November 30, 2013

Christian or Secular? by Susan Barclay

Rebecca Miller's blog post, 'Christian Fiction - For What Purpose?', expresses dismay that "Christian writers would have no higher purpose" than to give readers another thrilling story. She argues that "stories can be about Christ, about faith in Christ, even about Christians and Christianity, and still be interesting and universal and timeless" and that Christian readers "would have no hesitation giving [these] books to their non-Christian friends."

I understand her argument, but I also wrestle with it. In reading over some of the other Inscribe posts from this month, I find myself nodding when Bonnie Way says, "So I believe that fiction's first (mandatory) purpose is to entertain; it's second (optional) purpose is to educate." I concur with Bruce Atchison's insight that the best Christian fiction doesn't tell the reader what to think, but encourages her to do her own thinking through a well-developed plot with realistic characters.I applaud Ruth Snyder's statement that "God is just as delighted with me expressing His image through a creative, fun story (fiction) as He is with a thought-provoking devotional (non-fiction)." I'm only sorry I don't have enough space in my own blog post to provide a quote from each of this month's thoughtful writers.

I've recently pulled out my unfinished novel and begun to write the pivotal, climactic scene. The book began as a secular read, with themes pertaining to family and forgiveness. At some point I considered whether to rework it for Christian readers, bringing in God and Christ and prayer. There wasn't enough conflict in the husband-wife relationship, so perhaps that could be increased by making one of the spouses a Christian and this could be a source of tension between them.

But then I wondered if making that change would seem forced. Isn't it okay to be a Christian writer whose story might gain a wider readership if not restricted by the "Christian" label and content? As Miller points out, even Christian publishing houses have moved away from producing books that are - pardon the phrase - overly Christian. While books can have strong Christian content and still be excellent (think Francine Rivers, for example), perhaps the important thing isn't so much to create an overtly Christian plot line, as to write a story that encourages a discussion of faith issues and leaves the reader thinking long after s/he has turned the last page.

Isn't it okay to deal with situations that can face anyone, Christian or not, and to discuss forgiveness in a broader context? After all, even non-Christians benefit from forgiving one another. And isn't it okay for non-believing characters to think about prayer, or to pray, even though they're not sure that anyone is listening?

As I push toward completion of my novel's first draft, I've decided to leave it as it is for now. I've found another conflict that can work for my married couple and, to be honest, at this point I just want to finish the thing.

Anyway, perhaps the real question to be asked concerns our motivation for writing. This, I think, is a little different from the "purpose" discussed in Miller's article, which strikes me more as "entertainment" vs. "lesson" or "moral". Is your motivation fame and fortune? Are you writing for yourself or for others?  Do you wish to display personal skill or honour God? Are you giving away any of your writing?

The writer who is Christian should want to please God in all that s/he does. This means involving Him. Maybe He has given you an idea or a fully developed piece. Maybe He is your first reader. Whatever the case, ask Him to guide you and to guide your writing. If God is at the centre of your work, you can trust Him to prepare those who will read it, and to ensure the maximum impact on their lives whether your story is branded as Christian or not.

Let's face it, once the story has been published, in whatever format, it's out of your hands anyway.
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For more of Susan Barclay's writing, please visit her website at www.susan-barclay.ca

November 29, 2013

Why I Wrote Cecile's Christmas Miracle - Ruth L. Snyder

People write fiction for many different reasons, several of which have been discussed already by other bloggers this month. As a Christian writer, I take my writing seriously. I believe that God has gifted me with an ability He expects me to hone and use to accurately reflect His image. This doesn't mean that what I write has to be heavy theology. In fact, I believe that God is just as delighted with me expressing His image through a creative, fun story (fiction) as He is with a thought-provoking devotional (non-fiction).



