Friday, June 26, 2009

Pass the Locusts

You'll remember, a few weeks ago we announced that one reader who commented on a Novel Matters post in the month of June would win a copy of Bonnie Grove's new critically acclaimed novel, Talking To the Dead. We now have a winner, and that very lucky person is...

Jeannie Campbell! Jeannie, please email us, at novelmatters at gmail dot com, and let us know where to send your book.
Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in their heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself. ~Unamuno
That's the beasty hard thing about writing fiction. It's our job to make sure you believe in God himself. That goes for Stephen King, and for James Patterson, and for Anne Rice before and after she wrote Christ the Lord. A writer may never mention the name of God, may not even believe in God, but she has to make us feel God, or she hasn't written a story.

We've all become pale half-humans in order to get on in this world. If that seems an overstatement, imagine Isaiah in the grocery checkout, spouting off about materialism and gluttony and the poor. Think of Elijah at the office, whining that everything is hopeless, his life not worth living. Care to guess how John the Baptist might do in a job interview, picking insect legs from between his teeth?

Too much life in all of them. Nowadays we've learned to tone it down.

But there is a price to pay. How often do you look at your own children and fail to see miracles? How often do you pray nice prayers while your truest questions ooze beneath the surface like a flood in the basement? (Those questions, the anguish, uncertainty and doubt are all very biblical, you know. Read the Psalms.)

We need our story-tellers. We have to get the truth back.

I think that's why great writers sometimes end up turning out contrived little stories about a god they understand - which is no God at all. They've rushed things. They've come toned-down to the work. They need to find their inner prophets, once again.

I'm open to disagreement, by the way. Do you agree with Unamuno's statement above, and with my thoughts, or do you see things differently? If you're a writer, please share your best method for finding your inner prophet.


Pass the locusts, please.


Anonymous said...

VERY insightful!

A friend commented recently that I was "intense." She meant it as a compliment, but I wasn't sure exactly what it meant beyond that. Now I do.

When I think of intensity, I think of setting the saturation level on digital photos. You can wash the colors out to near invisibility or make them pop. Each of us is unique, presenting the world with a picture like no other. Why do we tone down the color in ourselves? What compels us to look and sound just like everyone else?

We love intensity in our characters. It's so much more fun to read about someone discovering their true self than about someone who plods a well-worn rut. My son modeled this for me when he chose fencing as his sport. He will rarely have sports statistics to compare with anyone. He side-stepped the competitive urge and, by doing so, rose immediately to the top. However well or poorly he does, he's the best fencer most folks know, and we've yet to meet anyone who wasn't intrigued.

Speaking the truth about life and God doesn't have to be obnoxious, but it will rarely be ordinary. Sometimes it's just saying the things no one else will--like the child who pointed out that the Emperor wore no clothes.

Yours because His,
Lynn Dean

Kathleen Popa said...

Lynn, that's a great analogy about color saturation. In my own photos, I've noticed that a heightened saturation can bring out details that are otherwise invisible.

You have a smart, and interesting son.

Steve G said...

Hey Kathleen,
You need to be careful as you are treading on land usually occupied by pastors...

"I think that's why great writers sometimes end up turning out contrived little stories about a god they understand - which is no God at all. They've rushed things. They've come toned-down to the work. They need to find their inner prophets, once again." I could say the exact same things about Christians, that so often we live our lives in such a way that reveals how little we actually think about God moment by moment. Unamuno's quote is right on. If we are to do everything heartily as unto the Lord, shouldn't that include our writing and what we want to tell in our stories? Of course! Before my pulpitability kicks in, I'd better just say, "Preach it, sister!"

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Katy - and so thought provoking I know our readers are busy in thought and prayer as they mull over the depths of this post.
I know I'm self-examining in light of your words and I'm praying, "search me Lord!"
I love what Anonymous said - and I agree with Steve too, the thoughts in this post snake across the landscape of life.
A beautifully written post, Katy. It feels like a gift.

Janet said...

In all fairness, day-to-day life would be pretty exhausting if we lived it at high intensity levels, much the same way that conversations aren't usually conducted at shouting volumes. Even our questioning and doubting - and I agree with you, any authentic spiritual engagement will be full of it - has to retreat most of the time. There are seasons for working out the difficult questions, but most of life is lived in the security zone.

But a novel should not be a security zone. The essential ingredient to a plot is, after all, conflict. A story in which the protagonist never gets pushed outside of his comfort zone would be a pretty pitiful story.

Just as I would use music to express all the passion that just isn't appropriate in a supermarket check-out, so my writing will express things that don't often come up in church lobby conversations. Those conversations just don't have enough time to come to grips with ambiguity and anguish and conflict.

As for finding my inner prophet, I finally connected with her last night. I wish I could reduce it to a formula, to be applied as needed, but it just isn't that simple. I had to find the central passion for the book I was working on. I thought I had it, but things just weren't falling into place. Now that I've found it (I was oh so close, but this ain't horseshoes) I realize that I was trying to build the story around the wrong character. She will still be a very important part, but she's going to have to move to second billing.

I feel like somebody fixed my warp drive. ;o) This happened late at night, and did absolutely nothing to fix the insomnia problem...

P.S. - Your author pictures on the left aren't exactly high in colour saturation. ROFL!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Katy, this was a great post and typical of your stories. Keep them coming! I put out an A.P.B. for my inner prophet just this morning.

P.S. Janet, low color saturation can hide a multitude of sins!

Nicole said...

The trend seems to be toward a sepia gospel. Don't offend the lost, the seeker. As if we, the writers, are capable of drawing them to the Lord. We are responsible for revealing the Truth however the Lord has designed for us. It seems we should desire to tell the old, old story with passion, flair, struggle, and honesty. An offering to Him who can use it as He desires . . .

Anonymous said...

I love this blog post so much were I nine-years-old, I'd marry it.
You are expressing one of my deepest anguishes as a novice writer.
Billions of stories whispering from the bookstore shelves, begging the shopper to buy them. So many of which are full of soap bubbly words lacking heart heft.
What is the difference between a book that feels rich and feeds my soul (whether it speaks of God or not) and a book that leaves me feeling flat (even if it does speak of God).
I call that special something, Wallpaper. It is Masterfully draped behind the words, giving black ink, life, the living vibrancy of Jesus now, the Holy Spirit.

Nichole Osborn said...

Love this post! Very thought I'm searching for my lost inner prophet! I know she's here somewhere! Thanks for making me realize that she went missing!