Thursday, November 06, 2008

Religion and NOT Writing Just What You Know

I've had some interesting comments on Rob's and my latest anthology, Leaps of Faith. This is a collection of 14 stories of Christian science fiction. While I didn't fully itemize each faith represented, there are Anglican, Catholic and Christian stories and one Old Testament Biblical.

However, I've gotten a couple of comments to the effect that Leaps is a Catholic exclusive book. "written by Catholic writers" "a Catholic anthology" "I'm not Catholic but I enjoyed it." And the one that, frankly, insults the non-Catholic Christian contributors, the Christian publisher and my husband and me: "My only problem with this anthology is that uncomfortable feeling that the Catholics are the only people of God."

I'm not going to argue that here--you can check out the reviews on Amazon to see what people think about the mix of Christian and Catholic themes. What I want to talk about today is the ironic fact that many of the "Catholic" stories in Leaps--and some in Infinite Space, Infinite God, for that matter--were written by non-Catholics. In fact, we never asked anyone their denomination when we read the stories, and sometimes have been surprised ourselves to find out who practices what faith.

I'm always ticked at how that amazes and even scandalizes some people, even fellow writers. We think nothing of a housewife writing a detective novel or a computer technician writing a chick lit. Guys write romance with female protagonists while women write military sci-fi with predominantly male characters. Yet a person writes honestly about a particular faith, and people immediately assume the author practices that faith. Why is that?

I'm sure some people believe that to do anything different is to blaspheme in some way. I don't agree. To me, writing the faith that is right for the story is staying true to the creative talent God gave me. As long as I'm not glorifying a heresy or encouraging a sin, I feel safe in exploring other ideas, whether it's an atheist being pursued by a vampire or nuns living in outer space.

So what about writing what you know? I think writers that limit themselves to that do not go very far. There's such a wealth of adventure out there, some of which we will never know about first-hand. But we learn. I don't know asteroid mining--but I'm learning about it as I write Discovery. I didn't know Norse mythology until I started writing Live and Let Fly--and as I learned more, I had to change the story. That's what I love about writing. That's why I do it, even when I don't make the big bucks or get yet another rejection letter.

One person e-mailed me that he believed I preferred Catholic stories because that's what I'm more "comfortable" with. That's not true, not for me, not for a lot of writers I know. I'll stick with me, however. First off, I don't read a lot of Catholic fiction. (Yes, my fellow Guildies, I have not yet read Chesterson or Flannery O'Connor. They're on my list.) I read about wizards and aliens and serial killers and all kinds of non-comfortable things. I've written a story about a psychic teen who was mentally tortured. I've tortured one of my favorite characters while her best friend was forced to watch, and I have a scene for an upcoming book where the main character has to fight off a rapist. Think these were comfortable? Not at all, but they were disturbingly interesting to write and necessary to the story.

If I were to write what I "know" and what is "comfortable," I'd be putting out stories about how my kid didn't want to wear his jacket in the blizzard. That's about as much angst as I get in my life and believe me, I like it that way!

So it is with writing faith--not all my stories are Catholic. In one trilogy, the alien planet is Deist, and the other has its own odd mix of faith. They each had their own salvation stories, too. My Faerie world has what is called a Catholic Church, but "catholic" means "universal" and while it's similar to the Roman Catholic, there are enough differences that it is a unique religious organization. I could have (and maybe should have) called it the Faerie Church; I'm betting I take some heat from both Catholics and non-Catholics for it as time goes on. But if I do, I know it's because I've written a convincing world.

I'm starting to ramble here, but my point is that writers with real talent do not need to be limited by their current knowledge or beliefs. Imagination can take us to many exciting--and sometimes uncomfortable--worlds, and writing talent can help us share those worlds convincingly with others.

That's what the writers of Leaps of Faith and Infinite Space, Infinite God did. That's why I'm proud to have edited these anthologies.


2 comments:

ragamuffin diva said...

I hear you, sis.

I'm a Catholic convert. My love for the Church was pretty obvious in the the last few books I wrote prior to my conversion, and I got the same reactions from reviewers. I was not yet Catholic, but reviewers suggested, "No one but Franciscans or Benedictines will like this book," and "I can't recommend this to people who are confused about Christ worship vs. Mary worship." I was so astounded by the not so subtle attacks on Catholic theology, that honestly, I've lost all desire to write "Christian fiction." Since all my novels are of this genre, I don't know what is next for me. I only know that writers I love, the Flannery O'Connors and Graham Greenes--and so many others--could infuse spirituality (for better or worse) into their writing, and their work succeeded in the big scary world, and not in the often insular world of Evangelical Christian fiction.

I also came to realize so much in these reviews is rooted in fear, and a general lack of insight into the teachings of the Catholic Church. A pity, but it's real.

The truth is, and I truly believe this, we know where God is, but what we don't know, is where He isn't. It's awfully ignorant to imply that in our limited knowledge we have insight on all there is to know about God. It's a scary posture to take, this, "I have God and you don't" thing. I'm guilty of it. Now, I'm just a humble pilgrim, with hope. I'm trying to lose the arrogance.

Try not to take it these reviews to heart. They're just opinions. Everybody's got one, and the fact is, some people just aren't going to get what you're doing.

peace!

Karina Fabian said...

Thanks, ragamuffin,

I know the reviewer, and he's otherwise a sweet man. I'm not stressing about it. However, I am insulted on behalf of my non-Catholic publisher and the non-Catholic contributors to this anthology. Like you, they have been wrongly judged.

I'm very sorry you've had such a rough time of it--it's amazing how people make assumptions.

The nice thing is that there are a lot of independent presses and a few Catholic ones that are now looking at Christian and Catholic-Christian fiction, and are not restricted by CBA/ECPA guidelines.

Please don't let the attacks by ignorant reviewers discourage you! If you haven't checked out the Catholic Writers Guild (www.catholicwritersguild.org) or the Catholic Writers Conferences (www.catholicwritersconference.com), please do so. You'll find a lot of support for your writing.