Monday, November 19, 2012

Danger is My Middle Name

For the last week or so, I've been revisiting the writings of Madeleine L'Engle. She said so much in the most concise language. One quote spurred my thinking: "Writers think. Writers ask questions. Writers are dangerous." Really? Am I dangerous? Do I challenge tired ways of thinking? Prejudices? Hate? Ignorance? I prefer reading fiction that challenges my comfort, but do I write that kind of story? In Goodness & Mercy, my present work in progress, I want people to look beyond their inadequacy to the cross. I challenge them  to rethink how God gifts children and adults to serve His purposes without them even being aware of their contributions, and how our gifts can be as much a burden as a blessing. If this is dangerous, then Danger is my middle name.

How have you proved yourself dangerous in your writing?

Patti, I'm really enjoying the snippets of quotes from Madeleine L'Engle you've been posting on the Novel Matters facebook page. She, like only a rare few others, strikes me as one of those effortless intellectuals who, by virtue of her tremendous success, had to then go about attempting to explain what it was that made her so remarkable (Marilynne Robinson is another writer like this. Barbara Kingsolver, too--can anyone think of others?). This quote, however, has lost some it's edge in our post-post modern culture. Now, questions are the norm and the boldest move anyone can make is to take a stab at an answer. But I don't think asking questions of readers is what she meant as the thing that makes writers dangerous. I think she meant that dangerous writers ask questions of themselves before they write. The work of digging through the bedrock of prejudices, cultural crutches, verbal and mental shorthand must be done before the writing commences. Then we climb down into the hole we've dug and look up at the world in a new way, essentially turning the world on it's head. And that's the story we tell--and it's a dangerous one.

Yeah, I think the dangerous part is asking questions we don't know how to answer. That kind of writing takes a lot of faith, and I think it takes a kind of faith many of us don't have. Yikes! What if I come to an answer and it's that God is a blue turtle with the world on his back? Or less flippantly: what if God isn't? It seems to me that if it is really true that "God is and that he rewards those who seek him," then that we can ask all the questions we want, and trust for the answers.

I so agree with Katy's comment about asking questions we don't know the answer to.I've done that in each of my novels, and I'm sure I will continue to do so. It just seems to be the nature of my writing. I ask hard questions about God, and while I'm writing I have no clue about the answers. But as Katy pointed out, God rewards those who seek him, even with questions. And I grow with each novel I write.
But to directly answer the question Patti poses, I'm about the least dangerous person I know. Not much into adventure. But I do love to bring danger and adventure into the lives of my characters. What does that tell you about me? (Insert diabolical chuckle here.) But it's not the kind of danger that stops the hearts of readers or causes them to chew their fingenails to the knuckles. No, it's a different kind of danger: it's deciding whether to fight or flee in the face of heavy emotional and psychological danger. That's also my favorite kind of read. I've dealt with infertility, infidelity, and in the novel I'll release next summer, suicide. I guess the greatest danger that has exposed me to is finding acceptance in CBA.

(I'm so dangerous.... that I posted an item here eight hours ago and Blogger ate it. So here goes again. . .)


Apparently some people think so, if you count the number of death threats I’ve gotten since my first book, The Mormon Mirage, was published. (No kidding.) And a magazine reported that a bookstore carrying my book got a bomb threat. (No kidding there, either.)

Now I’ve added a new dimension to my dangerousness. As many of you know, I wrote a novel based on the millennia-old premise that a woman wrote the biblical Epistle to the Hebrews. My agent said no one would touch it, for almost two years. Way too controversial for CBA. Now two CBA publishers are looking at it because they want something “out of the box.” I think.... they mean dangerous?


Susie Finkbeiner said...

While writing a scene in my current WIP, I realized something deeply rooted in myself that I didn't like. It was from a time a few years ago when I was not compassionate when given the chance. And it was in a big situation of a friend's life.

I did not enjoy that enlightenment. Not one little bit.

This felt pretty dangerous to me.

Jennifer Major said...

I'm not sure I've opened any new worm holes in my writing, but I've poked a few lions. Hopefully, once I'm published, I'll make people mad enough to send me emails that say "how dare you suggest inter-racial relationships are acceptable?" or my personal aim, "how dare you think people of colour are just like us?"

I KNOW there are believers who court those 2 schools of thought. So I say, "bring it on".

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I am not a safe person. I enjoy messing with minds. I usually get others into trouble for things I do. In my story my favourite character is the deceiver who lies in wait beneath a perfect veneer.
I ask questions like What is the opposite of Beauty? and get answers like, Darkness. And, Can anger and mercy coexist in the same moment, in the same heart?