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Thursday, November 11, 2010

When the world wants happy endings

I write books.

And often those books deal with weighty issues: sexual abuse, spousal abuse, hypocrisy, trauma. Why would I write about such things? Mainly because injustice angers me. And part of the reason I write is my attempt to right the wrongs in this world.

Problem is, that kind of book doesn't sell. The world wants happy endings. Everything tied up. The hero getting the lady. The championship won. The marriage saved. The strained relationship restored.

I like happy endings too, particularly in my own life. And I like books where you see radical redemption. But I also appreciate truth-filled books, books that make me aware of an injustice I didn't know about. Books that teach me that humans made in the image of God can destroy or restore. Those books challenge me to think, to pray, to consider my own life.

I write this with a pained heart. A few weeks ago, I went to a conference in South Africa where I met a man from Iraq. Today he fears for his life simply because of his faith. His is a painful story, but one that needs to be told.

What I wrestle with as a novelist is this: do I bow to the market that longs for always happy endings, or do I continue to hit the hard issues? I understand that many of us read to escape this painful world. I get that. But my slot in this writing realm doesn't seem to be to write for escape. Others have been called to that, but not me.

So I'll write. Not to amplify my voice, but to tell the stories of those who are crying to be heard.

How about you? What are you called to write? Have you run away from that or bowed beneath it? Why?

Mary DeMuth is the author of nine books. Find out more at


  1. I believe you should never shy away from what you believe in. Many of the best pieces of literature end badly. I doubt that Hamlet would have echoed through the ages had he killed Claudius and ran off with Ophelia to found a little farm by the coast away from the burdens of royalty.

    I'm currently writing a novel which I hope will be published one day and I already know that the hero will die, all for a message too. But the message I'm writing into my book is more about political injustice than personal injustices.

    Stick to your vision and you won't go wrong.

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  3. Mary - I LOVE that you write about the hurting, messy lives of people. That's where we see God do His greatest work. I don't need happy endings, but a message of hope. I don't need to escape into a fairy tale. I'd much rather read a work that challenges me to think beyond my own cozy world. Your books do that.

    I too write about messy, broken lives as that's where my passion comes out. I wrote a romance last year in an attempt to appease the market, but the story lacked life. I've decided to stick with what I do best.

  4. I agree with you. Books can be light and fluffy--and there's certainly a good place for such content--but what really gets me going is the raw and true-life stuff. It's most redemptive, even if the "story" doesn't wind up happy, because we learn so much about ourselves in the process. I think of that as a greatest kind of success.

    Best to you, Mary, doing what you do!

  5. M Caledonius, may your book find a home and many readers.

    Brenda, keep writing what's in your heart. And I agree, the beauty of redemption seems to radiate from messy lives.

    Janna, thanks for your kind words and encouragement.

  6. Mary, Life is indeed messy, and happy endings may not happen when or how we picture them, if at all. But if you portray how a Christian deals with these struggles and situations, you're being true to the call you have to write Christian fiction. And that's what counts.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Richard, thanks so much. That's my hope, at least.

  8. I think writers should write about the pain, and ugliness, and brokenness of our world. However, biblical Christians know that in the end, there will be redemption. Christ will return. He will make all things new.

    Our heart's desire for a happy ending is a reflection of our God-given longing for redemption. It confirms that fact that we were not made for brokenness, but wholeness.

    And so, the whole story needs to be told. Not just the brokenness that exists now, but the ultimate healing and redemption that will be revealed in the future.

    I have not yet read your novels but I have read Thin Places and follow your blog and I think you strive to this end and do it well.

  9. Eyvonne,

    That's a really good point about us longing for ultimate redemption.

  10. Mary I was on your site the other day, reading about "Thin Places", now added to my "To Be Read" list. Having a "Hey I know you" moment: )

    I absolutely agree that the difficult stories need to be told. I attempt to write stories that reflect uncomfortable truths, the things that cause people to stop and say "I've never told anybody that". For me to write God stories is to tell those truths, to help facilitate people's opening. For me the happy endings aren't always the "perfect" endings, but ones where there's an element of hope to take away.

  11. I like to write a mix in each book. Some of the characters see a great and victorious outcome, because readers need to see that God is able to do anything! However, I also like to sprinkle in characters with struggles and situations that don't get solved. Because the hard truth is, broken relationships don't always get mended, people we love don't always love us back and some never forgive and stay bitter. I think a good mix brings balance! And at the end of the day, it boils down to writing the story God led you to!

  12. Some of the best books I've ever read do not have a happy ending, but that's okay. Life doesn't always turn out the way you think it should, so I want to see how characters handle themselves when there's not a happy ending...especially if they are characters who depend on their faith in God to help them through the ups and downs of life.

  13. I, too, am writing a novel about truth which I hope to be published one day. I write about the "justice" system - from the inside. And the system is not always how it is portrayed either in the media and certainly not in the entertainment business. There are some happy endings and I have no problem writing about those, but there are other endings and I hope readers will also want to know about them as well. How else can we learn and become better?

  14. I respect that and really understand what you are saying. Do we write what man wants us to write, or what God has placed in our hearts?

    I pray you continue to stand strong in your decision to honor the true voice of suffering in this world; to be a voice for those who don't have one. Crossing Oceans didn't have a happy ending in terms of what we call happy, but I think it was, at the same time, the happiest ending I have ever read.

    The most powerful books are those written from the cry in your heart that says, "write this, woman of God. It demands to be read. Somebody needs to hear this."

    I pray that I too will bow to the voice of God during those times it clashes with the cries of man.

  15. Wow, such encouraging words, all of you! I so appreciate it that there are so many wanting to read the truth: both the painful & beautiful.

  16. Dear Mary, this post is on point with my week. These are questions God has confronted me with in the last few days. In turn He reveals how much fear fills me about stepping out and taking a stand on difficult issues, especially in writing where it could stand forever. I prayed today He will remove the fear and allow me to move forward boldly.


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