As a writer, for years, I was told essentially to “color within the lines.” Make no mistake that is solid advice for those seeking to build a career. Readers read a book by you and they expect more of the same kind of book. So you can see that it wasn’t bad advice.
It was, however, advice that didn’t fill my vision of what I was supposed to do. You see, I wasn’t interested in just building a career. I was interested in also building a life. That required more from me, and I knew that only some readers and publishers would understand the difference from a personal perspective.
So I did that. I set one writing rule. I will not write a book I don’t love. But beyond that, I venture and explore and write about things I’m having trouble understanding in real life. I also write about issues that I find appalling or terrifying, as I did in some of the military novels about chemical and biological warfare and poisoned water supply and dirty bombs crossing our borders and human trafficking and corruption. Things that captured my attention in real life and scared me half to death—for myself, my children, and eventually, for my grandchildren.
I couldn’t believe then and frankly I don’t believe now that all women, wives, mothers and grandmothers don’t weigh these challenges. We do, and we vote on all these things and more.
Those who attempt to reduce our voting preferences to a single issue or two are dismissing our equally important concerns—we are concerned about any and everything that impacts us and our families, our communities and our country. The big point that gets missed along those lines is we recognize that everyone—every single person—is someone’s baby. Someone’s son or daughter, grandchild, great-grandchild, cousin, aunt or uncle. We are truly all connected. It allmatters.
Writers write for many reasons. I write for many reasons. Each book is written for a specific purpose. For me to love a story, I must see a purpose in the story. Now I wrap conventional novel elements around that purpose—that’s where the suspense, mystery and/or romance come in—but it is the purpose that drives me to write and keeps me writing. Telling the story is my attempt, frail and feeble as it might be, to make a difference. To give readers an opportunity to see something in a different way, to see something at all, and to not only notice that something but to feel the effects of it as the character feels them.
I started writing political essays for discussions with my dad when I was tiny. Every night at dinner, we talked about the stories on the front page of the newspaper. The essays were written about those topics. It was a way to teach me to think about bigger issues from different points of view, and to be mindful of how those things impacted people, individually and in groups. From there, I moved into poetry, but I needed more space, and so short fiction and then novels became my vehicle of choice to explore.
While I hope the stories entertain and awaken, most of all I hope they fulfill their individual purpose. Because at the core of every book is a healing theme.
I’ve been writing books since the late eighties, but I’m relatively new to Christian fiction. Six or so projects are classified as Christian fiction. But for about thirty years, I’ve written books in almost every genre with healing themes. I’ve written some books in genres that didn’t yet exist, trying to strike that balance between purpose and genre dictates. Ones like the group of military romantic thrillers. That type of book hadn’t been done before. Now it’s a sub-genre. So there are unexpected and unimagined perks to seeking balance in purpose-writing. But you aren’t seeking them. You’re just doing everything you can to assure that those who might find merit in the stories get an opportunity to read them.
Many times I’ve been asked why I continue to write clean read books or Christian fiction in collections with authors writing for the secular market. The reasons are simple. If those who could most relate to or benefit from the message are there, why wouldn’t I? Does a Christian doctor only treat Christian patients? Do people of faith only mix and mingle with other people of faith?
As Christians living in a world with all kinds of people of all faiths and of no faith, if we have the opportunity to touch lives to help others, then shouldn’t we do it?
I’m not on a high horse, and I have no illusions (or delusions) of grandeur about what I do. I’m not out to demand dictates in the world. I’m a simple woman trying to help others get through tough times constructively. If they read a story and relate to a character who has been through a tough time or goes through a tough time, the reader knows a way through whatever tough time the reader is experiencing exists. Simply put, I try to offer hope.
And it’s a funny thing. Well, not funny as in ha-ha funny, but noteworthy, I should say. It’s noteworthy that in trying to offer hope, I usually find it. And some reader somewhere, I pray, does, too.
Barriers exist. They always have existed. Different people need different things at different times. We are charged with helping one another, loving one another. It seems self-evident that in executing our charge, we have to break barriers, step outside our comfort zones and follow what we know is right for us.
It is not for the feint of heart. It is not an easy career path. At times, it wreaks havoc on your career. But following your purpose works well on building a life, and the career has a way of working itself out. You are in a constant state of flux, struggling, building and rebuilding, but it all works out. I can’t explain that part, I just know even the rough parts are good. Even the struggles are softened by the solace of knowing you are where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing.
Every writer has to choose. Many do what they feel drawn to do. Many don’t. They have different aspirations or ambitions. That personal choice, whatever the choice is, is the right one for that writer at that time.
I’ve made my choice, and I’m content in it. So I’ll continue to get a few nasty reviews now and then about works I wrote before I turned to Christian fiction. And I’ll continue to get a few nasty notes about being a Christian writer and writing in joint secular projects, and a few will comment that they no longer read my books but when my “Christian phase” is over, they’ll be back. I’ll keep taking the hits, and the barbs, and I’ll keep getting some emails and snail mails containing less than repeatable remarks. But that’s okay.
It’s all okay. Because all responses prove that people are being touched enough to speak up and reach out. They are not reading and walking away indifferent. Indifference would mean they hadn’t been affected.
If people who read my work are unaffected, that means I’ve failed. Only in affecting people do we have a chance to break down barriers.
Note: I have a new book out. So Many Secrets. You can read more about it here.