Today I was reminded of how my tastes have grown and changed over the years.
On a message board, moms were sharing some of their favorite fiction novels and writers. A few were mentioned that, while at one point in time may have brought up feelings of joy and adulation, now stir up only deep sighs and the shaking of my head.
It is not that these writers are awful. I’ve read some books that truly are awful. Some I read only because they were required for school, while others I had simply told myself over and over, “It has to get better, right??” Still, these particular authors are not them. They are popular in the Christian fiction scene (particularly in the romance sub-genre), and I’m sure they make a good living with their books. And that’s what frightens me.
I will elaborate.
My tastes have changed over the years, and I find myself yearning for more realism. Not necessarily literalism–I am perfectly happy with fantasy and the creation of new worlds, where the rules we are accustomed to here in the real world are bent slightly–but realism in regards to consistency in a character’s personality, the struggle of true growth, and believability in the plot. I have also found myself wanting stories that are not quite so “fluffy”, and have a bit more meat–substance–grit–depth.
While at one time these authors kept me awake at night, reading “just one more chapter”, and while their stories and characters gripped me, there was a point when I had picked up one of those books, after years of reading much deeper, rougher material, and thinking, “This is silly.”
And this, my friends, is what frightens me. I do not fault the readers for their lauding of these books. Christian bookstores, publishers, and reviewers have developed a knack for pushing the “tried-and-true” Christian romances while rejecting anything that might be uncomfortable for the delicate sensibilities of a Christian woman.
Yes, there are novels about “difficult” subjects, but they are always approached from a very lofty view. The struggles that the heroines must overcome are safe and internal. Things like fear, insecurity, and indecision.
Allow me to walk you through the dime-a-dozen Christian romance novel. You meet the heroine. Young, sweet, naive, definitely a virgin, raised by loving parents and active in her church. Then you meet the handsome love interest who is–gasp–an unbeliever! So she tries to ignore her attraction, firm that she cannot possibly love him while he is still doing horrible things like smoking, riding motorcycles, and wearing a leather jacket [I must interject here that I've just described the hero from one of my favorite series, and I couldn't help but chuckle at myself for alluding to him, as he's not like the typical Christian-romance-love-interest...]. So she invites him to church, smiles as he asks question after question about her faith, and he eventually has a tearful conversion, obediently reciting a rote sinner’s prayer, and immediately casting off his old life, never again desiring a single cigarette, wearing khakis and polo shirts, and getting a job at the church. They get married and have lots of babies. The end.
Or one more for you, just for fun: It’s another time period, or perhaps in an Amish community (don’t even get me started on the Amish trend!). A young girl is rebellious–but nothing drastic–or simply doesn’t want to fulfill her role as a lady/daughter/goodAmishgirl–and is told she must marry _______. She doesn’t want to! She wants to do something else with her life! She is the closest thing to a feminist that a Christian writer is willing to make a heroine! But the man wins her over, though he may seem stern, shy, or boring (take your pick) at the beginning. They gradually fall in love, she accepts her role as his wife but he allows her to do something that she wants to do, like feeding the poor, planting a garden, riding horses… whatever. They live happily ever after. The end.
I’ve had my fun, so now I’ll explain to you further why this is unsettling to me as a writer. Because these are the stories that are paying the rent. These are the ones that have made writers successful and adored. These are the stories that sell books.
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not doing this for the money. The fact that I’m still unpublished and have never been paid one red cent for anything I’ve written is evidence of that. If I wanted to create one of those stories, I could. Probably in one night. But I don’t want to, and that’s the problem. I would be severely bothered if I wrote a story like those. I’m sure there are good ones out there that just so happen to have a similar plot line. But really, haven’t we seen enough? Haven’t we grown past those yet? I have.
I know, this is getting long, but this is a subject I’m really enjoying right now. Bear with me.
My cousin and I wrote a book when we were 16 and 15, respectively. Or that’s where it began. We haven’t finished it yet, a mere 13 years later. We’ve changed plot lines, changed characters, changed events and emotions. After years of putting it on the back burner, we revisited our book, asking ourselves as adults, wives, mothers, what this story would look like if we stripped away all those silly plot devices and contrivances we had included in our first story. If even our villains had depth, if our characters were real, how would they really react to situations, and what was the norm for that time period? How can we make this believable? How can we draw in readers? How will they be able to relate?
Our two heroines are grossly imperfect. One is abused, damaged, and cynical. The other starts out as innocent but, like the thorny ground, is pulled away by the cares of the world and is quite changed, not for the better, by the climax. But by the end they come around. They find redemption. They make amends. And they take responsibility for their mistakes. They grieve over their sins, but not in an overly dramatic way. They struggle to get back on the path.
The men in their lives are total opposites to one another. One, a seeming pillar of strength and integrity, with a few vices from his past that he must work overcome daily. The other, a philanderer and a fake, taking advantage where he can. Yet both men must step up to their place and, like their women, take responsibility, show remorse, make difficult decisions, and actively change.
I’m not saying my writing is better, or that I am better, or that those readers are inferior for reading those stories. But what I am saying is that my goal–my desire–for my own stories is so different than the successful ones, and I’m afraid not so much about the lack of money (again, I don’t do it for the money) but of being rejected. Of being judged. Of being labeled a bad writer, or worse, a bad Christian, for writing something that wasn’t G-rated. It is a real fear, and I look to various mentors for their advice, support, guidance, and knowing smiles. But I still fear what will happen if I publish my book. And perhaps that is the main reason I’ve not yet published it. Not my perfectionism or my lack of time to edit, but my fear of rejection.
And as this is something I am realizing just now as I write this, I have nothing more to say. It’s a lot to consider and process. My fear, real as it is, is difficult to accept.