Critics go with the territory – walking out your door means you’re fair game.
Here on Cape Cod, you can’t help bump into artists. I’ve met dozens of people with an excess of talent, a better eye for color, light, texture, detail, who have that gift, that creative lightning, who could make far better stained glass windows than me. But they don’t make windows. I do. So mine are better than theirs. Same thing with writing. (or sculpting, or painting…)
The learning curve requires you write your first book before you write your second, and anything worth doing is worth doing well, worth doing poorly at first.
Oh, and my monthly remittance from Amazon just showed up. Again.
Now that I figured out I’m not Flannery O’Connor, I’ve been mulling over my experience with representations of Christian faith in popular science fiction. Note, this isn’t a researched thesis, so take it with salt.
Asimov’s classic “Caves of Steel” was one of the first sci-fi novels I ever read. Turns out the antagonist/murderer is a fundamentalist Christian, or ‘Medievalist’, that the android character tells to ‘Go and sin no more.” Irony abounds. Flash forward four decades to John’s Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”, (great book, btw) which whips out a ‘stupid Christian’ stereotype in one of the early scenes. We got a space elevator, baby. Who needs the Sermon on the Mount?
Perhaps my impression derives from a peculiar selection of sci fi novels. Maybe I’m being peevish. However, it seems to me most of the fictional future wants traditional religion gone. Buried. Forgotten.
Cause of death varies, but there’s no need for God in fictional tomorrow. I ran into yet another example in a (very good) self-pubbed cyberpunk novel the other night. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the typical ‘Christian as villain/idiot’ trope. It was past contempt to outright dismissal.
In this particular projection, some tectonic event/discovery finally allows Mankind to dispatch God like a cantankerous, embarrassing relation. After all, He clung to life long past any reasonable expiration only by preying on the impoverished and uneducated. About time, eh? Future man gets to excise religion like a useless appendage, a sort of appendix on the human condition. Offering a meager, questionable inheritance, Mankind jettisons religion for a bright and shiny rocket ship/microchip.
If that isn’t a prelude to dystopia, I’m not sure what is. (See Communist Russia for recent historical example)
Yes, I actually paid attention in Western Civ classes. Yes, I understand stereotypes exist for a reason. Yes, I keep up with the world news. No, I’m not a Luddite. It’s the unreality of that prediction, the sheer disconnect with history, psychology and humanity I find so inconceivable.
Before you think I’m whinging or lobbing hand-grenades over the cloister walls at marauding secularists, I am painfully aware of abysmally stupid extremes. As un-Christian as it is, I loathe and mock those folks too. (I remain convinced sarcasm is a divine attribute. God is helping me.) Fact is however, people have been wrapping their lusts in good causes forever; religion doesn’t get a pass. And it certainly doesn’t mean God is cruel or faith is inherently tragic, debilitating, or divisive.
My net-friend, fellow blogger and writer Katherine Coble recently posted an interesting article: Christian vs Christ-Following. It is yet another comment on the unenviable but inevitable reality of Christian reproach. When I use the term ‘Christian’, I refer to those who have identified with the person of Jesus, hold to the veracity of Scripture, and trust in the grace of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as the remedy to their sin and death.
Credibility demands I grapple with extremists and blunderers, but realism acknowledges for every high profile failure, reprobate, and lunatic, there are scores of people striving for devout, authentic lives. Yes, those people are flawed, conflicted. Who isn’t?
My concern here is the plausible depiction of believers in spec-fiction, and the challenge to not trade the mystery of God, (what C.S. Lewis called the Numinous) for the convenient high-ground of Morality or a cast of contrived Baptisney-land caricatures. Both the Numinous and the Moral are essential if I’m honest to my faith, but I think mystery is what ultimately captivates, just as it’s the person of Jesus who ultimately saves.
My question to Christian authors is if we don’t wrestle with portraits of real believers, a real God, and real faith, who will?
