There are a few reasons why I attended Andrew Rogers‘ session at the Breathe Conference. First, I found the topic interesting. Second, I regularly write slipstream flash fiction and have a few science fiction/fantasy pieces in the works. Third, Andrew is my friend and fellow weakling, and I wanted him to feel my support. But whatever my reasons for attending, I am really glad I did.
Here’s the description:
Science Fiction. Fantasy. Slipstream. Mystery and Crime. In this workshop, we’ll discuss this question and learn how to start writing meaningful genre fiction.
Andrew opened his session with a question–the question, perhaps–which haunts every Christian writer. How “Christian” do I need to make my book?
It is a question that I have wrestled time and again, as a writer, as a reader, and as an employee of a Christian bookstore. Does every book written by a Christian need to adhere to some redemptive guideline? Does it need a three-point sermon and a hymn? Can is have cuss words? What if my characters don’t behave themselves?
Andrew asked us to write some questions in response to the main one. As writers of genre fiction, how do we approach the religiosity of our books? Are we hesitant to publish–or even tell our friends–about our work for fear of what they might say?
A few years ago, Andrew won the Reader’s Choice in the Write Michigan contest. His story revolved around a mentally handicapped man living in a world where every aspect of life is recorded digitally. And though that is the way things seem to be now, the tale is set in the near future where it is even more the case. The thing about the story was that it didn’t have a hint of Christian message. The main character did not pray, did not worship, did not get resurrected on the third day. It was simply a story about a man dealing with issues of death and legacy.
As such, Andrew was afraid to tell certain friends and family members that he was in the running for the reader’s choice portion of the writing contest. What if they read it and asked him why his story did not share the gospel message? The fear of that question kept Andrew silent until about a week before the end of the voting deadline. With time running out, he decided to share in spite of his fears, and he braced himself for the question.
But he did not get negative feedback from anyone. Not even from the sweet little old granny that he was sure would question his faith upon realizing that his story omitted God.
Andrew realized something; books and stories written by Christians do not need slather the gospel on like a topping. In fact, those that do are worse because of it. Rather, our faith is baked into our work as an ingredient, and made evident by our writing. After all, we are made in the image of a creative God. Writing is simply the form of creativity which allows us special insight into who God is. Our stories are reflections of that creative nature.
As to the question of how much violence or cussing or whatever our books should have, that is something that the author must answer. Sometimes, publishers will ask the author to change this or that aspect of the story, but this is less of a reflection on the author’s state of faith than a consideration of the publisher’s buying community. And cleaning up the cuss words is just the cost of doing business with Christian publishers.
If this post seems a bit scattered, there was a lot to discuss in the workshop and my notes are about as organized as I am. But it was a great session and one that left me thinking long after about the intersection of my faith and my writing.
What do you think about “Christian” books? Should publishers be able to dictate how clean a character’s language should be? Have you ever not shared your work with others for fear of being labeled a heretic?