Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Finding My Niche

When I was a college freshman, the first story I wrote for a creative writing class was one about a young teenage girl who was sexually abused by her father. She was very alone, a mostly self-imposed exile created by shame and fear. Despite a world of people reaching out to her, she continued to pull into her self. In the words of one of my critique partners, it was a macro piece of writing. One in which, in the last lines, her father calls to her, and she returns to him.

It stunned the class, the darkness of the mood and the unresolved ending, earning me an A+, a solid beginning to my career, and a strong reputation in the writing department.

More importantly, it made me realize the impact of reality on writing. At that point in life - for 18 year olds - stories usually wrapped up neatly, resolved if not completely happy. But when I wrote, I thought, "What would really happen here? What is most likely the outcome?" And I thought most likely, the young girl wouldn't be able to tell the deep dark secret, and the cycle of abuse would continue. And the power of that amazed me.

All of my writing has continued in that vein until now. The two loners who are drawn to each other and out to prove they're no different than the cool kids...then end up in a drunk driving accident after drinking too much. The six year old whose sister is dying of leukemia who gets left behind by her grieving parents at a funeral. The young woman who pushes away the one person she loves most because she wants so badly a taste of independence.

(Gee, now that I think about it, I think all of my writing has been macro character studies... note to self: must work on plot!)

Babs story was, I think, the first I wanted some semblance of happy ending. Not all neat and tied, but something happy. But within the book is a tremendous struggle of belief, wrestling with how God can be good and still let kids die; how he can say he answers prayers when so many bad things happen despite people praying for them; wondering if God can bring good things out of the bad, does that justify the bad?

And though it was very important to me that the book end somewhat on a positive note, I also didn't want to make those struggles easy, or offer pat answers, or any answers at all.

I'm feeling more and more drawn to this kind of writing: this Christian based fiction without all the answers. Real struggles without real answers. Finding a peace in God while still having a whole lot of puzzle pieces missing. Because this is how I see life. How I think a lot of people see life.

My sister wisely once told me that there are two types of Christians: the easy Christians, who accept everything without question, who are mostly joyful and at peace, and the struggling Christians, who wrestle daily with the hard truths of scripture, and wrestle with God for the answers.

As I continue to work my way through Christian fiction books to broaden my experiences (earlier pretty limited to historical Christian fiction and non-fiction), I'm finding that to be a place lacking. There are many more novels where the answers are too easy, a clear right and wrong. That's true to many things in Christianity... God is a God of absolute right and wrong in many aspects of life. But there are many areas in which there is not a guideline laid out of how to deal with current social issues, human issues of the heart, where we are called to pray and draw on the Holy Spirit, and then hope we are listening well enough.

I am more and more drawn to this - the struggling part of faith. And the more I let myself be open to the idea that this could be my niche - the more excited I am. My list of book ideas is growing, outlines forming. I am excited about the possibilities, and yet humbled by the weight of that kind of writing. And the responsibility of tackling issues of faith in a real and meaningful way.

Is it marketable? I don't know the answer to that. Perhaps there's a reason there isn't a lot of fiction that follows this path. But maybe, just maybe, it's time someone wrote it. And maybe, just maybe, that person is me.


  1. That's great that you're finding your niche. It's a big issue faith, something I struggle with a lot. Mostly because I wonder if God is a micro manager or a macro manager.

  2. Patti - I tend to think some of both, but not all at the same time.

    See? This is why I think this is such a great niche - I think a lot of people struggle with faith and how they view God. I think it's relevant even in a secular marketplace (although I must say, I think agents disagree on that one! :) ).

    I struggle too. I tend to ask the really hard questions, and I am my own worst devil's advocate. I don't think I could do the easy-Christian writing. But the struggle thing... that I get.

  3. Oh I'm for sure the second kind. Nothing's an easy answer for me.

    I really want you to be the person to lead the way in that kind of fiction. You are so good at it. Macro. Absolutely.

    Whoever signs you is smart.

  4. I struggled with admitting that I was becoming a Christian because I struggle with issues so much. It was not until I came to understand that even the people who had a strength of faith that I admired struggle with it (including pastors), that I could make that step.

    I also read this and think of how natural it is to struggle with God and think of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis. It is a great little episode that ends with God changing Jacob's name to Israel, which means "he struggles with God."

  5. anything is marketable (coming from a marketing person) - you just have to m,arket to the right audience - it may not be COMMERCIAL but I htink it is marketable. Check out Rachel gardner's blog (agent). Follow your heart - it can never lead you astray. ;)

  6. HtH - You're awesome. Back at ya!!

    Tony - I absolutely thought of Jacob when I was writing this post. What wonderful imagery! I love that God doesn't mind us wrestling with him!

    Shelli - It took me a while to figure it out, but audience is key. I think books like the Shack and Mitford Series prove that faith can be commercial, but they didn't start out that way.

    It's always been more about making a difference as a writer than making huge money and a name for myself.

  7. I'm glad you're taking the time to think this all through and to figure out where you fit in. It's been interesting to watch your journey, and I'm certain this is just the beginning. I'm a total believer in things happening for a reason, and maybe this is your reason, this (much questioned) path.


  8. I am someone who has struggled with faith a lot recently, mostly wishing I could believe. I did read "The Shack" when I was struggling with my brother's death and found some comfort there.

    Given I'm not your typical commentator on this subject I will say one thing. People like me gravitate toward some sort of explanation when faced with the death of a loved one. We want something out of the ordinary in way of explanation, someone who seemingly had all the answers wouldn't connect.

    I was amazed by your description of what you were drawn to write about. This feeds naturally into your approach to Christian writing--your insistence on hard truth, as much as any of us can find it.

  9. Marsh - Your comments meant a lot to me. I know you've really struggled at time, and the death - especially a sudden one - of someone close to us can trigger that!

    I am so glad that you identified with Babs, and with my writing, and are part of my support in this process. That means the world to me!