Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Blog ~ Galloping Gut Bags, Batman! by Michelle Griep

Galloping Gut Bags, Batman!

by Michelle Griep

Not too long ago, Athol Dickson proposed the dilemma of how much sex to put in a ‘Christian’ novel. An interesting post that raised some viable questions about deciding how much leg to expose in a story that’s marketed to churchgoers…or at least put out by ‘Christian’ publishers. I would like to pose a similar dilemma, albeit more modestly dressed, which is every bit as cage-rattling—


Case in point, my latest release, UNDERCURRENT, is a period piece set in the Viking age. I’m talking pillaging barbarians here, not purple people eaters tossing around a pigskin. These ruffians wouldn’t think twice about bagging up your guts and sending them off as a warning to a neighboring village. And I won’t even mention what a Blood Eagle is. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

The point is…how does an author accurately portray documented atrocities? I’m not advocating gore for the sake of shock and awe, but vital plot scenes that show the evil side of human nature. Does one need to flufficise the bloody bits for the sake of the squeamish and demure?

My opinion: write it like it is, keeping balance in mind. Not too popular of a stance, but at least allow me to explain how I drew this conclusion.

The Bible. Ever read it? It’s pretty graphic. Remember the chick who skewered a fella’s brains with a tent peg in Judges 4:21? The account didn’t go on for pages and pages of unadulterated carnage, but neither did it gloss over her act of violence.

And what about the whole crucifixion? It’s mentioned in more than one book of the gospels, down to the detail of poking a spear into Jesus’ side and spilling out his body fluids. Where are the censors that should’ve edited out that section or at least slapped on a PG-13 rating? Dare we allow our children to read about such nasty bloodletting?

The bottom line is that violence can be and should be rendered appropriately when necessary. It’s a part of life. This might be a newsflash, but not everything is rainbows and butterflies.

Will this limit your potential audience? Or put boundaries on your prospective market share? You bet it will, and you should know that up front. But here’s the deal…anything you choose to write about prevents some conceivable reader from picking up your book. Not everyone’s going to want to read about battle-axe wielding Vikings. But neither does everyone want to read about bonnet-brandishing Amish girls.

I, for one, will continue to write—and read—fiction that is real…which is quite the misnomer, eh?

Michelle's been writing since she first discovered Crayolas and blank wall space. She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota with 5 other mammals (both human and canine). And don't forget to check out her debut novel, GALLIMORE...a Wizard of Oz tale with a Medieval Twist, available at Amazon or Black Lyon Publishing.


Ginny Jaques said...

Another hot topic: What about strong language in Christian fiction? I'm self-publishing my novel, and have made the editorial decision to allow my non-, and pre-Christian characters to use swear words when substituting softer alternatives, or simply saying, "He swore," would rob the story of some of its impact. My book is written for a secular audience, for the purpose of introducing them to Jesus. I believe God is okay with this editorial decision, but it is already limiting my approval ratings with well-meaning Christian readers. I understand that, and respect their stance on the issue, but feel I must go this route.

Ralene said...

Great post! I do agree about reading something that is real. But, like you said, balance is key. I don't want violence for violence's sake--but if I need to see a head get chopped off to understand something--I'm all for it.

The same goes w/ sex and cursing. I don't care how much people curse in real life, I hate reading constant cursing. You know? But if it helps to show character or emphasize something, an ocassional curse is not going to offend me (too much).

Kelly Klepfer said...

Thanks, Michelle. You're pretty "gut"sy....hahaha.

Michelle Griep said...

Hey gotta do what you gotta do. You're the one accountable to God for what you put in your book, not the readers.

And Ralene...funny you mention decapitation. That's the very issue I had to wrestle with for UNDERCURRENT.

Kelly...very punny.

Ane Mulligan said...

What can I say about a gal who write fiction that keeps me turning pages way past the wee hours? I personally think you've found the right balance. And if you tip over, you've got great CPs to push you back. snicker.

Michelle Griep said...

I do take comfort in the fact that if a Big Honkin' Chicken can make it cover to cover in one of my books, then I haven't gone to the bad place. Thanks Ane!

Nicole said...

Preach it, Sister. We're accountable to the Lord. That should provide the defining moments.

Michael Ehret said...

Bring on the blood and guts!!

Elaine Stock said...

Too many explicit details might turn off a reader while not enough of them may make for a boring book--just my take. As Ane said, it's all about balance!


Kimberli said...

It is a hot topic and I've yet to make up my mind.

I try to make my work as realistic as possible, but a part of me also likes the escapism aspect of reading. And if it's edifying, even better.

I read the Bible, and know exactly what you mean. When I reach that chapter in Judges, and other chapters equally graphic, I read them but fast. I don't like the violence because they're graphic, but they're examples of God's ultimate judgment against the wicked. It's frightening, as it's supposed to be.

I've read your work and it doesn't bother me as much. Not because the scenes aren't realistic, but because it's a time-travel piece involving Vikings, I know that violence can't touch me. Bring it on, babycakes. I can take the gore.

