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).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thrilled


Anne Rice's new book, out in November Posted by Picasa

I'm taking a moment to be thrilled by a recent comment. It was in response to this post about the book pictured above. The person making the comment was Anne Rice.

I've always considered her to be a role model worth following as she writes beautifully. I'd read many of her books and was always inspired by her use of the language. But after I became a Christian, in my wrong-headedness, I thought reading someone like Anne, who writes about vampires and witches, was forbidden. So, I threw out all her books along with Stephen King's. Now I could shoot myself! How silly of me! Did I really think the books could harm me? Apparently, I thought something, but what it was, I'm not sure. :-)

So, I am thrilled not only that she left a comment, but what she said about the books she wrote. Here's part of it:
I think it was a hunger for meaning -- the idea that even if you couldn't believe in God, there was a meaning to all this. The vampires were metaphors for the outsider, for me, for feeling damned.
Isn't that what Jesus is all about? Coming for the lost, for those who feel damned? I felt that way at one time. Maybe that's why I relate to her.

Thank you, Anne. You made my day!

This is her website.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A CBA Author's Rant


Peace! Posted by Picasa

A Life in Pages: Sometimes I get irked . . .:
"Good grief, if there's one place where we ought to be forebearing and gentle with each other, it's in the area of the arts! Taste is so subjective, and what may thrill me may leave you lukewarm."
*****
"I'm not irked--I'm hurt--when I read reviews or comments by other believers criticizing the work of other believers. Our mothers were right--if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Or if you must say something, let's try spurring each other to excellence, let's teach each other; let's keep lifting the bar and encouraging each other to offer nothing less than excellence to our Lord. Whether you write for the Christian market or the world at large, if you are a believer, then you should be offering the work of your hands and heart as a worthy sacrifice."
Angela Hunt has her say over on her blog, A Life in Pages. Let me make two comments right away: (1) She's entitled to her opinion and I support her right to air it 100%; (2) I've had so much trouble believing she said what she said it's taken me a few days to recover.

Okay, I lied. Three things: (3) I've read hundreds of CBA novels including some recent ones. Let's face it, when Ms. Hunt talks about "Christian books," she probably talking about CBA books. Why? Because people don't generally make comments about the literary value of Marilynne Roinson's Gilead, or the commercial value of Susan Howatch's Glittering Images, which are Christian fiction books. No, when people criticize the works of other believers, they are most likely talking about someone in the CBA, which is where Ms. Hunt is published. And this, she says, we ought to abstain from doing. Because we're believers. And believers in Christ ought to be nice to one another, shouldn't argue, should just do as their mother told them to do. Be nice.

Well, I'm all for nice. Don't get me wrong. There isn't anything more counter-productive than one person screaming at another. It just doesn't get anything solved. So, I agree with her that far. But as for critiquing one another? Well, I have to say I'm astounded. How does she expect CBA fiction (or any body of work) to grow if no one says anything about the quality currently being produced? In an even tempered way. How does she expect our craft to improve unless we challenge one another? And that we'd only do it privately, behind closed doors? Why? If we're working to change what is already a fine produce, why would we be ashamed to deal with it in an open and forthright manner? NOT a nasty one.

People in the arts, be they Christians or not, discuss their art and that of others. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't. But the free exchange of ideas seems to me to be a necessary component in the ongoing vitality of any artistic community. Yes, you could do it one-on-one, in private, but why is that necessary in any place other than, say, China? As long as we're civil, I don't see the problem. I realize that scripture tells us to be unified, but I don't think that means we're to keep our mouths tightly shut and never venture an opinion.

Are we not called to excellence in the gifts we've been given? And if so, how in heaven's name are we to achieve that if we can't talk openly among ourselves?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Mr. Difficult

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Mr. Difficult

Dwelling for a moment on what he truly believes, Franzen admits to being caught between two divergent models of how fiction relates to its readers.

Status: Great novels are works of art. Those who create them, geniuses who deserve any and all credit due to them. Value exists separately from whether people enjoy a book or not.

