I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part Two

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part Two

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Romance is a wonderful thing. It’s great to experience and fun to read. Romance is the backbone of many Christian novels and many times is done quite well thanks to fine writers out there creating great books.

Writers need to crank up the lovefest to keep readers titillated and eager for that first kiss or marriage proposal. I get that. What I don’t get is why there needs to be at least one “zing” per page, if not two or three.

By “zing” I mean the man getting a twinge when he touches her hand or sees the sun gleam off her hair or sees the twinkle in her eye. The woman feeling her heart pound, her nerves tingling, or her pulse quicken. Don’t forget the pupils widening, quick intakes of breath, staring unabashedly or surreptitiously, being surprised at noticing her dress, or breathing in his musky scent.

This happens page after page after page. I get more and more and more irritated. Where’s the plot? Buried beneath the zings! Recently I got so irritated during the first 30 pages that I slammed a book shut and threw it down. I’d enjoyed this author’s previous books and looked forward to the start of a new series. Until the zinging started and didn’t stop.

That afternoon I picked up two Oprah Book Club novels for 25 cents each at a garage sale and dove right in. I enjoyed them both, experiencing not even one zing.

The bigger issue is why authors and editors feel the need to tell me time after time that the protagonists are attracted to each other. Do they think I’ll forget after reading half a page?

I took a driving trip recently, going from my home to western Pennsylvania, then to Cincinnati before heading home again. My phone’s GPS kept me informed about where I should go—ad nauseam—from the second I left the driveway.

While I appreciated not getting lost, I couldn’t have gotten lost if I tried. The voice would always direct me back to the right place whether I wanted to go that way or not. It was relentless in its direction-giving.

Finally I turned it off once I knew where I was going, just like I threw down that book with all its endless, romance-pointing zings. Two months later that novelist’s book is still sitting on my office floor, the bookmark stuck at page 30.

Share your little annoyances with Christian fiction. I’ll gather them and put them in a new blog post. Don’t worry, though. There will be posts on what I like about Christian fiction, too!

 

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part One

I’m Annoyed with Christian Fiction, Part One

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“I’m fine.”

These are two of my least favorite words in the Christian fiction I’ve been reading lately.

A diabetic forensic scientist hasn’t eaten in 12 hours. “I’m fine.”

A former Special Ops soldier-turned detective hasn’t slept in 48 hours. “I’m fine.”

The strong-but-silent, uber-tough cop struggles with over-protecting the homeless woman he’s coming to love. “I’m fine.”

The stunning detective is at the crime scene for hours in her high heels. “I’m fine.”

The beautiful cop is captured and nearly killed by a psychopath. “I’m fine.”

Really? Nobody in those scenarios is “fine.” Each one is traumatized in some way or needs medical attention or even a visit to a counselor. None of them, however, are “fine.”

I realize that being “fine” ups the drama, ratchets the suspense, makes the characters vulnerable—all that good stuff that makes a novel a page-turner and, hopefully, a bestseller. But are the authors really obtuse enough to make their characters “fine” and let them go forward and really be fine, as if nothing at all had happened?

Recently I attended the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference. A woman there wore a shirt that said “I’m fine.” I began having a small fit until I saw the huge, gaping, bloody wound pictured below those two annoying words. I laughed instead, getting the humor (and the pathos) of that shirt.

We love to say “I’m fine” when people ask, while inside we’re a mess. I understand why we do so, and do it myself. But there is good reason to share our struggles and worries with friends who care and with those who can help us. It’s healthy and healing to do so. That’s real life.

Using those two words constantly as devices to drag on a novel’s emotional drama? I’m not fine with that.

Stepping Away from the Usual Brainwork

Stepping Away from the Usual Brainwork

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This past weekend I painted picture frames purchased at Salvation Army, attached chicken wire to the backs, added embellishments, mini clothespins and binder clips, and came away with three new renditions of bulletin boards.

My writer friends Sharron and Cynthia did freestyle acrylic paint projects that turned out beautifully; Cynthia recently got out her mom’s paints and starting dabbling. Lorilee is always spraying something—pots for her succulents or dining room chairs—and her feet are liberally covered in paint. Tracy cooks, Alison gardens. All of us practice creative arts in one way or another apart from our writing.

Experts in neuroscience and creativity have done myriad tests on the brain to discover how creativity works, including one test written about in Scientific American (The Real Neuroscience of Creativity by Scott Barry Kaufman). The article says, in part, “. . . the right brain/left brain distinction does not offer us the full picture of how creativity is implemented in the brain. Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.”