Next Installment of the Mega-Dark Blog Tour. Now up: Jess Hanna
More about Me
This is a continuation of my first post on the Mega Dark Blog Tour. In that post, I focused on where I came from, when I knew I wanted to be a storyteller, and the origins of my fascination with the supernatural. This second post will continue along that vein, providing further insight into what motivates me to write. But before I dive in, I would like to thank Patrick Todoroff for hosting me on his blog.
After I got saved, I saw the world with an alarming new clarity. The supernatural things that interested me before now took on a more sinister tone. I found that the majority of it (Ouija boards, the occult, ghosts, aliens, etc.) was meant to lead me away from the truth of God. Don’t get me wrong, I was still fascinated by these things, but the way I viewed them was not longer with fascination, but as tools of the enemy.
It wasn’t too far into the future that I stopped writing altogether. While I had an interest and felt I could write well, I didn’t see it as a viable career choice. I allowed ‘real’ life to crowd out my love of writing. I even stopped reading for many years. To fill the void I lived my life the best I could, moving from one unfulfilling job to another. It wasn’t and hasn’t been terrible, but spending a career climbing the corporate ladder is just not all that appealing to me.
Everything changed when I turned 32. While floundering in questioning what to do with my life, I felt a strong urge to get back to writing. I hadn’t written anything in so long that I wasn’t sure I could still do it. I tried to push the feeling away, to be practical, but the tug was strong. I knew I had to write, regardless of whether or not I felt the tangible benefit of it in this life.
I also started reading again and re-read my copy of On Writing by Stephen King. After I finished it, I took his advice and just started writing. Within a few months, I had written the first draft of my first book, The Road to Hell. I was so happy to just finish a full length novel at all, and let that elation carry me until I started the second draft. I found it was hard work, taking what I had written and scrutinizing it with a critical and grammatical eye.
To find out more about my experience writing my first book, along with details about my motivation and the painstaking process of multiple edits and the submission process, check out my next stop on the Mega Dark Blog Tour with Mark Carver.
Don’t forget to check out my website for more about me and my writing.
RE-POSTED FOR THOSE WHO DON’T LIKE TO CLICK THROUGH:
JUNK FOOD AND COWARDICE
I was told the other day my fiction was the literary equivalent of fast food: cheap, suspect, and eminently forgettable. In this person’s mind, too much fiction – especially genre fiction – is impractical. Unhealthy.
Fact is, it’s true in many ways: my novels won’t ever make the “Great Books of the Western World” list. (http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/40) I’m not in a snit over it. Espionage thrillers about futuristic mercenaries, clones and killer drones aren’t going to change the world. I’m OK with that. As a writer, I’m pecking at the keyboard to exercise my imagination, to spin a yarn, hopefully entertain someone. Maybe even make a couple extra bucks before my time is up. I just hope I’m more like Panera than Mcdonalds.
I’m aiming for that lofty goal because as a writer and artist who is also a Christian, I’d like to inject some substance, trace-elements of spiritual qualities in my work. After all, it is a product of my time and labor, an extension of my person, if you will, and I’d hate to think my soul is vapid and shallow. But that’s the fear, the accusation, isn’t it?
Which is what brought me to the charge of cowardice.
“Tarwater clenched his fists. He stood like one condemned, waiting at the spot of execution. Then the revelation came, silent, implacable, direct as a bullet. He did not look into the eyes of any fiery beast or see a burning bush. He only knew, with a certainty sunk in despair, that he was expected to baptize the child he saw and begin the life his great-uncle had prepared him for. He knew that he was called to be a prophet and that the ways of his prophecy would not be remarkable. His black pupils, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus, until at last he received his reward, a broken fish, a multiplied loaf. The Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire all to baptize one idiot child that He need not have created in the first place and to cry out a gospel just as foolish. He tried to shout, “NO!” but it was like trying to shout in his sleep. The sound was saturated in silence, lost.”