On December 5th, my novella, Cecile's Christmas Miracle, will be released in e-book format on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. (This is the 7th story in the Kathi Macias' 12 Days of Christmas series with Helping Hands Press.) There are several reasons I wrote this story:
  • To introduce people to the beautiful country and people of Botswana, where I spent several of my growing up years. Botswana is a land-locked country in southern Africa, most of which is part of the Kalahari Desert.
  • To force myself out of my comfort zone. I'm very comfortable writing short pieces and haven't written a novella or novel before. I like a challenge and this was an opportunity to write a longer piece.
  • To give people an enjoyable story that would make them think.
  • To show people in North America what it's like to spend Christmas overseas, where it is celebrated in the middle of summer with no snow, no turkey, and perhaps no family nearby
  • To remind people of the true essence of Christmas. In North America we often define Christmas by traditions (turkey and mistletoe), weather (snow), and shopping (gifts). People celebrating Christmas overseas are often stripped of these facades and forced to truly focus on the birth of Jesus Christ.
I found it enjoyable and challenging to write this story. It was fun because I was able to relive some childhood memories and share a treasured part of my life many of my friends know little about. It was also gratifying to rise to a challenge and conquer it. The challenge came in crafting a plot that was believable and entertaining, but also true to life and educational. When I did my research for the story, I was horrified to read about the resettlement of the San Bushmen. It was challenging to present that part of the plot in a way that didn't put anyone down, but at the same time showed the struggles that expatriates face in foreign countries.

What about you? Do you write fiction for any of the same reasons I do?

Ruth L. Snyder
Ruth L. Snyder was privileged to spend the first ten years of her life in southern Africa where her parents served as missionaries. Ruth now lives in north-eastern Alberta with her husband and five young children. She enjoys writing about her journey of faith, special needs, and adoption.

http://ruthlsnyder.wordress.com

November 28, 2013

POINT THE WAY, NOT THE FINGER - Bruce Atchison

I'm sure we've all come across those poorly-plotted books which tell rather than show. They contain unrealistic characters who never have problems and always have something to say about others' sins. Though I can't remember any titles that I've read, I certainly remember one dreadful record a friend bought for me.

This woman figured that I should listen to uplifting songs, not that "satanic" rock music on the local radio station. After church one Sunday, she handed me a plastic bag with an LP inside it. "I bought you this album for young people," she announced. "This music is so much nicer than that horrid rock music you listen to."

My suspicions were confirmed regarding this "music for young people" album. It contained preachy skits which sounded mawkish and tacky. The songs also sounded contrived as if the composer had no idea of what a young adult would appreciate. To be fair to my church friend, I managed to listen to the entire record but it was quite an ordeal.

When the woman asked how I liked that album after the next Sunday Service, I told her as politely as I could that I didn't enjoy it. She gave the LP to her nephew when I returned it to her.

On the other hand, a good example of a well-written book is In Search of Truth by T. L. Wiens. It's a fictional account of an abused girl who ends up on the street. Bad church experiences turned her away from Christianity but the example of caring believers eventually lured her to the point where she made Christ her Lord. Then things really got interesting.

The story is a perfect example of showing rather than telling. Even better, this is the sort of book one could give to unsaved friends since it doesn't wag the finger in the reader's face. Though it does show some believers involved in sin, it also contrasts the Pharisee-like behaviour of legalists with the loving example of committed evangelicals.

I also strove to show rather than to tell what happened to me when I joined a toxic house church. Rather than bash that cult leader and his sheep dog-like elders in my memoir, I let them "incriminate" themselves through their speech and actions. How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual bookworm Publishers.

Bruce Atchison is a legally-blind freelance writer as well as the author of How I Was Razed, Deliverance from Jericho, and When a Man Loves a Rabbit. He lives in a small Alberta hamlet with his house rabbit, Deborah.

November 26, 2013

Fiction's First Purpose - Bonnie Way

In my creative nonfiction class this semester, one of our assignments is to prepare a book proposal.  We are supposed to research and pick a publisher, write a sample chapter, and outline our theoretical book—table of contents, back cover copy, who we are writing for, and why they'd want to read this.  As a writer, I find this a very useful exercise.  I also find it very daunting.  Over and over again, I find myself wondering, "Who would want to read about me?"

That question doesn't bother me when I'm writing fiction.  I have written a series of young adult fantasy novels (unpublished so far) and am currently working on a historical novel.  I've never stopped to ask why I'm writing any of these stories.  As a teenager, I simply wrote what I wanted to read.  As a voracious reader and a more experienced writer, I've continued to write what I would want to read.

When I sit down to read, I grab a novel.  I want a story to pull me in, to make me forget my everyday life, and even to teach me a little bit.  I like novels such as Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which tells a page-turning story while also challenging me as a reader to think about how I view children with Down's Syndrome.  Or books like The Offering by Angela Hunt, which explores a current issue while drawing me into a character's life so I sympathize with her dilemma.

