“Christian Fiction”

I’ve wrestled with this topic for awhile now mostly because I’m trying to figure out my niche as a writer. I am a Christian, and I write fiction. Does that mean that I need to write “Christian” fiction? Or, can I be a fiction writer who also happens to be a Christian?

You probably understand what I mean when I differentiate between these two labels. It’s the same as “Christian music” versus musicians who are Christian. When I think of “Christian music,” I think about musicians like Steven Curtis Chapman, Kutless, Third Day, Jars of Clay, and the like. There’s nothing wrong with the way that these artists create their music. They have a very specific audience. Some would argue that their work is not creative, that contemporary Christian music all sounds the same, etc. When I’m in a bad mood, I tend to agree with extra doses of cynicism. When I’m in a better mood, I realize that a lot of people enjoy and appreciate this kind of music, and it fits a specific purpose. There’s nothing wrong about it; it’s just not my cup of tea most of the time.

However, there are also musicians who are Christian who write music very differently. Some representative examples from this camp are Sufjan Stevens, members of U2, Mumford & Sons, Denison Witmer, etc. Inevitably, their faith bleeds into their music, but their music is also open to a much wider audience because their honest expression appeals to people who fall within and without of the circles of religion. Let me note here that I am not saying that contemporary Christian musicians are not being honest in their musical expression. It’s just different. (Please don’t get your knickers in a twist.)

Growing up in an evangelical home, I read more than my fair share of Christian fiction. Frank Peretti, Brock and Bodie Thoene, Janette Oke, Francine Rivers, Gilbert Morris, and many more were common staples in our household library. I haven’t read any books by any of these authors in years, but I have good memories of their vivid storytelling. Honestly, a lot of their writing inspired me to write. So again, I can’t really knock Christian fiction.

At the same time, I’m just not sure that I have it in me to follow in these authors’ footsteps. I feel like too often, Christian authors (not necessarily those named above) are under pressure to produce feel-good stories that don’t really capture the reality of life around us. Honestly, life is hard, and it frequently sucks. (Yep, great descriptor, I know.) For me, even though I have a penchant for writing fantasy which is decidedly “non-real”, I still don’t see the point in sugar-coating the human experience. The Bible doesn’t, so why should I? Perhaps this is a general trend within the American church that is impacting its artists–the idea that we want comfort and don’t want to deal with harsh or painful matters.

Anyway, there is so much more to be said on this topic, and it’s something that I’ve been muddling through for years, really. I’ll be posting more about this topic in the near-ish future.

What are your thoughts about Christian fiction?

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“Nostalgia”

[Originally written for an assignment having to do with details and the five senses. I haven’t posted anything specifically creative–of my own–in awhile so I figured I’d drop this in here.]

As Silver pushed the canvas flap out of her way, the smell of roasted peanuts and freshly popped corn wrapped warmly around her and slithered away to leave her cool in the night air. Inside the crimson and ivory striped tent, the audience continued to roar, still dazed by the aerialist’s death defying act. Every crowd was the same. The tinny accompaniment never changed. The same costumes, the same tricks… Silver could do her act with her eyes closed and often performed with a blindfold, but life had snuffed the thrill of her art out long ago.

Walking across the circus grounds to the airstream trailer she shared with Madge, she breathed in the chill and exhaled a damp cloud. Every step was a monumental effort. By the time she reached the trailer, her arms covered in gooseflesh, all she wanted was to crawl into bed and feel the embrace of a sleeping pill, but Madge’s sharp eyes would notice something was wrong.

“You look like the elephants trampled you,” Madge said, her throaty voice raspier than usual, the ubiquitous Virginia Slim clamped between her index and middle finger. “What’s wrong, princess?”

“Just tired, I guess,” Silver said, managing a gloomy smile. “I think I might be pms-ing.”

Madge squinted at her then raised one painted eyebrow skeptically. However, she only added, “Best get some rest then. Go ahead and get cleaned up, and I’ll make some hot cocoa.”

“Thanks, Madge.”

 

Silver examined her reflection in the three-paneled mirror ringed in bright bulbs. She had already washed off her stage makeup in the sink, and her features looked pinched and sickly in the bright lighting. What had happened to her? A year ago, her eyes would have sparkled, and her cheeks would have been rosy from the rush of performing. In fact, she would probably still be in the circus tent, watching the rest of the performance like an eager child.

