeanne for doing the honors this month!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Beautiful Approach

The thing I most admire about Susan Howatch (other than the fact that she tells a great story every time she writes a novel) is her ability to expose her readers to markedly Christian concepts without preaching.

In The Heartbreaker, the protagonist is a breathtakingly handsome twenty-nine-year-old male prostitute. Gavin Blake is a heterosexual man who provides sex for upscale men in the heart of London, quite against his nature. How he ended up in such a degrading position is at the heart of this novel, but as it begins, Gavin is in extreme denial. He calls himself a "leisure worker" and believes he is not only at the top of his game, but well on his way to retiring from his chosen profession and living a life of ease with his "manager" (read: pimp) a woman named Elizabeth.

Through several God-engineered "coincidences," Gavin ends up in situations with Christian lay people as well as clergy and is slowly brought into an awareness that his circumstances are not only dismal and disturbing but potentially dangerous thanks to an odious individual who gives new meaning to the word evil. At a funeral for one of his clients (the only one who'd ever treated him like a human being) he studies a stained-glass window that depicts the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7. Gavin calls the man he sees in that picture, who tenderly holds a bedraggled sheep in his arms, The Bloke. This image and the idea of being rescued returns on several occasions as the novel continues, but each time it's brief and used to show how Gavin's thinking has shifted. Eventually, as his circumstances worsen and his awareness grows, Gavin begins to realize what's happened to him:
Sitting on a platform bench I sip from my Styrofoam cup and decide there's a certain ruthless inevitability about my disintegrating life, as if someone's methodically smashing it up with a hammer. I feel I'm being steered through a series of interlocking situations which are all leading to one Gotterdammerung-type conclusion-but no, "steered" isn't the word that describes what's happening to me, it's too gentle. I feel as if I've been lassoed and now I'm being dragged along the ground in a cloud of dust-but no, that's not right either. It conveys the idea of being captured but not the idea of being rescued. Someone's lassoed me, but with a lifebelt attached to a rope-yes, that's it. I was drowning in the sea but now the lifebelt's plopped over my head, the rope's snapped tight and a lifeguard on the distant beach is tugging me through the shark-infested waters to safety.

The rescuer's got to be The Bloke. He's not a shepherd any more. Shepherds are passé. He's a lifeguard like in Baywatch. Cool. Okay, haul away, mate, and give my love to Mary Magdalene, patron saint of prostitutes, who of course is standing by looking just like Pamela Anderson. Phwoar! Ultra-cool.

Howatch is able to present the Gospel to an audience of nonbelievers in a unique-yet-powerful way, one that almost anyone is able to understand, one that is completely non-threatening. At this point in the story, the reader is rooting for Gavin, cheering him on, and hoping he survives the next forty-eight hours. If The Bloke can help, they are all for it. And because this idea of Jesus as the rescuer has been presented in a thoroughly non-religious manner (i.e., without religiosity) but rather as part of a riveting story in which Gavin develops a relationship with The Bloke, just as with any other character, it works for secular readers. They don't feel as if someone has preached to them and presented the Five Spiritual Laws or the Four Steps to Salvation. That's the beauty of her approach: it plants the seed, a seed that others might nurture, a seed only the Lord can bring to fruition.

Sidebar: In case you're wondering: Susan Howatch was the inspiration behind my decision to write for the general market. Discovering her writing and this book in particular capped a number of other "coincidences" in my life including my inclusion in an international critique group, Dave Long's Faith in Fiction blog, Mount Hermon in 2004, Ted Dekker's speech there about light vs. darkness, Jeff Dunn's lecture on post-modernism, my introduction to the emergent church, and many more of my own God-engineered moments. It's been a wild ride!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Reading Blogs

Stan Shinn has a great link on his blog, CrossoverFiction.com about aggregators and how well they work for those of us reading multiple blogs per day. If that describes you and you don't currently use an aggregator, don't miss the article! It'll make a huge difference in your surfing habits!

Writing Three Novels a Year

From Christian Retailing:

Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the "Left Behind" series, has signed an exclusive publishing agreement with Tyndale House Publishers for 15 new contemporary novels in the next five to six years.

Although the subject matter is yet undefined, Jenkins will write two novels for each of the next two years and then three a year for the following few years. It is still to be determined if the books will be in a series format or stand-alone novels.

"This is one of the most important publishing deals we've signed," said Ron Beers, Tyndale senior vice president and publisher. "Jerry has a unique ability to communicate to both the Christian and general marketplace. His unique voice resonates with readers everywhere, and I can't wait to see his next big idea."

Jenkins said: "Tyndale House has become like family to me. I couldn't be more thrilled than to formalize my association with them for several more years."
I cannot imagine writing three books a year! Is this just me? Do other novelists think this would be easy even for someone who's written as many novels as Jerry Jenkins has?