Stories are powerful.  They have the ability to slip under a reader's defenses, to reach a person in ways that a sermon or article or nonfiction book never can.  That is not to say that story must have a purpose or an ulterior goal.  While I enjoy novels that challenge me, I also read them first and foremost for the story.  If the story is too preachy, then I as a reader will tune out the messageSo I believe that fiction's first (mandatory) purpose is to entertain; it's second (optional) purpose is to educate.

November 25, 2013

Our Job as Christian Writers - Bobbi Junior

To show, not tell, takes on new meaning in this age of rapid social and technological change. 

On the surface, our society has the appearance of privilege, luxury, fulfillment. But what are our neighbours really dealing with?

Debt; unemployed graduates with broken dreams; abusive relationships; stalkers; technology parents don’t understand; addiction; unlimited access to pornography; easy fixes like abortion that torment the soul; unachievable expectations; businesses over-stretching and collapsing; growing numbers of seniors; governments drowning in debt and confusion; lack of leadership; protests; and the constant lie that ‘more’ and ‘me’ will finally bring joy.

As writers, our job is to stand on the balcony and observe the world around us. Our Christian worldview provides a perspective unique in today’s society. With scriptural principals guiding us, we have the opportunity to witness to those locked into serving the gods of this age, trapped by the allure of temptation, then scorned for succumbing.

We watch and record change and it’s effect. Then, with prayer, we report how God is working in the midsthe who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8)

Our craft reminds us constantly to show, not tell.

How can we show...
  • The peace that passes all understanding;
  • The faith that allows us to be thankful in all things;
  • The joy we receive as we grow through troubling times;
  • How can we show Jesus’ love to a drowning world?
Those he calls, he also equips. No matter the genre, in all we write and share, Christ’s love for the lost and broken must be the underlying theme - be it overt or subtle. In Jesus alone, hope abounds. 

In 2011 Bobbi’s mother's progression into dementia could no longer be ignored. One day Mom demanded, "Someone needs to write about this!" In response, Bobbi began to explore her mother’s journey and her own struggles as a caregiver. Her learnings are documented on her blog at www.bobbijunior.com, and in a memoir, The Reluctant Caregiver


photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

November 24, 2013

Christian Fiction's Not For Everyone - Lynn Dove

When I published my first book someone asked me why I would want to write Christian fiction?  In fact his exact words were: "You are such a good writer, why do you want to limit yourself writing Christian fiction when you could probably have a great career writing other kinds of books?"

I know what he was trying to say was that if I just wrote what the "world" wanted I would probably have a larger audience of readers.  You know, he does have a point...

Writing from a Christian worldview, will limit my reading audience somewhat.  Christian readers will naturally embrace the message but many others will not even pick up the book if it says "Christian" anywhere on the cover or in the storyline.

Several years ago, I participated in a book giveaway so that I could get a few book reviews on Amazon.  It was a good marketing strategy and I had numerous people post reviews.  Unfortunately, although I was completely up front with telling potential reviewers that my books were written from a Christian world-view a young lady whom I later discovered was an atheist, requested my books and she proceeded to write a scathing review slamming every aspect of the book just because it was Christian!  Although I was at first unhappy and distressed by the negative review, I have since learned to accept it and rejoice in the fact that she read my book cover to cover and the Gospel message was shared with that person.  Who knows?  Maybe a seed was planted!

As much as my reading audience may be limited according to some, Christian Fiction is becoming more and more popular with a world-wide reading audience (especially in the young adult genre that I write in).  Tired of the occult and paranormal fare that has dominated the market for years parents and teens alike are now looking for wholesome messages and family-friendly books.  They are looking for well-written literature that is not filled with expletives and graphic sexual content.  They are looking for books that give them hope.

"Sales of religious paperback books represent a significant market share in today’s publishing arena. The new gospel on book sales has spiritual and religious titles crossing over into mainstream bookstores and taking upwards of 7 percent of all book sales. The Purpose Driven Life, for instance, has sold over 22 million copies." http://www.christiancommunitynetworking.com/apps/blog/show/8056956-books-news-and-publishing-industry-statistics 

Do I sometimes feel like a little fish swimming in a great big sea if I compare my books with the blockbuster secular books of today?  Absolutely.  As a Christian I know that the "world" has a dominating influence right now and people will wallow freely in their own sin.  Books written that glorify sin will be popular...for now...

I still need to stay true to what I believe in and the message I want my readers to grasp hold of...the Hope that is only found in Jesus Christ.

