Thursday, August 09, 2012

Confessions of a Rebellious Writer . . .


You don’t have to like what I write. I can’t make you like it. I can’t stop you from liking it. You are out of my control. That’s a good thing.  Because control issues speak loudly in the writing community.  And not in a positive way.

Sometimes as writers and readers we have to concede someone else knows what they’re doing even if we don’t like it.

I concede formulaic novels with pristine grammar and safe characters fulfill the reading desires for a number of - or perhaps the bulk of – Christian fiction readers.  I applaud the ability to follow the rules and stick to the norm, to what’s expected, and to what has worked for many years in the overall genre.

But this rebel does not concede that I must do the same. “Good luck with that!” you say.  Well, I don’t believe in luck, but I do agree with the exclaimed concept. A rebellious writer in CBA doesn’t fly.

“Why are you so rebellious?” you ask, perplexed. And I answer, “It’s because I need to like what I write. I need to write what feels real to me. I can’t dress it up to meet some standards I view as foolish or ridiculous. If that seems harsh,” I say, “then I apologize. Not for what I write, but for coming down hard on some literary choices which equal that of annoying ‘politically correct’ paragons designed to contain and restrain offenses.”

The truth is you can’t write anything without offending someone. “Someone” will decide you stink as a writer and assign you to the one-star reviews on Amazon. Someone else will chastise you for using adverbs profusely, head-hopping, dialogue tags, “and” or “but” to start sentences, or breaking any rule you can’t stand.

“So there should be no standards?” you gasp.

Of course there should be standards for fiction authored by Christians, but the ultimate standard is established between the Holy Spirit and the author. And those authors who dare to circumvent some of the restrictive measures put in place by some publishers must decide for themselves how and where to publish. Since rebellious writing in Christian circles most likely earns you a trip to e-publishing or a vanity press, you must choose what works for you.

Writing rebels don’t compromise well. Rebels can’t find an easy middle ground when they truly believe in what they’re writing. Rebels believe in common sense standards which uphold Christian principles, not Christian opinions.

We walk a lonely literary path in Christian publishing, but one aspect of this decision ignored by readers and writers who disagree with our choices: we walk our path with Jesus who goes before us to make it straight. He is who we follow. Not the disgruntled .  .  .

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. You can visit her daily at her blog: hopeofglory.typepad.


Normandie Ward Fischer said...

My, my, what a surprise to see your sweet face when I opened this post. A rebel with a cause. Though you and I will never agree about those picky little grammar/punctuation issues, my dear friend, we almost always agree about freedom of expression and the quest for excellence in story and craft.

Be blessed.

sally apokedak said...

Hey, nice to see your face. I had no idea what you looked like.

Good post, Nicole. I'm not sure that the CBA is as stringent as it once was. I suppose there are a lot of cookie-cutter novels scratching an itch the readers have. But I think there are CBA publishers now that are trying new things.

Compromise? Yes, I guess you have to compromise to publish in the CBA or the general market. But that's not always a bad thing.

Keeping control of your work is not always a bad thing either. Nice job on your book covers.

Nicole said...

Thanks, N, and Sally. And, yeah, N, you love those pesky commas. :) Sally, I'm not "against" compromise per se. And I agree to a point that some CBA editors are willing to take a few chances, but as a whole some of the so-called compromises don't. They're a requirement because of "offense". And they are our (Christian fiction's) politically correct gestures. I can't support those because they're not made in the interests of good literature. They're made with the objective of "pleasing man". That rarely works.

Marianne said...

Oh dear...if i wanted 'safe' predictable, and so fiction, i would still be reading Little House on the Prairie and Grace Livingston Hill books. Don't get me wrong, those definitely have their place, but give me a novel that deal with the issues i face, or my friends have. I have a need for good novels that also have some meat to them! Thanks, and please keep them coming, whether in the CBA or otherwise, Nicole

Jessica Thomas said...

Well stated Nicole.

