Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In walks faith

The amazing thing about writing a novel is how it takes on a life of it's own. There comes a time when the characters begin to speak on their own, and act on their own, and as a writer I am just the pen and paper keeping track of it.

Most of the time, this is a good thing. I am thrilled with the development of characters, caught by surprise by the way the story is unfolding, better than I planned it. I get to uncover secrets. I get to fall in love with characters I thought I'd hate, or even ones I didn't give more than a passing thought too. This is the fun part. So far in my writing, this is mostly what happens.

But sometimes it isn't fun. Sometimes it takes you to a place you didn't want to go. Sometimes characters die. I remember reading an interview with Madeline L'Engle many years ago when she described the first time she read her developing story to her kids, and one of them got really angry that the character of Adam died (I believe this was her YA book, ARM OF THE STARFISH). He wouldn't talk to her for a week, other to insist that she change it. She told him that she couldn't change it. She didn't intend for Adam to die. But when the end of the story came, that was what had to happen. This happens to me sometimes, too. At the end of my first book, I found myself actually crying over one of the characters, wishing things could have been different for her, and feeling really angry that one of the other characters ended up with such a crappy life that he so didn't deserve. I really loved him, and wanted better.

And sometimes, it's just complicating. Today, I ran into complications. Since the beginning of this book, I intended Bab's faith and church to play a role in the book. Faith is part of many, many people's lives, and to leave it completely out of a book seems false to me. So it was a part of the story, but not the kind of thing that throws the book into a Christian-publisher-only realm.

Until Pastor Joel walked into the story today. And suddenly, faith became more important that I realized it was going to be. God is more important to this family than I believed. Scripture is swirling in the air. And suddenly I am caught in a conundrum I didn't want to be in: is this a Christian book? Is it now unsaleable in the secular marketplace?

There are other books that have made it in the mainstream with faith integral to the plot, although I think these days it is not usually Christian faith. There is a greater tolerance, at least in America, for other faiths that can be passed off as more cultural than spiritual. But even so, there are a few, like the Mitford Series, that do make it.

I'm not afraid of being a Christian author. I am, however, afraid of only targeting a Christian audience, because that is not what I feel like my mission as a writer is. But this book is what it is. To take this emerging faith out would be to strip it of it's soul.

For now, I continue to write. We go on with the path that we are on. But I am thrown for a loop, here. It's one thing to learn someone dies in the book, or that the rebel turns out to be the genius, but it's quite another to realize you may have to look at an entirely different group of agents. I don't want to pigeon-hole the book yet. It's still way too early. Who knows what other surprises are in store? I suppose, like Babs, I just have to have faith.


  1. I don't know exactly what this is like, but I can feel for you. I would feel rather stigmatized (pardon the pun) if I felt my book fell only into one segment of the population.

    Trust your characters (which I know you do) and see what happens. I'll be watching too. :)

  2. I am just now understanding how the characters write the book and the story unfolds itself. This is an amazing thing, but like you said, changing the market when you hadn't intended on it is a challenge.

    I have no doubt you will succeed and I enjoy looking forward to your progress.

  3. Heidi - I know you understand this. I disagree with Marcia that the Mennonite part of your story might be too heavy for mainstream. I think that is what makes the story what it is. And there is enough of the "secular" to balance it out, too.

    JKB: I'd think maybe writing genre like you write would have the same effect. Only a certain audience likes fantasy, only certain agents rep it. The spectrum is broader than religious books, but all the same, it limits the audience to some extent.

    And as I write this, I realize we aren't so different. :)

    Brittany: it's an amazing process. It's so fun and unexpectedly unexpected! Welcome to the writing world!

  4. HM Interesting. Interesting.

    That being said, even though I'm definitely not the "churchy" sort (being buddhist) I would still read a Christian book if it called out to me.

    So I think it all still comes down to the book. Write a good one, and bugger all what "area" of the bookstore its in.

    I agree about Heidi TH's Mennonite thing too. Her first chapter was abso-smurfly amazing. You read that yet?

  5. Heidi - have you ever watched Nooma? He does some videos which speak to anyone who is seeking what it means to be spiritual - by retelling scripture not thru quoting verses...but speaking truth. Maybe watching it might give you some idea how to communicate your ideas of faith to a world who is in desperate search of the only kind of Hope that Christ offers...without losing that very audience in the communication of a message about faith.

    Wow, that was long ramble to say: Check one of them out...I think one like this might give you ideas:

  6. I will definitely check that out! Faith is so important here, but I don't want to be preachy, because then the only people who would read it are not the people who need to hear it! There is both truth and mistruths in this book - people who get it and people who just don't. And those who do have to develop strength and trust in God to stand firm in what the Bible says, despite those who might say things to the contrary. But it's not the main driving plot of the book, either, so I don't want it to end up being preachy.

    I want to write secular books for the same reason I went to Penn State and not a Christian college: someone's got to be a light in the dark. Even if it's as simple as saying, as my first book did, that sometimes - in the face of great temptations - people can make the right choices, even if it is hard and requires sacrifice.

    Enough said. Time for sleep!Thanks for the link... I'll check it out!