Lynn Dove calls herself a Christ-follower, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a teacher and a writer (in that order). She is the author of award winning books: The Wounded Trilogy.  Her blog, Journey Thoughts won a Canadian Christian Writing Award - 2011.  She has also had essays published in LifeWay magazines: "HomeLife" and "Parenting Teens", "Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul - Parenthood" (March 2013).  Readers may connect with Lynn on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog: Journey Thoughts and on her website: www.shootthewounded.org

November 21, 2013

Who Am I?- Sulo Moorthy

I love to paint pictures, but I use no brush

I sprinkle seeds to take root, but I'm neither a farmer nor a gardener

I do cut and chop at times, but never in the kitchen

I produce talking snakes and flying pigs out of thin paper, but I'm no magician

I travel many places without leaving my seat, but I'm not a heavenly being

I sit, stare and sigh most my working hours, yet no one dares to fire me

I receive no pension nor a monthly salary, yet I choose not to quit my work
Others know me by my voice rather than my face

I marvel at others' work, but my very own I tend to doubt a lot

Silk and scent do not entice me as books and blogs do

I hold a wealth that counts so much, yet others see me as poor and unemployed

I call my work a ministry, but I do not work within the church

Who Am I?

November 20, 2013

What If? by Brenda J Wood

I apologize. Every time I post here, something goes wrong. The stuff sticks itself in draft form forever or else appears on the wrong day and squeezes another author's writing to the bottom of the page.

How does that happen? I have no idea. I think I am following the clear directions, so it must be the computer, right? But what if it isn’t? What if the fault is me? What if people are not reading my scribbles because I subconsciously shoot myself in the foot/mouth every time?

What if I believe what I say has no value but I post because it’s my time slot? What if I am secretly hoping to fail so that I can blame my lack of success on something that is not me? What if I really do not have anything worthy to say?

To enlarge on that topic, what if my book isn’t published because I never send or have enough stamps on hand or the time is not right, or my Mom doesn’t like it?

Surely, I am not the only one suffering from delusional, hypocritical, self-devaluating thoughts, am I? (Please say no!!)

Writers must be courageous, for we put ourselves on the line every day. We must develop the ability to face difficulty, uncertainty, or worse, without being overcome by fear or being deflected from our chosen course of writing action.

What if I decided to overcome my computer/fear by only posting on my exact day, the 20th of the month. (Unfortunately, the 20th of last month slipped by without notice on my part…of course, there was that time change and the computer didn’t automatically turn over…sigh!)

What if I have more work to do in the courage department?


Brenda J Wood
http://heartfeltdevotionals.com

November 17, 2013

CHRISTIAN FICTION? by Bryan Norford

Fiction writing is God’s idea. The Bible’s full of it. From the stories of Nathan’s ewe lamb; Jeremiah’s marred pottery; to Isaiah’s vineyard; the Old Testament spins many tales of humanity’s broken sinfulness and God’s restoration.


Jesus’ many parables simply followed a long tradition explaining the truths of the kingdom. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” was His signature beginning of stories that told of God’s love and redemption, or of judgment to come for the unrepentant.

Christians throughout the centuries—whether writing for believers or unbelievers—when driven by the Holy Spirit, have attempted at some level to express the nature of God, and the godly values derived from Him; and much of that was written through fiction.


C. S. Lewis claimed: “Any amount of theology can be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.” His fantasy yarns in Narnia, and his humorous banter in Screwtape Letters point to the truth about God just as much as the logic of Mere Christianity.

So writers, who are Christian, have imaginations inspired and fired by the Holy Spirit as they write their modern parables. From romance to high adventure, their signature “Once upon a time . . .” (rarely used but always understood), points to sublime truths that raise the human condition.

But are these pictures of God’s character, often concealed in figurative language, understood by the reader? That question raises another question; why use parables? Contrary to popular perception, parables conceal, as much as reveal, the truth they proclaim.


Isaiah was the first to record God’s warning that a calloused people would, “be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving” (Isaiah 6:9). When the disciples asked Jesus why He used parables, He quoted that passage from Isaiah (Matthew 13:14).

Previously He’d said: “The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you, but not to them” (Matthew 13:11), explaining that the one who has will receive abundantly, and those with nothing will lose even that.


His words, like a riddle, remind us the same Holy Spirit that inspires the writer, also illumines the reader. An open heart will prompt the Spirit to give more understanding; a closed heart will lose even the opportunity.

This life may never reveal those drawn to Christ through our writing, fact or fiction. Be assured, He will not inspire us unless someone awaits our message.




