Friday, 13 February 2015

On Not Being A Christian Writer

By Megan Sayer

When I was a little kid, back in the early 80s, I really liked Cliff Richard. I liked him because Cliff Richard was cool, because he sang cool songs about Walkmans and roller skating and stuff, but also because he came on the telly sometimes after Young Talent Time and sang songs about being a Christian. I liked that because I was a Christian, and I knew that being a Christian meant going to the Salvation Army Church and singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and waving your hanky at the hanky song. I liked that because nobody else I knew went to church or waved their hankies at the hanky song, so Cliff Richard being on the telly made me feel like being a Christian was cool, like it was something normal, regular people did.

That was a very long time ago. Fast forward to the tumultuous 1990's when I had my own radical salvation experience, when I left the Anglican church – some years had passed since we’d left the Salvos – and joined up with a group of wildly evangelical Pentecostals intent on saving our city for Jesus. Then fast forward through to the 2000's, when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was burning with one vision: to write books for Jesus, the way that Cliff Richard had sung songs for Jesus way back when Young Talent Time was still cool. 

Only trouble was…I wasn’t much of a fan of Christian books. 

Now I don’t want to upset anyone here, and forgive me if I’m treading on toes, but I’m still not. The problem is, I think, I’m not romantic. I’ve never seen “The Notebook”, and I didn’t bawl all the way through Titanic. I’m happy for those that do, it’s just…I guess it’s like wearing kilts. I’m from good Scottish stock. I cry at Scotland the Brave, and pretty much anything played on the bagpipes. Do I want to dress my sons in kilts? No.  

See?

So anyway, fast forward again to the current decade, where there’s me and the eleven Christian books on my bookshelf (Adrian Plass and Frank Peretti in case you were wondering), and about a hundred books on writing, and a few hundred more books of stories that inspire me, Toni Morrison, Tim Winton, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Safran-Foer, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the like, and a near-complete first novel bursting at the seams of my laptop, when I have the slow and difficult revelation that I’ve mined out the depth of longing and worship and pain and redemption from my deepest heart into this manuscript, and it brims with love for Jesus but…but…but it’s not a “Christian novel”. It has swearing…and sex.

This is…ermmm…slightly a problem. I’m fairly convinced that mainstream publishers don’t exactly want novels that brim over with passion and love for Jesus, either.

It’s taken me a while to know what to do with that. I didn’t write the novel for Christians, I wrote it for broken people – not in a fervent, evangelical, you-need-to-know-that-Jesus-can-heal-you way, but because I’d been taught by a hundred craft books to write what I knew, and what I knew was that I was broken, and that Jesus healed me. And I wrote about little kid, Cliff-Richard-loving On-the-Telly faith, and what happens when that faith gets tested. And then MY faith got tested, because the book I’d wanted to write as an act of worship to the God that I love was gradually becoming something else…a book about let-down faith with no clear Jesus-redemption, a book about letting go of childish dreams and pushing out into the boat to seek an unknown future.

Is this okay? What do I think of this? And, more’s the point, what does Evangelical, Cliff-Richard-on-the-telly-loving Jesus think of this?

Heck, what would Cliff Richard think?! 

Until a week or so ago I didn’t know. 

I read a post that challenged me yet again, The Writer’s Alley: http://www.thewritersalleyblog.com/2015/02/blurred-lines-lets-talk-about-sex.html, and the author posed the following thought: could she stand before Jesus proudly with her book? If that was a no, then she knew she’d crossed the line. 

And that’s when I understood. I’ve not ended up with the book I thought I was creating, not even close. I’ve ended up being changed by this book in more ways than I can say, and it feels very much like God has directed my feet in all of it. Even the sex scenes. 

Hello everyone. My name is Megan Sayer, and I may not be a “Christian writer”, but I would gladly sit at the feet of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who walked me through my own difficult times, my own pain and redemption, and read him every word of this novel I believe He has guided me to write.

Yes, Even the rude words and the sex scenes.


29 comments:

  1. I hear what you're saying, Megan Sayer. I like the notion of being confident before the Lord, holding your book(s). I don't write for Christians, so to speak, but my works are Christian friendly, I guess one could say. Themes of loyalty, friendship and sacrifice, with positive, prominent characters of faith within the stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Terry. I like the idea of books being "Christian friendly". It's a helpful way of thinking about things.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for your honest blog, Megan. Sure sounds as if God used that book of yours to change you and to speak to you at a deep level, which is wonderful--and probably the most important factor in the whole deal. Not exactly sure why you wouldn't call yourself a 'Christian writer', however. To me, a Christian writer is simply a Christian who happens to be a writer--whatever he or she writes. And each of us who call ourselves Christian is responsible before God for what we write, as you say. Also, not all Christian fiction writers write romance--Frank Peretti, whom you mention, is one example. So there's a place for each of us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jo-Anne yes, God used it very much, and it still amazes me that He did so. I had the quintessential "God told me to write this" experience - thankfully I was wise enough also to know that it didn't mean He'd told me to go forth and publish that first draft - and I can certainly see His hand in directing me to write. I'm always amazed at how God works.