Christian fiction publishers obviously have rules. I think that's okay to a point. A writer should be able to write within constraints and still produce a good product...we should have good form despite the scaffolding. But at some point an author needs to the freedom to toss the rules out the window and spread their wings. That shouldn't be seen as an inherently "sinful" or "bad" thing for an artist to do, but a necessary part of the growth process.

At this point, I'm willing to play nice with the CBA. I understand they have a targeted audience that expects certain things and I can respect that.

Question is (and I'm truly wondering the answer to this) can an author write to CBA standards and publish successfully within the CBA, but also have a career in the general market? For instance, my story over at Every Day Fiction is Christ-focused, but it has the word "b*llsh*t" in it. I thought long and hard over that one word...deciding whether it was truly appropriate in context, and finally decided it was right. Does that short story and potentially other like it black-list me in CBA? Does it make me "a writer with whom we should not associate because she spouts sin?" I dunno. I sure hope not. We're all adults here, hopefully.

The way I see it, I'm writing for two different audiences that have different expectations, and my aim as an author must adjust accordingly (within reason) to clearly communicate to both.

Niki Turner said...

Oh, you are SO right... we follow Christ, not the disgruntled!
Thank you for an excellent post!

Nicole said...

Marianne, I agree. Every novel has its place and its audience. And they should be respected and supported. But those of us who prefer a different perspective with redemption at the core need our books too. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Marianne.

Thanks to YOU, Niki.

Jess, it's a tough road. You'll figure it out for you, and you'll succeed. Ask Nicole Baart and Charles Martin.

Where There's a Will There's a Way With Words said...

Nicole, I don't know your work but I recognize your attitude. I'm coming into Christian fiction writing from a prison ministry background and let me politely say I haven't found many CBA books that hold my interest level. I pray that when my craft reaches publishing standards that my stories find a support team interested in the marginal vs mainstream markets. I don't write 'edgy' or use profanity or steamy scenes. My first two projects focus on healing parental neglect and family grieving. I'd consider it a greater miracle to have 2,000 inmates read my stories than 20,000 choir members, but then again when we get to heaven all the robes will match !

Brenda Anderson said...

Nicole - It's often the rebels who pave way for change.

Don't you ever change - keep writing for your audience of one! You do it well.

Nicole said...

WhereThere'sAWill,There'sAWaywithWords: I will pray 20K inmates and even more choir members read your work. Keep on keepin' it real. Thank you for your comments and your service to the "least of these".

Brenda, you're the sweetest thing. Thank you from my heart. I appreciate that you've read my work and can say this. Means so much.

Elaine Baldwin said...

Even though this my first introduction to you, I am thinking you are a kindred spirit! Will connect on your blog and search out your books immediately.
Thank you for speaking what is in my soul.

Nicole said...

Elaine, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you. Email me. Thank you for posting this.

Kathryn J. Bain said...

Nicole, you are my new best friend. I thought I was the only one out here writing stuff considered "too edgy" for Christian fiction. Unfortunately, most edgy Christian fiction isn't very edgy to me.

It took me years to get published and I basically "dumbed" down my books to do so. Now I'm ramping up again.

Fortunately I have a good publisher who's willing to listen when I feel something belongs in one of my books.

You rock!

Sally Bradley said...

Personally, I don't like the word "edgy" because--to me--it has the connotation of seeing how close we can get to what's wrong and still technically say we're not doing the wrong. But that could be just me.

What I long to see more of is the real life stuff you mentioned, Nicole. Our America is not the Christian country it used to be, and as a writer of women's fiction, my stories reflect that. But it's also what I like. I love stories that take people who've thoroughly messed up their lives and show God stepping in in some way and bringing them to Him. That's a story that never gets old.

I wonder, too, if the genre plays a part in this. Women's fiction deals more with issues and relationships. It's usually not a lighthearted beach read. To me, it's a genre where it should be safe to show real life and real struggles. I do wish there was more of this in the CBA, a few more writers who are Kristin-Hannahish. Maybe that'll be me. :) Who knows?

