Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Comment From Yesterday

In yesterday’s comments, Becky (who often manages to say the most provocative things) noted this:

I guess I'm destined to be the fly in the ointment. I thought he said wonderful things about your writing, Brandilyn, but I would have had a disappointing reaction to his ability to look past the God references. So I want to know, how did you react to those lines in the review?

I was intrigued by the question because it had never entered my mind in the slightest to be bothered by those lines. For two reasons.

1. Violet Dawn is not heavy with Christian content. It’s probably my “lightest” novel regarding a spiritual thread. The story just didn’t drive a heavier spiritual thread—and I don’t ever want to force such a thing. The protagonist is not a Christian and knows little of God. And the whole main action takes place in only about 14 hours. Not long enough for the protagonist to have a believable heavy character arc (especially given all that’s going on) toward Christ. In this type of story all I can do is lead the character from point A to point B. To make her realize that maybe there’s something to this God that she needs to look into.

So when I read those “look past God references” lines, I just figured it’s because there aren’t as many of them to begin with. Contrast this novel with, say, Dead of Night—probably the heaviest of my novels regarding Christian content. I don’t know that this Violet Dawn reviewer could have gotten through Dead of Night. That story drove a strong Christian thread about how God uses the prayers of His people to fight evil. Someone who really chooses to believe God doesn’t work in that way, or perhaps doesn’t exist at all, would find it difficult to enjoy that book, I think.

I heard an interesting remark from someone who’s read Violet Dawn and my other novels. She said she liked Violet Dawn better because it had less spiritual content—a content that seemed normal--while in all my other novels, that content was “forced.” I was fascinated with that viewpoint, since I so completely disagree with it. But that reader was coming at my books from her own experiences (all readers bring their unique set of experiences to a book, which is why reading is so subjective). She’s outside of the church and hasn’t been in a long day-to-day walk with Christ. So to her, to read a book like Dead of Night, in which God urges a Christian to drop everything and pray against evil—she just couldn’t get that. It’s out of her experience, so to her, such a scene is “forced.”

Admittedly my insistence on allowing the amount of Christian content to grow from the story makes for a wide variance as to amount of spiritual thread from one novel to the next. But I really think that natural growth from plot is the way to go. The second book in the Kanner Lake series, Coral Moon, has much more Christian content in it. It has to, given the strange bent that story ended up taking. So maybe some readers such as this reviewer who liked Violet Dawn may not like Coral Moon at all. May even get ticked off at it. May figure it’s too much “God stuff” to wade through.

Which leads me to reason #2—the stronger of the two reasons, in my mind.

2. People overlook what they want to overlook all the time. We humans can stare truth in the face and deny it. So in the end, whether a novel has lots of Christian content or little, if a person insists on reading past the “God references” because he/she absolutely has decided not to believe, I’m not going to be able to change that.

Bottom line, what I found most impressive about this review of Violet Dawn--regardless of whether the guy liked the novel or not--is that he took the time to read my Web site, including my story of healing, clearly saw from all that’s written there that I would approach this novel with a Christian worldview that he does not share, and yet still read the book with an open mind as to the suspense story itself.

How about you, BGs? If you had such an “overlook” line in a review of your novel, would it bother you?


Wandering Writer said...

It's pretty tough to overlook God. I find it exciting that he's promoting the book with a good review and giving readers the opportunity to be open to what God might say to them.

Lynette Eason said...

Hm...when I first read the guy's comments, I rolled my eyes. But once I read this post, I kind of stopped to think about it. You know, if this guy was "once a Christian" (is this possible??) and was truly seeking God, then I don't see how he can accept "going on to something better." But, I digress.

To me, God sometimes chooses amazing ways to get our attention. And sometimes the things we think we are "ignoring" are the things that stick with us the most.

For example, I may choose to ignore the nasty CSI autopsy scene and shut my eyes real quick, yet that brief glimpse replays itself in my mind.

Or the fact that I used to read Jeffery Deavers books thinking I could just ignore the profanity...and yet when I think about his books, that's what comes to mind. Great plotting, by the way, which is why I wanted to read them and study them, but...ugh, the language.

Same with this guy or anyone else who chooses to read a Christian book and think that they can just overlook the God parts. I wonder if a reader really can. And the fact that he chose to write a review about it. Well, I think that's just cool.

Who is he to think he can just ignore God? My God won't be ignored. I think God's sitting there shaking his head, sad at this person's arrogance in thinking that God can be overlooked and He's going, "I've been after you a" (And I mean in a very paternal, loving way. Would you, as a parent, stand for the child you loved, sweated, sorrowed for...and in this case, died for, to just ignore you and go on living a life that was sure to destroy him/her??? Somehow, I'm pretty sure I would have to intervene and get his/her attention no matter what it took.)

So, IMHO, I don't think your reviewer's reading your book was just incidental. I think God probably set the whole thing up, knowing the best way to get this guy's attention - through superb Christian Fiction and Suspense that the guy would be unable to put down.

I believe God makes a lot of "Divine Appointments" and we keep them whether we want to or not. Reading your book may have been this guy's divine appointment and I think the God parts will play on his mind and he will find himself thinking more about God and wondering why he can't ignore Him.

Okay, I'm done. My two cents worth...


Lynette Eason

~michelle pendergrass said...

I ignored and overlooked God for 12 years. Saying that God won't be overlooked isn't entirely true.

Yes, in the end, He brought me back/I came back to Him...but for 12 years He allowed Himself to be overlooked and taught me lessons I would have never learned otherwise. I believe that I was allowed those lessons for His purpose.

To answer B's question: It would not bother me at all if I had such a comment in a review. My comments yesterday describe how I would feel.

Unknown said...

