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.