This blog posting will take a slightly different tone than my previous rather fun posts about this Indie writing journey of mine. This is also the most personal blog I've ever written, and one that I've wrestled long and hard about putting up for all to see.
I recently received a one star review for my latest novel, Night Watch. The only problem the reviewer had was that it was "touted" as a "Christian novel" but "was anything but."
First of all, Night Watch has never been touted as a Christian novel by me. Or by anyone.
It’s not good manners, it’s not good Karma, it’s not good anything for an author to ever clash with a reviewer. This has happened online and it’s not pretty, and I'm not going to join their numbers. But, I have had a few personal emails and Facebook messages about this shift of mine, so maybe it needs to be addressed finally.
The truth is, I never really wanted to write fluffy Christian fiction in the first place. Since I started writing novels, my dream has been to write mainstream mysteries. I love the fiction of Sue Grafton. I love, love, love Ruth Rendell and Martha Grimes. I sincerely wanted to join their numbers. I also love the dark horror of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
At the one and only Christian Booksellers Association convention that I ever attended, I met with an editor of a good-sized and up-and-coming Christian publishing house. When I told him I wanted to write mainstream novels in a Christian context he said, No problem. So did they. This was their new vision.
He handed me a book by a new writer of theirs, Jane Kirkpatrick. I remember becoming so engrossed in Love to Water My Soul on the flight home that I contacted them within weeks and said, “Yes, if this is the type of stuff you are publishing, count me in.”
That was the early ‘90s.
Normally, historical novels aren’t my cup of java, but Jane is a wonderful writer and a personal friend and I still treasure that book. (I actually treasure all of her books.)
All of this, however, didn't work out the way I planned. It was proving difficult to get “Christian” novels labeled as anything but “Christian” and I kept getting contracts with Christian publishers. Since they called me, I figured—a bird in the hand. Plus, it was easy. Having grown up in the conservative church culture of the 50s and 60s, I knew the lingo inside and out. I was pigeon-holed and for awhile it was comfortable. I even made friends. But while I wrote Christian novels for publication, I wrote darker short stories and kept them in a file. And all the questions I’d had about my faith since childhood, I hid away in a back corner of my mind.
While I wrote and raised children and did laundry and cleaned my house and made supper and canned peaches and vacuumed my floors, things in the Christian world were subtly shifting. To this day, I scratch my head and wonder when and how did it happen? When was I not paying attention? When did it become heretical to believe in anything but a young earth six-day creation? When and how were these lines between science and faith drawn? When did anything but a very, very literal reading of every verse of the Bible become suspect?
Because even though my childhood was very conservative, very fundamental, I don’t remember these very drawn political lines. I don’t remember how we got to the place where you are labeled a heretic if you are not opposed to gay marriage for example, or where you dare question the doctrine of the rapture or Adam and Eve.
And that, I guess, has become the crux of my problem. I was ending up with more and more questions about my faith at a time when questions were becoming less and less permitted. Yet, I continued to hide my doubts while I went to church and wrote my novels with their happy “everyone gets saved” endings. I was told I had to do this in order to get a contract, so I did. It was a job, after all.
During this time of questioning, I devoured the books of Brian McLaren, and kept saying, “Yes! That’s me! That’s exactly me!” on every page. I followed the journey of Frank Schaeffer, because back in my Bible college days, (I graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1971) his father, Francis Schaeffer was our hero.
These days I regularly visit the blog of a very smart young woman, Rachel Held Evans. As well, I’m currently reading Torn, the memoir of a young, gay Christian man, while I adore the angst-ridden bluesy tunes of a talented young gay Christian musician, Jennifer Knapp. (I plan to read her new book - Facing the Music - but haven’t yet.) I am going through the books of N.T. Wright and Tim Keller and learning so much. I am listening to both the Free Believer’s podcast and the God Journey podcast and identifying with every word.
I’m also aware that some of the above writers and musicians don’t have the "evangelical approved" stamp. So maybe that means I don’t anymore, either. And maybe that means I’m finally coming out of the closet. Maybe that means I’m finally coming to a better understanding of my Christian faith—that it’s not about rules and judgment but about love and acceptance.
I’m finally admitting that I don’t have all the answers for my serious questions. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s not. I don’t even know anymore. All I know is that, at this stage of my life I need and want to write what I want to write—and that is dark stories and mystery novels.
If there is a label for me now, it’s probably not Evangelical Christian. Maybe from now on I will call myself Searching Christian.
There is a song by U2 which totally characterizes this strange and circuitous journey of mine—I Still Haven't Found What I’m Looking For.
And it’s true. I haven’t. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it just is.