      I guess I don't like to call myself a "Christian writer" because I feel there's a lot of expectation/assumption attached to those words, namely about content and language. If I was a plumber would I call myself a Christian plumber? Probably not...unless I plumbed exclusively for the church. So it's a personal thing, but for me an important distinction.

      Delete
    2. I understand, Megan. When I talk about calling ourselves Christian writers, I don't mean we announce ourselves like that, just as the Christian plumber you mention probably wouldn't. I always just say I'm a writer and speaker--and it will soon become apparent where I'm coming from if anyone reads my books or hears me speak.

      Delete
  3. Wow Megan, good on you for your honesty and bravery. I also like to push the boundaries in my quest for writing a novel that is honest, raw, and speaks to those it's intended for - not necessarily Christians. I wish you all the best in finding publishing

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Catherine! There's definitely a market out there for honest and raw - I am part of that market. The interesting thing I'm finding though it when my own boundaries are being pushed--by my own novel! I guess God uses whatever we're working on to teach us more about Him. Who knows, maybe He'll use it to nudge a few readers into a different shape as well. Thanks again for your encouragement.

      Delete
  4. Great article Megan, I totally hear you on this one, as my book sits in that space too - Christian but not Christian. Perhaps this is an new era for evangelism - the honest, real, and palitable approach to discovering Jesus. Maybe the world needs our books just the way they are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep Sal, I think you're absolutely right, the world DOES need our books just the way they are. Yours, especially. Thanks for reading, my friend! xxx

      Delete
  5. Hi Megan, wonderful post.

    I think we often get into a flap about what definitions of Christian writing. I work on the premise that we Christians need the gospel every day due to our brokenness. The beauty of novels with themes of grace, forgiveness, redemption and so on allow Christian and non-Christian readers to have a little experience of Jesus. We need that everyday, well I sure do.

    So good for you, Megan. The CBA and secular publishing worlds might grapple with your stories and knowing where they fit. But there's this wonderful new Indie world available to us. At the end of the day, your novels sounds like a bit of your love story with Jesus and if He wants other people to read it, He'll guide you.

    Keep praying, believing and writing those stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ian, thank you. I'm definitely passionate about keeping on going and seeing what God does. I love that in spite of what we see in the natural, God is still making a way, and using our writing for His glory.

      Interestingly, in this final draft of my novel I've done something that I never saw coming when I started the book - I made it "less Jesus-y". Yes, it did my poor little evangelical head in, and that, perhaps more so than even the sex and swearing, is what's caused me to go before God as to what He wants for this book. My heart is to find a voice in mainstream publishing. The story is absolutely one of redemption and forgiveness, but I've replaced the Jesus figure with a story character.
      Need to keep reminding myself: God seems to be okay with this.
      We'll see how things pan out!

      Delete
  6. Thanks for sharing those thoughts Megan. I feel similarly. Not all Christians fit into a particular brand as a "Christian" writer, but God has gifted each of us and given us experiences that will help us share his love with others. Good on you for following God's direction. I hope your book finds a home :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Nola! I hope so too. It's been an interesting journey, honing it, figuring out exactly who I'm writing it for, and what a "good" book looks like for them. It's been a journey full of surprises, that's for sure. But hey, it seems to be the way of things when we're doing them for God.

      Delete
  7. I agree it is very important to write some books that will reach non-Christians as well as writing 'Christian fiction'. My latest novel is written mainly for non-Christians, but the characters do encounter Jesus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeanette that sounds interesting. Is the novel finished? Are you self-publishing, or looking for a traditional publisher? I'd be interested in reading it one day.

      Delete
    2. It's finished and is $20 in Koorong and a few small shops ( or less on sale) or $26 inc. p&h from me. jeanettegt@optusnet.com.au - have fun!

      Delete
  8. I just read a book called 'Kept' by Sally Bradley, and it really touched me. (Iola has reviewed it too). Ok, it doesn't have swearing or specific sex scenes, but sex is definitely involved. And it's a book I'm recommending to a twenty-something young lady who needs to know that God loves her to bits even though she's done a lot of 'stuff' and thinks she's not worth much because of it. It was Indie published, btw. Would love to read yours!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't reviewed Kept yet, but it is on my to-read list! (My loooooooonnnnnnng to read list.)

