Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Writer's Confession

Here’s the deal: I love to write about God, Christian faith, theology, ministry. I love exploring ideas that have caused people like me to question and wrestle and struggle with God. I hope that my own reflections and investigations will help others along the journey of faith in Jesus.

But I also like to write scary, thrillerish, fictional stuff. I write about ghosts and vampires and zombies, and I do that for two reasons:

Reason One: Supernatural monsters offer a great context for exploring theological themes related to good and evil, heaven and hell, life and death (for example, one of my novels is actually asking about the nature of evil and hell; its sequel deals with human trafficking). The monsters always symbolize something and the characters in the story are given the space to navigate the drama while engaging with deeper issues.

Reason Two: I just like scary stuff. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved spooky stories and, especially, scary movies. There was an L.A. based series in the 1950s and 60s called “The Million Dollar Movie.” It would run for a week at 7:00 in the evening, showing the same movie each night, Monday through Friday. When our TV guide would arrive, I’d scour it to see what was playing. When I spotted Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, or Invaders from Mars (I didn’t care that the Martians all had zippers down their backs), I’d plan to watch every single night until my eyeballs exploded.

But if you write about monsters (and even the human, serial-killer type monsters), then you have to write some gory stuff or people won’t stay in the story. Let’s face it: Vampires bite necks and drink blood, and then get impaled through the heart with a wooden stake. Werewolves stalk people, tear them apart, and then get killed by a silver bullet before they have time to turn back into an accountant or a hedge fund manager. You get the idea.

I recently read a couple of fresh chapters from one of my novels-in-process to two women I know, each at a separate reading. When I was finished, each gave me the same startled look that suggested they were thinking, in the imaginary bubbles over their heads, “What in the world is wrong with you?” It’s probably a legitimate question, which I hope will go unanswered.

There is an important precedent for this kind of thing, however. Here are some hideous, gory examples:

A woman gives shelter to a high-profile refugee, and then pounds a tent stake through his head and into the ground while he sleeps.

A woman is gang-raped, and then her body is dismembered and the butchered pieces sent around to leaders in the community.

A national leader’s duplicity is revealed, and he is impaled alive on a tall, wooden beam and left to die a slow, painful death while the people of the community watch.

These rather graphic, bloody examples, are found in the Bible (in order: Jael and Sisera, Judges chapter 4; the Levite’s Concubine, Judges chapter 19; the execution of Haman, Esther chapter 7).

I fear that Christian fiction can be overly sanitized because publishers worry that graphic scenes or language will cause Christian consumers to close their pocketbooks. Maybe Christian novelists even fear that they are crossing a moral line by engaging in such writing. One thing is for sure: Religious editors for centuries have certainly overlooked the graphic nature of the Bible. And yet I hear it’s a pretty big seller.

This is not an argument for gratuitous violence and rough language. But if we who love stories don’t allow the characters to act true to their character—even if that character is dark and dangerous—then we’re not telling our stories well.

Having said all that, the second book in my vampire trilogy—A Body Given—is now in publication (Kindle and Nook to follow soon). If you like that sort of thing, see for yourself if the creep factor serves the story well. It’s too late for me to change it anyway.

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