Excerpt From: O’Connor, Flannery. “The Violent Bear It Away.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Your mileage may vary, but what stunned me wasn’t merely the prose, the theme, the characters; it’s classic American literature for a reason. But I had the sudden intimate realization I lacked both the skill and the courage to write something that messy, that audacious. There’s an anger, a certain mad daring, not to mention profound bravery needed to grapple with the enormity of free will, Man’s primal defiance and the mystery of God’s grace without imposing clichéd answers. I was numbed, humbled.
I confess that with rare exception, I find most of the contemporary Christian artistic offerings as insipid as they are sincere. My opinion is that as flawed as we believers are and will be down here, the reality of God deserves better than the modern evangelical status quo. The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters and brought the entire universe into being at the divine fiat. That is the spirit reportedly indwelling us.
As an artist, a writer, I agree with Akira Kurosawa that “The role of the artist is to not look away.” I understand what Steven Pressfield means when he says “The artist is seeking the real by means of the artificial.” It’s just that I flatter myself if I think that simply waving around the live-wire of some controversy, spilling some fictitious blood or allowing my non-Christian characters to drop an F-bomb or three, I’ve struck a blow against saccharine mediocrity. It might be bold to some, blasphemy to others. It might make me a shark in the koi pond, a vandal in the Precious Moments Temple, but sizzle ain’t steak. None of that is inherently more gritty or authentic. Like the song says, ‘It ain’t necessarily so.’
O’Connor’s novel reminded me once again true skill doesn’t rely on gimmicks, that gratuitous detail isn’t realism, and that my work will never really ring true unless I’m willing to leave the cloistered certainty of comfortable answers. As a Christian, an artist, a writer, as a human being, I have to venture out into the mystery that is God, the madness that is love, and the scandal that is grace, then have the courage, the humility to get out of the way and let them be what they are.
Imam: Because you do not believe in God does not mean God does not believe in – .
Riddick: Think someone could spend half their life in a slam with a horse bit in their mouth and not believe? Think he could start out in some liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and not believe? Got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God… And I absolutely hate the fucker. – Riddick in ‘Pitch Black’
There’s a long, tired tradition of characters crowing against the Creator from the moral high-ground of their personal indignation over injustice, suffering and horror. I stumbled across another just last night, in fact.
My issue wasn’t so much it’s presence, (like I said, it’s a common-enough trope) but that it was so blatantly disingenuous. The novel’s mythology/theology centered around the unspecified but nonetheless ‘strict’ worship of a Goddess, with a stereotypical cruel, hypocritical clergy manipulating a naive, devout flock. Then prior to a dramatic confrontation, our rugged hero launched into a soliloquy castigating God (male deity) as a lunatic Creator consenting to horrific exploitation in his name, somehow directly responsible for a personal tragedy, and who’s generally complicit in all suffering and anguish.
Look, I get Theodicy and the ancient question of the existence of evil. People with intimate experiences, people who have confronted evil ask a profound and valid question. My heart can’t handle the everyday tragedies paraded on the news, let alone those that never make the top of the hour. My concerns here is with characters who otherwise ignore, despise, and disobey “God”, mock faith and devotion, yet throw Him up against the wall with impassioned fervency the instant tragedy strikes. They obviously ‘believe’, (why rage against a non-existent entity?) but God is their whipping boy, their scapegoat, an ironic justification for atheism.
Perhaps I’m being hyper-sensitive. Or getting snarky over inconsistent plot and characterization. What do I expect from a cheap, easy read by a non-believing author? Maybe I need to lighten up.
My problem is the gymnastics of self-justification. Flaccid logic posing as intellectually rigorous integrity, meaninglessness touted as profundity. I’m weary of the double-standard that approves certain ‘definite worldview statements’ yet denounces orthodox devotion as superstition. I’m tired of empty victories over straw men. I’m tired of faith enough to blame accompanied by recalcitrant conceit that won’t own it’s own decisions.
All the more reason to keep faith and Christianity explicit in my own work.
My studies in Speculative philosophy, metaphysics, and science are all summed up in the image of a mouse called man running in and out of every hole in the Cosmos hunting for the Absolute Cheese.– Benjamin DeCasseres