She turned abruptly from the mirror and picked up a bottle of expensive lotion—a gift from an admirer. Flicking the cap open, she breathed in the cherry almond scent and felt tears prick her eyes. As she moisturized, her gaze lost its focus, and she saw her mother sitting at a dilapidated vanity, slathering on cherry almond lotion as if it would miraculously spin back the hands of time.

“Always moisturize,” she said in her soft Southern drawl. “If there’s anything your grandmother ever taught me, it was to moisturize religiously.”

Sitting cross-legged on the foot of the full bed they shared, Silver picked at a scab on her knee and wrinkled her nose. “But why?” she asked, confused by the nightly ritual.

“Because you only have the one skin,” her mother replied. “When your grandmother passed, she looked not a year over forty-five.”

Snapping out of her reverie, Silver muttered, “And what good is young looking skin when cancer takes you?” She slammed the lotion onto the vanity. “What good is it if you’re dead?”

Her mother’s funeral had been on a chilly night like this one. Only a scraggly handful of mourners were in attendance. None of them said anything. Silver’s eulogy was choked, and the cloying smell of too many lilies—her mother’s favorite flower—sent her into a coughing fit.

In her cheap casket, Silver’s mother looked even more drawn than she had in her last days. The cancer had wasted her body, performed a deadly liposuction, and taken even her dewy skin. Silver could hardly bare to look at the corpse before the funeral director closed the lid of the coffin. With all the arrangements paid for from her earnings with the circus, Silver did not linger. There was nothing left to mourn.

 

Madge slid a steaming mug of hot cocoa across the table to Silver, watching as the younger woman held it tightly between her hands. “Don’t burn yourself,” Madge warned, lighting up another Virginia Slim.

“Don’t,” Silver spat.

Madge froze, cigarette halfway to her mouth. “Don’t what?” she asked.

Wordlessly, Silver took the cigarette and stubbed it out in the ash tray. “That’s what killed my mother.”

Madge made a fluttery move to protest, then settled on holding her own cup of cocoa. “I didn’t know.”

“No one does,” Silver said, her voice barely louder than a whisper. She took a scalding sip from her mug, wincing at the pain but appreciating the clarity it brought her mind. “What does anyone really know about me anyway?”

Madge kept silent.

Silver took a more cautious sip, swirling the liquid around in her mouth, tasting the sweetness. Her mother, older, with thinning hair from the chemo, stirred a battered saucepan on the hot plate. A teenaged Silver observed the process, taking mental notes.

“Use good chocolate, Silver,” she was saying. “Belgian or Swiss if you can find it.”

Silver watched as the tiny chunks of broken Hershey bar disappeared into the heavy whipping cream in the saucepan.

“And never heat it too high or you’ll burn the milk. Nothing quite so unforgiving as burnt hot chocolate.” She smiled at her daughter. “And then what do we add?”

“You added nutmeg,” Silver said with surprise.

“I thought I would try something different,” Madge commented proudly. “I’ve been reading those Martha Stewart magazines, and she’s always dressing up the basics. I figured I’d give it a whirl.” Her smile faltered. “Do you…not like it? I can make some more without the nutmeg…”

Silver shook her head. “No, no…it’s wonderful, Madge.” Her roommate beamed. “It just reminds me of my mom.” She began to cry, wiping at her tears ineffectually.

“Oh…” Madge got up and knelt awkwardly next to Silver, putting one of her bony arms around her. Silver could smell stale cigarette smoke on her. Rather than be repulsed, she turned into the awkward embrace and buried her face in her friend’s ratty bathrobe and cried as she had not cried at her mother’s funeral. She cried for the loss of her mother, and she cried for the impossibility of new memories. All she had was the smell of lotion, the taste of nutmeg in hot chocolate, the smell of lilies and cigarette smoke. It would never be enough.

Emerging

braveheart freedom

(me)

I wrapped up my MA program on Monday morning (my time), and I have to say it’s a little surreal. It’s also a little sad to be out of a program where I was able to hang out with a bunch of other writers and supportive, helpful professors. Suddenly though, I have…free time. My husband and I celebrated my degree completion by ordering pizza and playing the Borderlands Pre-Sequel. It was glorious. [Side note: playing Claptrap is both hilarious and infuriating, especially when using your action skills because you never know what is going to happen. You’ve been warned.]