Yikes.


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Susan Howatch

Touchstone Magazine 12.2 - An Interview with Susan Howatch

Without a doubt, my favorite contemporary author is Susan Howatch. She is the type of Christian writer I aspire to be. I realize that probably gets me into hot water with some Christians who'll say Howatch is a liberal Christian who mixes psychology with her theology, but that doesn't bother me. Not only is Howatch a wonderful writer whose characters and plotting are both spot on, she ministers the love of Christ to those who don't know Him in a way that shines above the rest. This particular interview was done awhile back because she talks about The High Flyer being her next book and it was published in 2001. Here is my favorite quote in this lengthy interview:

"I think it is extremely dangerous for any novelist to set out to evangelize, because you end up writing a Christian polemic. A novelist’s first duty is to write a story. A novelist’s second duty is to write a readable story, and without a readable story nothing is possible. You can’t write a polemic for a lost generation. That’s not the way it works. It would be phony. If you get the story right, the Christian themes will emerge from the interaction of the people, and they can be completely understated."
This is the correct way, I think, to write in the general market yet still be true to your faith. You don't start out with the idea of evangelizing, you start with an idea. Then you write a great story. God's role in the story might be there for people to see (explicit), if it fits into your characters' lives, or it might not be that apparent. But in the end, since the heavens declare the glory of God, doesn't He always get glorified? As Howatch says, unless you are writing about something vile and there's no good reason for it, in the end, the reader is going to be exposed to the divine one way or another. First, though, that reader has to be given the emotional experience that will make her (or him) continue to read. Howatch does both superbly. Like I always say, when I grow up, I want to be Susan Howatch.

And if you've never read The Heartbreaker, I recommend it. However, be advised that it is not a CBA-type novel. Since it explores the world of a male "leisure worker," it can be very graphic, although it never crosses the line into titillation. But if you don't enjoy "bad" words, you probably would not enjoy this novel. Which is a shame because for my money, it is the best and most realistic portrayal of one man's journey to Christ I've ever read.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Gilead

Entertainment - canada.com network:

Here's an article about Marilynne Robinson who just won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Gilead. I haven't read the book yet, but want to more than ever after reading this interview. The thing I liked best, among many things, is what she said about the process of writing books. It took her twenty-four years to write her second book.

Robinson, who moved here in 1989 to teach at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, is also unapologetic about the 24 years that passed between her highly acclaimed first novel, Housekeeping, and her latest.

With little pressure to appease her publisher, and no desire to write another novel just for the sake of it, Robinson took her time working on Gilead. And fans shouldn't expect another novel any time soon.

"I don't feel I'm under any pressure to write a book I'm not fully interested in,' says Robinson, whose next project will be a non-fiction book. 'I think you can tell when a novel is forced ... or written under the pressure of a deadline from a contract or publisher. I have never wanted to write that way."
As a writer, I love that approach, one that seems to suggest the art of writing is more important than churning out book after book. Of course, not everyone needs twenty-four years in which to complete a book, but it bothers me that many of the best-selling authors find themselves caught in their publisher's expectation that they produce at least a novel a year. And some produce more than that. Believe me, many of those books show it.

I'm not published, so I don't now how I'd feel if such a demand were laid upon me, but I hope I'd be able to find a way to do it that didn't compromise my writing. I've been working on my latest novel for a year now and I am nearing the end of the first draft. If it's finished this year, it'll probably be in October or beyond, but even that is uncertain.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Gmail

I have been using Gmail for a while now and have to say I'm surprised at how much I like it. Since I begin using e-mail in 1996, I've always had a e-mail client such as Outlook or Outlook Express. The on-line interfaces I tried (like Yahoo's e-mail) were clumsy and slow by comparison. But I've always loved Google, so when they developed a program, I wanted an account. I'm happy to report that it has a cleaner and more readable interface than Yahoo, that it loads very quickly, only asks for password info once every two weeks, and that's it's much easier to navigate in.

So, if you'd like an invite, e-mail me at bookwritinmama - at - gmail.com--I'm sure you know to replace the "at" part with the actual sign? I don't want spiders harvesting the e-mail if at all possible!

Monday, April 04, 2005

What Would You Do?

Flogging the Quill: March 21, 2005 - March 27, 2005

Ray Rhamey is in the middle of a fascinating editing project. He posted the first ten pages of a novel by a very brave writer named Mike. Usually, Ray follows such a post with his critique of the work, but this time he's done something a little different. He asked those of us who read his blog to provide our own critiques of Mike's work. The results have been fascinating. If you'd like an education on how very different we are as writers and how that affects our evaluation of someone's work, read Ray's first post here. You'll learn something, I promise you!