Friday, October 1, 2010

Fiction: A Keyhole View of Faith

The discussion about subjectivity has been very interesting, first with MaryBeth's story on Monday about the book club gone rabid and on Wednesday with Sharon's report from the ledge. I have a story too.

Back during my teaching days, I belonged to a book group of fellow teachers. Instead of lesson plans and playground mishaps, we talked books for two solid hours. We met once a month, taking turns choosing the novel and hosting the group, which meant baking something gooey and chocolatey.

I loved that group! They introduced me to their favorite writers--some loved, some loathed. And not since my days as an English Lit major had I experienced the shear delight of discussing the shared experience of reading a book, usually a relatively private matter. Pure. Heady. Indulgence.

The group grew closer as we shared our lives and values because talking about stories is talking about life. We disagreed without rancor, laughed freely, and celebrated our unique take on a story--unless there was a Christian element to the story. Nothing brought emotions to the surface quite like an obsessive-compulsive missionary (The Poisonwood Bible) or a preachy post-rapture pilot (Left Behind).

Honestly, fictional murderers are held in less contempt than Christians, and why not? Most literary Christians (in mainstream fiction) are despicable, or, at least, have questionable motives, always.

And so, a desire was born in me to be a writer who provided a keyhole look into the life of someone who followed Christ. We aren't always our best behind closed doors, but we're not always the worst either. For anyone in my book club to read a book like that, it would have to be, well, not a prairie romance. (Note: I'm not opposed to prairie romances, but my book club is.)

I write with that book club as my audience. They're agnostics, Buddhists, Baptists, Mormons, Methodists, Universalists, and absolutely nothing at all. I don't know if any of them have changed their viewpoint of Jesus, but that's why I write as authentically as I can manage. Just in case.

Five books later, the only book clubs I attend are ones I'm invited to appear at. (Writing this, I'm thinking that has to change.) Recently, a friend's daughter invited me to appear at her book club. I walked into a room of 20- and 30-something career women.

Oh no.

Seeing Things has a 72-year-old for a protagonist and Huckleberry Finn as one of the antagonist. I prepared to be skewered.

Not so. They asked wonderfully thoughtful questions that came from careful reading. They listened to my answers and peppered me with more questions, all respectful. Hog heaven!

And then, the hostess sidled up to her question. "Are you religious?" She didn't let me answer. "Because Birdie reminds me of my grandmother, and she was always praying or reading her Bible. When Birdie talks about lowering her family through the roof to Jesus, I see it. It's right there. I finally get what prayer is."

She looked through the keyhole! She saw my protag using the story of the paralytic lowered to Jesus as a model for praying for her family, and it made sense. I could have hung up my spurs and ridden into the west right there and then. Sigh. Thanks, God.

But I won't.

I have another story in mind.

There's always a chance someone might look through the keyhole again.

That's what keeps me writing. Not the possibility of awards. Or the nil to none possibility of getting rich or famous. Or the hope of a movie deal. Writing is our art, and our art reflects the beauty of Christ.

Do you keep an audience in mind as you're writing? Who are they? For those of you who belong to a book club, what keeps you coming back time after time? Do you read your reviews? Thought I'd sneak that question in.

Have a great weekend and thanks for a thought-provoking week.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love that concept of a keyhole view of faith. So cool the woman looked through.

I have a different woman in mind for each book I write. Sometimes my audience is a character within the book.
~ Wendy

Nicole said...

Very cool.

I write for adults who might have been broken along the way, who faced sexual temptations and failed, who clung to their purity but succumbed to what they thought was love; to those who feel passion but wonder how God feels about it; who've partaken of what the world offers and come up empty; who've stayed faithful and are waiting for the one God has for them no matter how lonely it can be.

No book club. Would love to have my novel(s) featured in one.

Kathleen Popa said...

Such great posts this week! Patti, this is wonderful. I love the keyhole story. And I want to join your book club.

Anonymous said...

Nicole, your book(s) sound very pertinent to so many today. Are you doing anything specific to target book clubs?

Nicole said...

Thank you, Sharon.

Not sure exactly how I would do that, Sharon.

Anonymous said...

I know, Nicole. That's something I tried to figure out when my novels first came out.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

When we moved house a few months back, one of the first things my new neighbour said to me was, "Do you like books?"

Uh... yeah!

Turns out there is a street bookclub. Would I like to come along?

Uh... yeah! (Are you kidding? This has to be the coolest street ever. Trying not to hyperventilate from excitement.)