      There is a view in some Christian circles that sex outside marriage is the unforgivable sin, which means that if someone slips once, they may as well keep on sinning. It's such a wrong view, and we need fiction that will show backslidden Christians that God is waiting for them with open arms.

      Delete
    2. Andrea, I was thinking of "Kept" when I read Megan's post. I thoroughly enjoyed it and particularly it's strong message of God's redeeming love. Interesting how direct the message was and it would be interesting how a non-believer receives such a strong message.

      Delete
    3. Sorry Iola! I've remembered I read it on Rel's site :)

      Delete
    4. Andrea "Kept" sounds like an interesting read, I'll have to look it up. I'm always interested in checking out how other writers are handling nontraditional stories.

      Iola I'm completely shocked that people would think that about "if you've sinned once then you might as well keep going". FAR OUT!!! Surely I'm not being naive in thinking that's completely unbiblical!??!! Wow.

      Delete
  9. Well done Megan. I hope you find the right publisher for your book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Dale, me too. God has been so faithful so far, I'm trusting Him for the rest of it too.

      Delete
  10. I think the blog just ate my last attempt at commenting but I had to try again as your words echo my heart for my writing. Maybe it's because I too am a Scot and cry at 'Scotland the Brave' (and our nationality can bring with it an inherent stubbornness - or so my husband says (lol)). Or maybe its just that 'Aslan is on the move' and God is now calling writers to dare to step beyond the ghetto and bring redemptive stories to the unsaved world. I love the idea of being able to be unashamed of our work before Jesus - even if it contains a sex scene and some swearing. God is awesome and wants stories that can reach out into the darkness and bring hope and light. I hope your novel is quick to find a home and I look forward to reading it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, gotta love Blogger sometimes :) I'm glad too I'm not the only one who cries at Scotland the Brave!

      Yes, I very much feel the call to bring redemptive stories to the unsaved world, and the challenges to what that looks like, specifically. One of the big changes I made recently, after much prayer, was (and yes, I said this in a reply earlier too) to make the ending "less Jesus-y". It took me by surprise and I battled with it greatly, and in the end I feel very strongly that this is how God has led me to write the ending. It works with the story, and will hopefully make it acceptable to mainstream readers/publishers.

      The thing God challenged me on was the beauty of creation, and whether or not a rose, a tree, a mountain, could be a testament to our creator God, all by itself, even without a scripture printed on it...? The answer, for me, was obvious. I'm going with it, and trusting God with the next steps.

      Delete
  11. Megan, great post! Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your heart with us. It's so important to consider what God will think of our writing and also know what God expects from us, as writers. I suspect the answer is different for everyone and it's not our place to judge other writers for making choices that are different to our own.

    If you have a heart for reaching the unsaved, the mainstream market is where you'll find your readers. They could be readers who wouldn't normally pick up a Christian book, or even come across Christian books. I rarely see Christian books on the shelves of the mainstream stores in Australia. When I visited Walmart in the US a few years ago, there was a big display of Joyce Meyer books at the store entrance and a large section of Christian books, fiction and non-fiction, in-store.

    I agree with your thoughts on the 'Christian writer' label. There's a distinction between Christian writers and Christians who write, in regards to expectations. I fall into the category of Christian writer because I'm writing books that meet the expectations of readers of Christian fiction. If I wrote a book for the general market, it would be a clean, wholesome read that would be consistent with my brand of Christian romance books.

    I've heard great things about your manuscript and I'm looking forward to reading it when it's published :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Narelle thanks so much, and thank you for allowing me to post today. I've enjoyed the discussions very much, and it's been particularly great hearing from like-minded souls. Cheers!

      Delete
    2. Megan, you're very welcome, and we're glad you've joined our blogging group :)

      Delete
  12. Hi Megan,
    This blog post has really resonated with me. When I wrote my first novel, I thought it had to be "Christian" romance because I'm a Christian. My editor friend read it and kindly told me it was so Pentecostal and full of Christianese it would alienate all but a very minor group of readers.
    Long story short I removed all Christian speak from the book and it has been published in the mainstream. There's no swearing and no sex in this book but that's not to say my next ones won't have.
    I totally agree that not every Christian writer must fit into a particular box.Praise God He has given us different experiences so we can share those experiences with others. My first book has a theme of forgiveness that runs through it - something close to my heart.
    Good luck with your book - don't let it sit inside that laptop - get it out!

    ReplyDelete