But I had to stop reading another Christian novel because the violence and evil were so realistic, I knew it was something that could hit home. No escapism there.

On the flip side, I don't read books about bonnet-brandishing Amish gals for the same reason I didn't watch Little House on the Prairie. I knew a different life.

I want my stories to be as realistic as possible, but as I consider the subject, and the growth of those bonnet-brandishing novels, I'm thinking maybe I should keep the edges on the blunt side so they don't cut so deeply when someone dives into my story to escape the stresses of this world.

Yvonne Anderson said...

Good topic, Michelle. I was going to say something fraught with deep and impressive wisdom, but I can't think of a thing to add. You guys are all pretty fraught yourselves. So I'll just say, Yeah. Write on. Be honest, and be prepared for some folks to be offended.

Oh yeah--also, buy Michelle's book, people! It's a good read!

Nike Chillemi said...

I agree. I think you tell it like it is...or was.

Yes, balance is the key. Does it further the story? Advance the plot? Give greater depth of character?

If the answer is yes, then do it.

Great article. Well thought out and presented.

Michelle Griep said...

Wow. Great comments gang! I didn't expect we'd solve the issue but y'all added to the conversation. Thanks!

Stacy Aannestad said...

Yeah, there is definitely a difference between "gratuitous" anything and giving just enough to get the point across. Where sex is concerned, I think Liz Curtis Higgs' "Lowlands of Scotland" series does an excellent job of balancing what needs to be told vs. not doing it in a graphic/offensive way.

As for foul language -- I agree that you have to be able to have it in a book that deals with real-life people, especially if there are non-Christians in the book. I'm not published yet, but I do have an online fictional blog, and I use just enough asterisks or dashes to soften the word (on the few occasions where that kind of language is necessary), while still letting you know what the person said. (I.e., "d*mn") For me the asterisks/dashes take it down a notch so that it's still true to the character (I guarantee my character's father wouldn't say "gosh darn" or "shoot"), but not smacking me in the face.

vonildawrites said...

Michelle, I wrote about this a few weeks ago on my vonildawrites blog, though I focused on children's literature. Have you ever read the fairy tales? Red Riding Hood having to be cut out of a wolf's belly? Others are worse. Many of the classics are the same. So the point? It brings out issues we need to face and discuss and think about from the safety of the book's pages. The act of facing/discussing/thinking strengthens for the real-life gratuitous junk we face. (Ever watch the news?)

Yet, it is possible to accurately portray it without making it the focus. We watched Gregory Peck's move of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird last night. The final scene with Boo Radley was frightening, creepy. Yet we saw not one detail of the violence. A close-up on Scout's wide, frightenend eyes was all we needed.

Fireproof dealth with pornography, yet was not prurient in the slightest.

Good authors can do this.

And if we don't as Christian authors, Christian literature will be relegated to the book shelves labeled "mindless twaddle." THAT would be a shame.


Michelle Griep said...

Whewie Voni! Preach it, girl.

Carrie L. Lewis said...

All of the issues raised in this post and in Athol's have one thing in common: Perceived acceptability.

To my way of thinking, there are two guidelines that should be observed in making a decision on any of them.

1: The conscience of the writer. The Apostle Paul tells the readers of his letters that if they view something as a sin, then it is a sin for them.

Drinking adult beverages would be sinful for me because I perceive it to be sinful. Does that mean that everyone who has a glass of wine with a meal or a nightcap before bed is going straight to hell? No. At least not for that drink... unless their conscience convicts them.

Paul also tells us we're accountable for how our actions impact others, especially the weaker in faith, but I don't believe writers are held responsible for those who have self-bending noses.

2: What is appropriate as a rule for the genre in which you are writing? If you're doing cozy mysteries, then questions about sex, violence, and language are moot. Cozy publishers won't accept them and most cozy readers won't accept them.

However, if you're writing 'edgy' Christian fiction, you have more latitude for those sorts of things. Don't write something with sex, violence or language in it and expect to get it published as a cozy. It probably won't happen and you will have wasted your time and the time of a lot of other people.

The real problem, as I see it, is not what writers are writing (at least not in all cases). The problem is an encroaching insulation from real life in most of western civilization and especially in western Christianity. We're losing sight of the real world because of the 'plushness' of our society. Too many people want things 'nice' and 'tidy' and 'non boat rocking'. I grew up on a dairy farm. I know what it's like to dote on a dairy cow one week and eat it the next.
I know that life isn't always pretty and is sometimes pretty ugly.

And I know that the only way to go out into the world is to, well, go out into the world and out of our nice, tidy, non-boat-rocking lives.

So knowing there is something called Real Life out there and that it's nowhere near pretty makes me more open to fiction that looks a lot like a prophecy from the major old testament prophets. Or even the minor ones.

Sin is ugly. The world is full of sin. Things have been that way since the fall and will continue to be that way until the end of time.

So balance in writing, knowing the market you're writing for and your target audience is key.

Good discussion.