Loving it. And loving that you use your bookclub as your audience, Patti. I think my audience is a person outside the faith - a seeker - perhaps someone who doesn't even realise that they are seeking. Maybe someone a little like my neighbours?

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My daughter has vomited her way through various Language arts study novels. I began writing a story for children when the darker side of human nature crept in. I write now with a teenage audience in mind.....those who are tired of the supernatural/unrealistic. A small audience, to be sure but perhaps a teacher of LA is out there looking for solid material to study? Listen to me calling my work 'solid'! Do any of you find your work in a high school curriculum?

Marcia said...

Who's my target audience? I was trying to carve out an answer to this question just yesterday, Patti. My thinker was stuck in Dullsville , but thanks to you asking, I've been mulling it over and found a new thought-path.

Who am I writing to, anyway? I wish I could write to the whole world, at least to all the women in the world, because the message is for everyone. God is not willing that any should perish, and neither am I. Yet when I see how many people alive today—even on our “Christian” continent—treasure the words God Himself has written, what hope do I have that they will read a greatly inferior echo of that timeless Book? It's enough to make me give up before I start.

Yet I can't, because God has called me to echo what He wrote...poor though my writing may be compared to His. Jesus set the example for us by never going anywhere without telling a parable. We fiction writers are parable tellers, just like He was. (Well, maybe ours are a little longer, because we lack His talent for packing a big wallop in such a short space.) So we spin yarns, tell stories with a moral... to whom?

Those who have ears to hear.

I picture a woman, any age, who's searching for God either consciously or unconsciously. She's a rare person, but God has her in His sight. He's been guiding her along the path for weeks, or months or even years, just as He has been guiding me in my writing. She's one of those spoken of in Heb. 1:14 who's being ministered to by the angels who are sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.

Maybe she doesn't know it yet, but she hungers for the God of the Bible, for a true and vital relationship with Him. I'm writing to give her a pointer, a clue at the side of the road, a whisper on the breeze. It's true that I may only be a single plank in the bridge that will help her cross over to Him, but what an honor.

I probably wouldn't recognize this woman if I saw her on the street. She may hate Christians, or seem to have little interest in spiritual things.

It doesn't matter, for God sees her heart. He knows that she and I will connect in the words of my novel. Something which God has spoken to me will speak to her, and she'll hear from her Creator for the first time or the hundredth time. A light will come on inside her heart, and she'll be able to more clearly discern the pathway to Jesus.

In short, I'm writing to her... this woman whom God has prepared through my prayers.

Nicole said...

Excellent, Marcia.

Megan Sayer said...

Patti, that's a really inspiring story. Wow. And great insight about Christian protagonists...I've read a few examples of that kind, and have often wondered whether there are more "realistic" Christians portrayed in literature.

Marcia, that's beautiful. I love that you're preparing your audience in prayer. I'm beginning to do that too.

I've only recently started really analysing my target audience, and I feel the experience of that has strengthened my work. I've got more confidence to address some of the harder issues brought up in my story without being apologetic about them or hedging around. It's got sex scenes and swearing!

My protagonist is a Christian woman (in church, happily married, no questionable motives here) getting honest with God about the failures in her life, and about HIS failures in her life. And then God answers her. Big time.

I'm writing it for the ones like her, the disillusioned, the broken, the marginalised. The ones who just can't trust God any more.

What I want to know, though, is who the hell is going to publish a book like that? Christian publishers seem to shy away from anything controversial, yet secular publishers balk at anything "religious".

I'm writing it anyway...I see my readers. Just wish I knew how to reach them...

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I love what you wrote, Marcia. And Megan, I'm with you on the 'who's gonna publish this/I'm gonna write anyway' wagon. Surely there is an outlet in cyberspace that requires no middleman. It is up to us to develop it.....

Sally Napthali said...

I am working on a manuscript for people who were sexually abused as children. I've found that I have poured my heart and soul into every page. The agony of delving into such a painful subject has come at a great cost to me personally. I continue to write this book because of the people I help, the young girls who are so lost in their struggles. My heart breaks for them. I want them to know what its like to be healed, and to know God - the one who heals. I write with their faces in mind, and the power of this motivates me. I hope that every chapter is more than just a keyhole, but a lighthouse for the lost.

Sally Napthali
Veiw my blog at:

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Megan: wow. Awesome. I'd love to read some of your work.

Anonymous said...

I was touched by the comment the hostess of the Book Club made, "(I) get what prayer is now." So awesome that someone was touched by the Father through your novel.
Tracy Whitt