Don Perini, a professor of creativity who spoke at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference in 2015 on creative emergence, wrote a little book titled “Emerge.” He shared with us this equation: Talents + Creative Habits = Creative Emergence.

For us writers, using our talents and combining them with creative habits can mean coming up with something pretty cool. Perhaps a terrific plot twist for a novel; an evocative word in a poem; an analogy to communicate biblical truth; a great lede for a magazine article. Sometimes there is a whole lot of nothing, but that’s fine too.

We call it “using our brains differently.” Sometimes we do so intentionally, sometimes we just know it’s time to do something a little crazy. We glue chicken wire to picture frames. We daub with acrylics; spray paint pots; take walks; make killer desserts; plant gorgeous flowers. We practice creative habits that lead to breakthroughs in our writing. It’s all part of how we live our writing lives.

What do you do to encourage your creativity and your writing life?

Sticking Point: Staying with Your Writing Dream

Sticking Point: Staying with Your Writing Dream

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There is no doubt about it: Writing is hard work. Perhaps the hardest part is sticking with it through discouragement and juggling writing and the life you live. Your day job, children young and old, elder care, housework and volunteer duties all can sap the strength you have.

But you write in the cracks—those few minutes between other responsibilities—and late at night or in the early morning. You say no to the extras; lower your standards regarding house cleanliness; turn off the television or Netflix a couple nights a week.

That perseverance pays off bit by bit, step by step forward. And every step helps. Sometimes it’s encouragement from a friend or a positive word from a publishing professional. Perhaps increased social media numbers; the promise of an endorsement by an established author; an agent makes you an offer.

For Jennifer Lamont Leo, it was receiving a contract for her novel You’re the Cream in My Coffee from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She got her first box of books in the mail recently and cried a little. What a huge step forward! Don’t you just love the cover?!

Rest assured, however, that Jenny took lots of small steps first. She persevered through writing the book; the search for an agent; waiting to hear from publishers in a tough climate for Christian fiction. She was patient throughout the publishing process, building her reach into her readership with blog and Facebook posts, self-publishing novellas featuring her main character, and planning book launch events. She knew that each small step was still a step and just one more in the long process.

Writers like Jenny deserve our admiration for sticking with what can be a discouraging and difficult process. From the outside, getting a book published doesn’t seem that hard. Just write it and publishers will come. Just put it on CreateSpace and buyers will come.

Wrong. Any writing project, whether a short devotion, magazine article or book, is a series of small steps that become a bigger project. I encourage you to take those small steps, find encouragement in each one, and stick with your dream.

What are your best small steps? Would love to hear what has encouraged you.

Writing Alone & In Community

Writing Alone & In Community

AnnchickenWriters are solitary people. We sit alone at our desks with only the dog for company, at the coffee shop tapping on a laptop, on a park bench scribbling in a notebook. Writing is a task accomplished alone.

Yet we also write in community in so many ways. The American Christian Fiction Writers conference last week in Nashville was an exercise in writing community. Nearly 600 fiction writers–published and yet-to-be published–gathered to learn about the craft and network in the form of sharing meals and elevators, and laughing like crazy people.

These are people usually slaving away at a computer creating worlds they only inhabit in their minds. But these writers, like all writers, need a community. Many have found that community through ACFW and groups like it, through small writers groups that meet once or twice a month, or through online groups that feed the souls and minds of people far apart.

My writers group recently took retreat at a cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We did a little writing work each morning, then played in the afternoon, visiting beautiful Whitefish Point (after gorging on fresh whitefish in the town of Paradise) and spending a glorious afternoon swimming/sunning along Whitefish Bay. Our trip home included visiting First Editions Used Bookstore, a hidden gem in the middle of UP forestland. One of us bought a guide to learning Ojibwa, another a Stephen King followup to “On Writing.” Children’s books, classics and juicy novels also ended up in bags to be happily carried home.

The community you build around you as a writer may be as small one like-minded friend or as large as ACFW. It’s probably somewhere in between, like my communities are. First there is the Guild, six writer friends who love each other enough to vacation together in a cabin with one bathroom. There is also the community built around the Breathe Christian Writers Conference, with its yearly conference (Oct. 7-8, 2016) and active blog with many voices of encouragement. As you can see, I occasionally have my chicken friend Helen to help me write. Often she’s accompanied by her sisters Jemima and Sadie.

I encourage you to find the community that fits you best. It will be one of the wisest investments in your writing career you’ll ever make. Tell me about your communities! We’d all love to hear how you find encouragement and understanding in your writing community.