Contract: The first purpose of writing is to connect. A novel deserves attention only as long as the author sustain's a readers interest.
Another great post by Dave. Read the whole thing!

Monday, July 18, 2005

July Celebration of New Christian Fiction

Paula Moldenhauer is hosting this month's Celebration on her blog, GraceReign. Check it out here!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Authentic Characters


"Art can only be Art by presenting an adequate outward symbol of some fact of the interior life." Margaret Fuller Posted by Picasa

Characters are at the core of what we do as writers. We can't simply prop up newly cut out people and walk them around the stage like children do with paper dolls. No, it's so much more than that. As Robert McKee said in his book Story, "...we explore the inscape of human nature, expressed in poetic code." We create characters who (as McKee also says) become metaphors for humanity. As we study and learn about them, they become so real to us it seems impossible that they could be mere figments of our imagination. The challenge, though, is taking what we know about them, and making them come alive to our readers. Not an easy task.

One trick in presenting the "outward symbol" is to put the character into a situation that tests his mettle. I've seen too many writers placidly walking their characters through chapters where nothing happens. They begin at Point A and end up at Point A1. Where is the challenge to the character? Without such a challenge, he doesn't have a chance to express his inward self, nor does that self have a change to grow. Conflict is at the heart of every bit of writing we do, and without it, our characters live their lives in "quiet desperation," never quite achieving whatever greatness might come to them were they required to face down a dragon, stand up to an abusive spouse, or ask for a raise from a recalcitrant boss.

Another tool of the craft, which is proffered so often many writers groan when they hear the phrase is, yes, show don't tell. The truth is, there's so much more to that advice than a character who bangs her fist on the table rather than the author using an expression like, "She was angry." That's elemental. The giants in the business do much more. You might, for instance, find a certain inconsistency in a first-person account of the protagonist's life. Hmm, she says this here, but then over here she's saying something quite different. What does that mean? Is she a liar or is she lying to herself? Is she a scatterbrain or very shrewd? Plus, whether it's first- or third-person, a good writer builds up a body of knowledge about the character within the pages of her story. You don't have to be told certain things when they happen because you already know how devastating they'll be to that character. That's showing at it's finest.

And finally, as you write, be authentic within yourself. Look at your own emotions and don't be afraid to follow the less desirable ones down some dark hallways. Life is not all sunny brightness and sometimes, even by the grace of God, people continue to struggle when every expectation is that they'd thrive. Examine your similar feelings even though the circumstances might be very different, and let your characters struggle with, or even embrace, such feelings. People are complex and their reactions in a given situation should be no less so. Deal with your own complexities and allow them in your characters. Your readers will recognize the authenticity of your characters if you provide them with the honesty of yourself.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Is the CBA Changing?

After I found the commentary about Andy Crouch's speech on Mark Bertrand's site, I dug a little deeper. [I don't know about you, but even using an aggregator, I find it very hard to keep up with everyone's blogs especially since some people don't use any kind of rss feed.] Anyway, I found this fascinating piece, entitled The [Same Old] New Christian Fiction :
"What interests me more than the changes in the industry are the transformations afoot among its critics. (And here, I'm going to pick up my lance and tilt at another windmill. The CBA is too large and too set in its ways to listen to anything I have to say -- and its writers and readers seem to be a tad too defensive to take any criticism without a hurumph.) Mick Silva, for example, has apparently been pressured to drop his prophetic tone and adopt a kinder, gentler view of the Christian Booksellers Association, celebrating the fact that 'Christian fiction is much more diverse and interesting than first blush would suggest.' I myself have gone from advocating nationwide bonfires to sounding an irenic note, suggesting that writers might -- if they want to, if it's how they feel God leading, if it isn't too offensive to bring up the subject -- want to model themselves on better artists, might want to ask if there is something more to do in art than entertain and evangelize. Or not. Over the past year, I've tempered my tone considerably."

