Sunday, September 15, 2013

I Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself....(Because This Is Why I Don't Write Christian Fiction)

Brian Keene has posted a blog of a speech he gave recently at the  C3 Writers Conference about his career and why he still perseveres as a professional, full-time writer despite all its hardships. There are some pretty good nuggets of wisdom in there. For example, some of the reasons why he keeps at a full-time writing career, despite the pitfalls:
I continue to do it because the rewards are unlike those of any other profession I know. And I continue to do it because I can’t do anything else. I can’t not write. I’ve always liked my friend Tom Piccirilli’s description of this condition: If you’re stranded alone on a desert island, and you spend your time writing stories in the sand with a stick, then you’re meant to be a writer.
And I do it for the young mother who contacted me on Twitter, and told me that her infant son had a brain tumor, and she was living at the hospital with him, and the only thing that kept her going in those long dark hours were my books. Apparently, she read through my entire backlist during that time.
I do it for the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere who get so excited when a new book comes out. The soldiers who nicknamed everyone in their squad after characters from my books. The marines who started a Brian Keene book club. The airmen of Whiteman Air Force Base’s 509th Logistics who pooled their own money together and had a beautiful award fashioned for me simply because my book donations had boosted their morale.
I do it for the parents who’ve told me that Dark Hollow helped them grieve the loss of their child, and helped them talk to their significant others about that grief.I do it for the readers who’ve told me how Ghoul helped them come to terms with their abusive childhoods.And the dozens of single or divorced fathers who told me that The Rising made them rededicate themselves to their kids.
And the dozens of inmates who write me letters saying they never liked to read until they got to prison and discovered my books. 
I've thought long and hard about my writing career and the future and, well...money, and how much money I DON'T really earn from writing (as of yet) and how I'd like to earn more money in the future, and whether or not I'll ever become a full-time writer. The earning money part - can't really control that, can I? I can only keep writing and striving to improve, keep submitting and keep working every single day.

And honestly, I'm still divided as to whether or not I'd choose to write full-time, even should the chance come to me. I'm not going to say I'd never write full-time, because I don't think I can definitively say WHAT I'd do until that moment comes to me. The best case scenario, IMHO, would writing ALMOST full-time but keeping a teaching position somewhere, be it part-time at the high school level, or as an adjunct at the collegiate level (because honestly, I can't NOT teach, either). As Brian states in his post, finances can be pretty precarious relying SOLELY on writing for an income, and I'm not sure I'd ever feel comfortable doing that.

But the fans.

Having people like your work - a lot of people - and emailing you about it? Sharing testimonies of what your work means to them?

Priceless.

Because as Brian stated, writing is a solitary exercise. Sometimes I feel like I'm in this deep hole and everything I write stays in that deep hole and no one ever reads it. Part of this, of course, is because I'm published mostly in the small press, presently. My work hasn't made its way to many people. Hopefully, someday that will change. But regardless, folks reading your work, enjoying it, saying they want more?

It's one of those small things that keep all writers writing. Brian's correct in his blog - if you're a writer, you write because you HAVE TO. But getting reader feedback, a lot of it? It may sound weird (and maybe I'm only saying this because I've made only a little money writing and because we only have a little money as a family money itself doesn't seem to have much "value" to me), but I think I'd much rather have lots of reader feedback than much money. Of course, if lots of people were buying my stuff in order to GIVE me lots of reader feedback, I suppose the money would come, too. 

But still. I think, in my heart, I value the thought of people really liking my work and telling others about it more than I value a $ sign.

However, Brian's blog really crystallized my thoughts about something completely different - the real reason why I never pursued a career in the CBA (Christian Bookseller Association) writing "christian fiction." Before we continue, however, to be clear: I'm not bashing the CBA or Christian Fiction. I've moved past that phase. People feel called to write Christian Fiction, there's a market for that genre, and publishers to supply that need, and publishers who feel called to publish that kind of fiction. It exists because it should, and that's fine.

But I didn't ever want to write Christian Fiction, or even be a Christian Writer. I am a Christian. And I am a writer. Faith plays a large role in my life. My life largely impacts my writing. And because of that, you'll see strains of faith and concepts of "something larger" or a "Higher Order" often in my fiction. Not always, but often.

In the end, however, I just want to write fiction about being human, because that's what we can ALL relate to. I've never felt the desire to share creeds or doctrines or instruct anyone or tell anyone how to live their life or make huge, sweeping, ground-shaking remarks about politics or religion or what's going on in the world with Bush/Obama/Whomever Gets Elected Next, foreign policy, the economy, the End Times, or whatever. 

I just want to write stuff. I want to make up cool stuff, but I also want that cool stuff to run the spectrum of emotions, I want it comment on the human experience, and I hope somewhere along the way people will read my stuff and like some of it. 

And it's the same with my blog. When I rebooted this thing almost three years ago I decided to only blog about personal stuff - family, friends, children - and cool stuff I liked, along with writing updates. I have no grand statements to make here. Nothing to debate, very few writing tips (because every writer in the world blogs writing tips) no insightful interviews with other authors (same reason), nothing controversial, really, because I'm not a controversial guy. 

I just want to write. I want to write strange and weird and dark (sometimes) and melancholy but hopeful and wonderful stories.  So writing "Christian Fiction" to only Christians (because that's what Christian Fiction largely does, let's be honest) never really appealed to me. But lately, to be fair, that's how I've sorta felt about writing horror, especially my novellas and novels. Because they're weird and strange stories, they fit the horror genre. But what I really want to do?

Really?

Brian managed to capture it perfectly here:
Our job, (writers) regardless of whether we are writing crime or horror or science fiction or westerns or romance or any other genre, is to examine the human condition.... As writers, we must go beyond Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat, Christian or Muslim, Jew or Hindu, Black or White. We must transcend politics, religion, race, sexual orientation, nationalism, patriotism, and every other -ism and communicate the one thing we all have in common — our humanity. What it is to be human.
And that, in a nutshell, describes perfectly what I want to do. My faith and worldview will always impact my writing, but mostly in its tone and flavor, and hopefully in subtle ways. 

Which, of course, doesn't mean I can't write a "Christian" novel. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty is one of the best "Christian" novels I've ever read. Brian Keene's own Take the Long Way Home, a wrenching story about the immediate aftermath of The Rapture is also excellent. Both of these works are Christian-themed and well written, and neither of them denigrate faith in any way...but they're written from a human perspective. 

And, regardless of what faith we are or what we believe...or don't believe...that's what we all ARE. Human. And we all believe something, we all fear things, we all pursue things and love things and have lost things and we've all risen in triumph and stumbled and fallen in defeat.

And the best aim of fiction is to - along with entertaining, delighting, and inspiring to wonder - is comment on what all of that means, for all of us.

Which, in end, is all I've really ever wanted to do.