November 16, 2013

A Priestly Business - by Marcia Janson



Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


When you think about it, reading fiction is kind of odd.  We voluntarily suspend disbelief and allow our minds to become part of an alternate reality. For a few hours, we jump into life events in another place and time while embracing the worldview of characters who may be very different from us.  It’s an escape from the present moment that is kind of like an island stopover between the lands of waking and dreaming. Even though our intellectual minds are in control of the whole process, there is a sense in which our imaginations open us to a dream world where fantasy and reality intersect.

When we close the book, we must re-focus on our own lives, but something has changed. The remnants of the novel’s events or atmosphere tend to linger on, affecting our mood and even our outlook on life. Good fiction quite often inspires a sense of unrest in our minds, as we try to come to terms with a new understanding of human existence. That’s usually a good thing, but how it affects us depends on what types of characters the author has created and what philosophy of life drives their attitudes and behaviour.

We may come away from some novels feeling just terrible. A certain dark cynicism or fear tries to creep in, pushing Godly hope into the background. Alternatively, it is wonderful if the writer has, in some subtle way, woven God threads into the fabric of the story. Even a tiny spark of redemptive love or surprising joy in the midst of despair can make the human spirit sing.

Gore Vidal once made an intriguing comment: 

Writing fiction has become a priestly business in countries that have lost their faith.”  

There’s a lot of truth in that. In Canada, it seems that the majority of people consider spirituality to be a side issue.The general cultural message is, “Follow whatever god you wish, but don’t bring your faith into the public square.”  

Outside the walls of the Church, not many people read Bibles or buy Christian novels and magazines. As Gore Vidal’s remark implies, that does not mean that people aren’t looking for answers to the deep questions of life. The world of fiction - that island stopover between waking and dreaming - is a place where the heart and intellect can enter into and live a story together. There is spiritual hunger out there and Christian fiction writers in particular have an opportunity to provide a small oasis where people can sample a little taste of God’s banquet. 




 
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison
 
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Photo credit
Woman with candle - http://www.flickr.com/photos/glassified_seconds/7648000958/

November 15, 2013

A Case For Fiction - Tracy Krauss

The question has been asked, "What is the purpose of Christian fiction?" If we break it down to the bare essentials, there are basically two answers. One is to bring people to Christ while the other is to encourage those that are already believers. One focuses on evangelizing while the other focuses on discipleship. Both have value and both can be achieved within a single work.

However, what about fiction that does not have blatant Christian content? Is writing for a secular market a viable option for a Christian? I believe the answer is 'yes'.

One doesn't have to look far for some great examples. Allegorical work by masters like C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien are full of moral lessons, Christian values, and references to Biblical stories. Sometimes these are subtle and sometimes they are not. Even though readers not schooled in Christian teaching may never realize that the message is pointing to Christ, they are wonderful stories worth reading.

Allegories aside, I would argue that learning a moral lesson isn't the only reason for reading a good book. Like any art form, good literature can enlighten, entertain, and enhance our lives. As creative beings modelled after the Great Creator, we can and should embrace the pleasure of well written words strung together simply for the beauty of it. Think of some of the other things in life that bring enjoyment: the beauty of nature, listening to music, watching a baby, eating your favourite meal... While these activities may make you ponder the Almighty's magnificence, you don't necessarily have to have an all out spiritual experience every time you engage in them.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good book just for the sake of enjoying a good book. God created us to enjoy life; to take pleasure in the simple things, and I believe that story telling is part of that. While there is a place for deeply spiritual reading, there is also a place for simple stories that do little more than bring a smile.

On the flip side, there is also a place for stories that make us think; that ask hard questions and make us ponder humanity in all its frailty. Some of my favourite works of literature - both classic and modern - have some disconcerting content. One of my favourite genres is dystopian literature whose main purpose is to point out these human shortcomings. Rather than discourage me, I find I am pointed toward God, even if the book is a secular one, since He alone is the only answer to the profound questions raised.

I'm glad that God is a God of infinite variety. There is a place for evangelistic Christian fiction, fiction that seeks to deepen the reader's walk with God, and fiction that is only meant to entertain. There is even room for fiction that stretches our comfort zones just a bit, as long as it doesn't lead us away from faith in God. So, readers, keep on reading, and authors, keep writing what you are called to write.

Tracy Krauss resides in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC where she teaches secondary school Drama, Art and English. She has several stage plays and novels in print. Visit her website: http://www.tracykrauss.com  for more details.