It’s rare that I write about my faith on the blog, so I hope everyone will indulge me just a tad tonight. A few days ago, most of you probably saw my blog entry on reasons I won’t finish a book (If you didn’t, you can find it here). It generated a bit of discussion, but one point that people didn’t really say much about was #5 – “It was too clean.” I found that a little strange, since I felt that was one of the more controversial reasons (maybe too controversial for people to talk about?)
So I was thrilled when I ran across this fantastic blog post by Josiah DeGraaf today–and he hit on every single reason that clean Christian fiction has always felt a little off to me. Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait.
Anyway, there are so many fabulous points there–but for this I want to focus on the definition for clean fiction he came up with: Clean fiction does not contain acts or words that might bother readers.
If that’s the case, I’ve made a good decision to take what might turn out to be a permanent break from writing–because I’ve got a few problems with limiting Christian fiction (as in, fiction written by Christians) to “clean fiction.”
The first is that I don’t have any idea what bothers other readers. After writing almost four books, I’m beginning to get an idea, but guessing doesn’t come naturally to me. I grew up in a mainstream Protestant denomination, and not many books were off limits. It was a shock to find that clean fiction was something associated with Christian fiction–and I’ll admit, I’m still surprised at some of the things people find objectionable in my work.
But my second problem with expecting Christians to write clean fiction is this: life isn’t clean, and I want to write realistic stories.
Let me digress here for a second. This week I’m tagging along to Arizona with my husband on a business trip–I’m writing this post from a hotel in Tucson (with some really sketchy wifi, I might add). Yesterday, my four-year-old son wanted to visit Tumacácori National Historic Park (highly recommended, by the way), a Catholic mission halfway between Tucson and the Mexican border, founded in the 17th century by Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino. And that’s all the history lesson, I swear.
The museum in the park does a great job of showcasing the history of the mission and surrounding areas, and I’ll just let this little bit speak for itself:
This board scarcely scratches the surface of the situation, which affected both Europe and the New World, but my point is this: in 1767, some really bad stuff happened in southern Arizona to Christians. To missionaries. To priests.
Now think about this from an author’s point of view. Could you write their story without being graphic?
Of course. The National Park Service did it in the photo.
Can you write it without being disturbing and dark?
I don’t think you can. In fact, yesterday was my third time visiting Tumacácori but only my first time at the museum, and I would have been happy visiting another dozen times without hearing that story. It disturbed me. It made me uncomfortable. It bothered me. I’m still thinking about it a day later. If there was a fictionalized version of their forced march to the Gulf of California, would it be considered clean? I doubt it. And if someone managed to sanitize it, it wouldn’t be the same story.
Are there subplots in Asrian Skies and Unbroken Fire that disturb readers? Yep. There are. I don’t include any of them lightly, but they’re there–partly for realism, partly to kick off some character development. They’re not graphic, but I don’t sugar coat anything, and that level of detail continues in the following two books. I’ve considered deleting some references to better appeal to Christian readers, but the books are shelved in part because I can’t bring myself to do it.
Today, I realized why.
Christ came to save a broken world, not a perfectly clean one. And to ignore the darkness of the world does a disservice to the people who are living or have lived through it, don’t you think?