Where I draw the line in my work is between showing the filth without making my reader roll around in it. And it's also why I read Christian fiction. I personally don't want the graphic sex scenes and the foul language. But I think we can show real life and real struggles without crossing those boundaries.

Nicole said...

Kathryn, I can always use another best friend. ;) Kathryn, here's the deal with me. As Christians, we answer to the Lord. We're responsible to Him. I couldn't write one word without Him. And when I put words to paper, they come from deep down. I don't write "edgy" (and I'm not fond of the term either) just because. In fact, naive as I was, I didn't think I was writing edgy stories. I thought I was writing honest, real stories with a redemptive core. I urge you and every other writer to persevere with authentic stories written from the heart - however the Lord leads you. Doesn't mean they'll fly in CBA. Doesn't mean anything really other than you tell the story the way you must. Be true to how the Lord works in you.

Sally, you and I agree on the graphics deal, but we know our limits are slightly different. Part of that stems from our backgrounds. Authenticity is what matters and following the heartfelt direction of the Lord. I don't do fluff, but neither do I condemn it. You want and write depth, and how you tell your stories will be how the Lord wants you to tell them - of that I'm certain.

Brandi Boddie said...

This post is so refreshing to read. I consider myself to be part of the "rebellious" group. I write edgy historical and speculative fiction. When I first started reading CBA fiction, two of the things I noticed were the lack of diversity and storylines that seemed to work a bit too hard on trying not to be offensive. How can we write stories without conflict? It just seems impossible.

I agree with Kathryn. Sometimes it feels like so much has to be drastically sanitized in our original manuscripts in order to gain approval from the CBA readership (or the powers that be who monitor the readership). I have a series coming out for the traditional market, but I also have story ideas that may not appeal to them (steampunk stories, anyone?) If ebooks and vanity publishing are the ways to go to get those stories out there, I don't see why we can't embrace those avenues as well.

Nicole said...

Brandi, you go with your gut - and your heart. I know that "impossible" feeling well. Thank you for your comments.

From Mary's Pen said...

I was told by a top agent just last week that Christian publishers aren't looking for teen fiction right now... in fact, her agency has phased out children's books because the market simply isn't strong enough to justify representing them.

I am a rebellious writer. I will continue writing for teens and young adults, and I will market my work in the secular markets and even via e-books. I will leave the fold and wander the fields to find the wandering lost... or perhaps just to wander myself, but with my Shepherd by my side, I know I can't be truly lost.

Keep writing, and keep rebelling. The world needs more Christian writers like you, Sister.

Nicole said...

You go, Mary! Our task is to remain true to what the Lord has for us to do. Period. His design, our direction. I applaud your courage and determination.

Linda Bonney Olin said...

Nicole, I'm glad I found this encouraging post. My little rebellion isn't in edgy content but in resistance to corraling my writing into a "brand."
I write in a variety of genres, according to the Holy Spirit's daily direction. Music, devotions, poetry, drama, non-fiction, fiction, whatever. Is that the way to land an agent, a publishing contract, or attract a bazillion die-hard fans? No. But, like you, I do what my one die-hard fan asks me to do, and try not to lose heart while I await his results. :)
- Linda

Nicole said...

And that's all that counts, Linda. It really doesn't matter how hard it is to NOT do what's expected. It matters to know what He expects from you and to do it in spite of what it doesn't get you. In spite of the tsking of those who assess you as full of folly and not taking a writing career seriously. Or the criticism suggesting you can't do any of it well if you're so divided. Well, it's not theirs to say and do. It's yours. Keep following His design.

Terri Tiffany said...

I love a rebel! Tend to be one myself but it is a hard path to take. I do believe God will give us what to write and to whom and that's what we need to do!

Nicole said...

It is, Terri. And it certainly isn't for everyone. I'm not advocating it or promoting it. I'm explaining why I am who I am as a writer.