 

The fact of the matter is, although I feel like I have all of this time now–and I really do in a lot of ways–I also really don’t have that time available to screw off. Even though I finished my program and submitted a thesis that met all the assignment requirements, I still have an incomplete novel on my hands. I also have a major deadline coming up at the end of May. That deadline? A baby. Not a metaphorical novel-baby, but a real-live human baby that is going to demand a lot of my attention.

aladdin start panicking.gif

(also me)

So with that in mind, my goal is to have a working draft of my novel completed by the end of May. Currently, I’m not sure how long this novel is going to be. Since it’s fantasy, I am aiming for ~100k words; however, I am also wondering if this novel might be best split into two or three shorter novels. That wondering is only going to be answered once I get the entirety of the novel out and can see where I need to split it up or even if I need to split it up at all. I have not quite 27k words written, so I definitely have my work cut out for me.

I recently discovered an app called Write-o-Meter which gives me the ability to insert a writing project, set a deadline, and work within realistic goals. It also prompts me to write at a certain time each day, which is great for someone like me. I still have to decide to respond to that prompt, of course, but it’s been a nice way to keep track of things and follow where I’m at on a graph since I’m something of a visual processor.

As I’m working towards this deadline, I do hope that I will remember to post here and on my other social media platforms more regularly. Sometimes I forget that I exist elsewhere on the internet, honestly.

Until next time,

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Merry Christmas!

I have to admit that I am a fan of the following short story by David Sedaris–“Six to Eight Black Men”–which a classmate shared with me this week. I listened to it while at work and kept having to stifle my giggles while my coworkers shot me perplexed looks.

And, if you’re looking for more writing/holiday related material, maybe you should check out this short story “Nicholas Was” by Neil Gaiman. It also made me laugh, but then…I have a dark sense of humor.

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First Drafts and More from Neil Gaiman

The following short video includes some of Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on writing, especially on the importance of writing in order to become a writer. He also touches on reading, first drafts, and more. The audio is from a Nerdist podcast, but the video was put together by YouTuber Brandon Farley.

How do you go about writing?

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Seasoned

bilbo bumblebeeThere is a dead bumblebee named Bilbo on my office windowsill. He perished over the weekend because our student worker left a window open. Bilbo has inspired an entire two Instagram posts, but even sepia filters cannot bring the life back to his fuzzy fat body. Poor Bilbo.

Yellow dandelions dot the hollowed green beyond my window–a shallow bowl that contained a brisk game of ultimate frisbee on Monday. Today, no students study on blankets that patchwork the soft grass, but there is one couple sitting alone, noticeably twitterpated.

greenYesterday, the rain poured in grey skeins from the sky, alternately puddling and rushing down the streets and summoning forth the dusty pink earthworms from their sodden homes.  But today, the sky is a bright cornflower blue and the white clouds shuffle lazily through the warm air.

The sun-heat, the blossoming cherry trees, the hum of flying insects, the smell of charcoal grills at dusk–all of this woos the senses, teasing of summer to come. I know that the rain will return. This is Seattle, after all, but I guard a tiny seed of hope in the recesses of my heart, shelter it, and water it gently.

One day, we will forget about winter entirely.

Upcoming Blog Challenge

I have let my posts fall by the wayside lately, but I believe with the power of my fantabulous new planner combined with a slightly less cerebral course load this term, I should probably post more often. Also, I want to develop more discipline when it comes to my writing, so having a daily goal should help me find the time and focus to write–I hope. I found a fairly interesting 30 day blogging challenge via Pinterest, so if you want to know what I’ll be writing about, you can get a sneak peek here. I will start Friday.

Let the blogging begin!

NaNoWriMo 2013, or “That didn’t exactly go according to plan…”

Back in October, I could not decide if I wanted to attempt NaNoWriMo. I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2009, where I somehow managed to pass the finishing line before midnight on November 30th. It was stressful, but I did it, and I felt so incredibly proud of myself. Needless to say, I was hooked from then on, and I have since faithfully returned to NaNoWriMo every new November. Each year, I won, and most years, it was a very close finish. However, I was only working during those years, and not trying to balance school, so this year, I just did not know if I should even bother signing up. But then my friends gradually announced their NaNo plans, and some of my coworkers said they were going to do it, and…well, now you know how I got suckered into it for another year. Continue reading

Block and Diversion

It’s been two hours since I left work, and I’m still not home, so I’ve had more than ample time to sit on the bus and think things over in general. More specifically, I’ve been pondering NaNoWriMo, and even more specific than that, I’ve been chewing over my minuscule word count. I have just over one day’s worth of words, and we are moving towards day 6. So you could say that I’m a little behind, which isn’t terrible. I’ve caught up from worse. This isn’t the end of the world by far. Continue reading