To date, all my publications have been in the CBA or in Christian magazines. Well, all but one. I was asked to be the feature author for Splickety Magazine, a publication of flash fiction. I was to write a 1000-word story. That’s akin to asking a Baptist preacher (like I used to be) to deliver a three minute sermon. It takes me that long to clear my throat. Asking a novelist to write a 1000-word story is a display of high-order optimism.
I said yes.
After all, I’ve had this idea rattling inside my head for a long time. It was a bit of sci-fi that I figured would never see the light of day. Still, it had moved into my head, rearranged the furniture, and taken up residence. I wanted to write that story if for no other reason than to get it out of my head.
I hesitated to start. Why? The story has no socially redeeming value. Oh sure, it has a bit of morality to it, but mostly it was an old style pulp sci-fi piece. It was foam on the ocean, a bit of driftwood washing ashore. There was going to be no, “That changed my life.” The best I could hope for was, “That was fun.”
So I hesitated. After writing and publishing nearly a half-million words, all Christian themed, it was difficult to imagine writing a secular story. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t think it’s wrong for Christians to work in the general market. In fact, I think it’s a good idea. Salt has no value if confined to the shaker. It was just that I hadn’t done it before.
Okay, that’s not quite accurate. I did write a novel for the general market but a Christian publisher bought it and asked me to baptize it for the CBA, which I did (The Incumbent, Zondervan, 2004). I did three books in that series. Go figure.
One of my neuroses is this nagging feeling that everything I do must have some lasting value. I want my tombstone to read, “He wrote things that made a difference,” but I fear it will read, “He wrote piles of claptrap.”
My short story forced me to ask, “Must everything I write be baptized?” My answer is, “Nope.” There can be value in almost anything we do. Sometimes readers need something to entertain and nothing more. Or they need to experience something new and strange. Chow was and is an exercise in fiction. Since I mostly do book length work (fiction and nonfiction) writing a short-short story was good exercise. My first draft was about 3000 words, a mere three times as many as I was allowed. It took six passes to get to the goal length, and Splickety was kind enough (or felt obligated) to publish it. In other words, I got a writing workout, I learned new things, found new weaknesses to address, and had me some fun.
Must everything we write be baptized? I don’t think so. I do believe that the bulk of our writing should have some lasting value, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over a writing lark.
You can read the long version of Chow at my website www.altongansky.com
Alton Gansky is the author of 43 books and one odd short story. He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, and host of Writer’s Talk. His latest book is 60 People Who Shaped the Church, Baker books, 2014.