Ooh, what a wonderful topic for discussion! Some friends and I have recently been debating what it means to live in this world, but not of this world. I think this review really gets to the heart of the discussion.

Sometimes I think people forget that Christ was fully God and fully man. He was perfect, yet destined to live in an imperfect world.

When Jesus taught, most of the time he taught in parables. If you want to get a farmer's attention when he's never heard of Christianity, do you talk about sin and preparing your heart or do you talk about soil and seed? If you want to reach a non-Christian reviewer, do you talk about forgiveness and grace or do you talk about murder and mayhem? :)

Okay, different analogy, but the same, yes? I think sometimes Christians forget that we often are simply the ones who plant the seed. God is the one who really produces fruit.


Kristy Dykes said...

"If you had such an 'overlook' line in a review of your novel, would it bother you?"

K: Shoot, no! My philosophy is, "Never be surprised when a sinner acts like a sinner."

It helps so much to realize this.

BC, you said, "...all readers bring their unique set of experiences to a book, which is why reading is so subjective."

K: And publishing! :)

BC: Maybe some readers such as this reviewer who liked Violet Dawn may not like Coral Moon at all. May even get ticked off at it. May figure it’s too much “God stuff” to wade through.

K: But the bottom line, IMO, is to let God lead you (any writer) as you write each novel. Which you obviously do.

PatriciaW said...

I'm a Christian and I love Christian fiction. I don't enjoy all of it though. I guess that's because I don't see myself as the target audience for some stories. And I'm not talking simply about genres. I think we make the mistake of thinking all Christian fiction is created equal. It's not.

Salvation message -- Targeted for non-believers I assume, unless it's so expertly done that I appreciate the craft and beauty of how it's done. Has to flow naturally or it feels forced.

Blatant encouragement message -- Targeted to believers. Comes through Christian lifestyle of characters. I like these because I can draw from them but they do occasionally seem forced, like the dialogue and plot points serve only to emphasize the message. Again, craft matters.

Subtle encouragement message -- I like these best. As I read, the character's words, thoughts, and behaviors seem natural, and they are certainly not perfect. Plot points make sense. Nothing seems forced. As I read, the Spirit whispers to me so that by the time I finish the book, I've got the message or at least have food for thought. I imagine this is very difficult to pull off when writing Christian fiction.

Who is the target reader? I suspect the reviewer, who was not a believer and therefore sensitive to being hit over the head with Christian messages, found the few references to be more blows than he was willing to receive. He obviously targeted his review to other non-believers.

I read an inspirational romance this past weekend targeted to young believers (I hope.) In it, I found an endearing story about the challenges in young adulthood of being a Christian with a message of encouragement to be true to one's faith. At the same time, the main character was very condescending, impatient with, and unforgiving toward non-believers in the story. What would a non-believer take away from reading this? Do these behaviors overshadow or dilute the faith message? Was this done intentionally so that the protagonist would be seen as imperfect?

I don't know the answers but it really made me think about the many considerations that an inspirational author faces when writing.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Brandilyn, thanks for such a thoughtful, thorough answer to the question.

Of course, I should have realized, intention colors the answer. If you intended to write something profound about God in your story, and he overlooked "those God references," that might induce a different reaction (or am I projecting?)

Now that you turn the question back on us, I find it a hard one to answer. My "God references" are all symbolic (since I write the type of fantasy I do), so I've often said a reader could read the first book, at least, and totally miss that it is Christian fiction.

So, "missing" the inferences to God would not surprise me. Seeing them and discounting them would definitely bother me.

But I'm of the old school--I'm writing with a theme in mind. I want to communicate my ideas through story. The key, as I see it, is to craft theme as carefully as I craft characters. A well-crafed theme, in my opinion, will not carry with it the sledgehammer of agenda.


~ Brandilyn Collins said...

>Of course, I should have realized, intention colors the answer. If you intended to write something profound about God in your story, and he overlooked "those God references," that might induce a different reaction (or am I projecting?)<

No, it wouldn't, because of my reason #2. A person's going to overlook what he chooses to overlook. Notice he didn't fail to notice the references--he chose to ignore the truth behind them. Am I sorry about that for his sake? Sure. But his choice doesn't reflect on me as a writer. He's merely exercising his free will to disregard. (Which God gave him, by the way.)

Unknown said...

The "overlook" line wouldn't bother me. He's just calling it as he sees it. I could read and enjoy a well written book written by a Buddhist. I can appreciate the writing for the writing's sake even if there are references to something spiritually I know to be wrong. My purpose in writing is not to convert anyway but to explore the truth and entertain.

Anonymous said...

Totally unrelated to today's post but before I forget :)-- I read today about needing strong pacing in a story. Strong pacing is something that sounds vague to me. What does that mean? Just in case you're needing a topic, and if you've already done it, I'll go back and find it. Thanks.

Dineen A. Miller said...

No, doesn't bother me. I don't think it would. I just can't seem to let go of the part about him being a Christian at one time. I so want to know and understand what makes a person turn away. Yet I know in the same breath, I'm not immune to such circumstances. Makes my heart ache for this guy. But what a lovely review.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Thanks, Branndilyn. That makes a lot of sense. His noticing but ignoring the truth behind the "God references." Yes, that is his choice and the way all people with blind eyes handle the evidence hiding in plain sight.

I appreciate you.


T. E.George said...

I am so glad to see you post this comment! As much as I like some of the latest cross-over novels (e.g. Relentless by Robin Parish, I am bothered by their apparent planned determination to not mention God overtly in any way. My wife will not read Tedd Dekker (though I am a fan) but she latched on to your Hidden Faces series. Her comment said it all. "This has all the suspense of a good secular movie but doesn't forget who bankrolled the project (i.e. God)"