If you haven't already, read the whole thing. And don't forget the Comments section!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

PublishersWeekly.com HTML Newsletter

Vampire chronicler Anne Rice is raising the stakes in her newest novel. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Knopf, Nov.) is an autobiography of Jesus at age 7. Rice told BookLine the subject turnabout is no stretch for her fans--her books about vampires and witches have always explored good and evil. For research, she sank her teeth into extensive biblical scholarship. "If I can make vampires so real that people would call me up at home and ask about them, can I make them feel the presence of Jesus Christ?" she asked. Rice should find built-in interest in general bookstores, but will this new novel find acceptance in the CBA market? Knopf is working with WaterBrook, Random House's evangelical Christian imprint, to open the door into the evangelical network of stores, buyers and distributors. "We're going to lean on them a little bit," said Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity at Knopf. WaterBrook will encourage key bookstores to host the author, sending them a letter to readers written by Rice. In the letter, the author, who has returned to the Catholic faith in which she was raised, explains her hope to make Jesus come alive through her story. Advertising and publicity will target both mainstream and faith-based media, including print magazines and online portals and blogs. Knopf aims big, with a first printing of 500,000.
The idea of Anne Rice writing a book about Jesus is fascinating. I haven't read one of her books in a long time, but I remember her as being a good writer and very, well ... sensual. Take that information along with the many vampire books she's written, and you get what? I'm not sure. Someone who hungers for the supernatural, or, dare I say it, the transcedent? I'm willing to withhold judgment and read her book, but I wonder how many Christians feel that way?

I am reminded of what the senior pastor at my old church liked to say: "If God used a donkey to deliver His message, He can use me." Or Anne Rice? She just might surprise some people!

Monday, July 11, 2005

More on Crouch's Speech at CBA

Here's more information from J. Mark Bertrand's site on who Andy Crouch is and what he's done. I remember very well the Christianity Today article he wrote on what it was like to read all the Christy nominees when he was a judge. It was an eye-opener and convinced me to never write a novel about a small town.

Update: Also, check out the Faith in Fiction board, here. They are attempting to dissect Crouch's speech and everyone has an opinion.

Crouch said:
So I plead with you, as a reader, as a fellow follower of the Incarnate One, as someone who daily wonders how this gospel to which I am giving my life can possibly be true--I plead with you not to tell me stories which improve on the world. Instead, tell me stories about the world as it is, strange and real and full of grace
Personally, I think Andy Crouch was saying that "escapist" Christian fiction is fiction where everything ultimately works out. Characters in such fiction face problems, go through a dark time, and ultimately, thanks to the Lord, come out of the experience better people with a stronger faith in God. Which sounds good, at least on the surface. I think Crouch, though, believes a lot of such fiction is all surface, no depth, unrealistic in that crisis situations don't work according to a timetable, that they are often ugly, sloppy affairs, that people walk away from God never to return. It isn't nice and neat and tied up with a bow. It isn't a cure-all, nor Disneyland. It's life--a life where the grace of God is desperately needed.

Yet, just as some Christians hang out in church on Sundays and Wednesdays, shop in Christian bookstores, visit Christian friends, drink cofee in Christian coffee shops, and generally never dip their toe into secular water, so we perpetuate that Christian ghetto by reading escapist Christian literature. Some of us never dream that we might find profound insight into the mind of Christ by reading something different. As if God is limited somehow as to how He might minister to us.


Wonderful Speech at CBA

Here is a link to the speech Andy Crouch delivered at CBA, which is now called ICRS. Make sure you read the whole thing!

Culture Makers | Instant Messages:
"But you are fiction writers. Perhaps one of you could introduce me to that one-legged man in Kampala. Tell me his story. Or if you can' ’t introduce me to him, introduce me to someone I never would have met, a sailor called Ishmael, an aging pastor named John Ames, a lover of poetry named Elizabeth Landis. Introduce me, if you must, to a whale. Someone or something unexpected and utterly true. Write to rescue me, rescue all of us, rescue even us Christian writers, from our addiction to our safe, sheltered, virtual stories. Rescue me from my instant messages. Deliver me out of this dream world, out of this endlessly diverting Holodeck of the self, into the real world, —the world that is so terrible and so glorious and so full of grace that only imagination can make it whole."