Tag Archives: faith

Faith and the novel: how much is too much?

The other day our local pool shut down for a few hours after someone mistakenly used it for a toilet.

Right now, I’m currently involved in a debate between several writers  regarding religion in mainstream fiction: is it okay to mention it, and if yes, to what degree? After all, we don’t want to push our audience out of the pool by filling our stories up with too much…

Well, you get the picture.

But seriously, for writers with faith who are not writing inspirational novels, the question of how much is too much can cause us to question our stories and our characters. Will the very mention of God make readers toss our novels?

I am a Lutheran by choice. I pray for my friends and family, though not all of them believe that prayers matter. I do this because I love them, not because I want to convert them. I don’t back down and hide the fact that I’m a believer, but I try very hard not to shove it down anyone’s throat. I respect that everyone has their own set of core beliefs and values and that we are free to live our lives without being heckled because of them.

Yet sometimes when I write, my characters are believers as well. They live their lives with their faith as a part of who they are. Quite simply, religion is a part of their make-up, be they flute-playing short girls going into the tenth grade or muscle-bound seventeen-year-old boys who play soccer, eat an entire pizza for snack and attend church on Sunday with their families. My references to religion fall within the scope of my MCs’ personalities and experiences. They are most definitely not a sermon.

So my question to you, as readers, is this: how does the mention of God, faith or religion enter into your decision to read a book or keep reading it? Do you read books that challenge your beliefs, or do you try to read only those that align with your core values?

In other words, if my MC says “a quick prayer”, would this be considered too much reference to religion to be mainstream? If it is mentioned that he goes to church, would this change your impression of him–make you like him more or less? Or doesn’t this type of faith reference impact your overall feelings?

Curious minds definitely want to know.

*As a side note: Healthy discussion is encouraged and all beliefs and responses are welcome as long as they remain respectful and contribute something useful to the discussion. Those that attack–either for against religion–may be edited or deleted altogether. Thanks for adhering to this policy.religi

 

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Don’t Assume Anything: Ask Everything

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting with my little sister over lunch. We made our way to Dear Daughter’s must-visit eatery: Buffalo Wild Wings. Ordering was easy, as our tastes run so similar.

Getting the right order was not.

Instead of receiving traditional wings, our waitress had brought us boneless. In our mind, all parties were to blame. We never specified which type of wings we wanted, nor did the waitress ask.

We all just assumed: us because we only eat traditional, and she because the boneless were on sale.

An honest mix-up that was quickly remedied.

Yet, not all assumptions are as easily taken care of. In writing, assumptions can get us in a boat load of trouble.

  • Never assume you know something as fact. Ever. Remember how people used to believe the world was flat? They assumed, and they were wrong. When I write, I check and double-check even simple things like how many kids play on a baseball team. I don’t want to lose readers because I didn’t have my facts straight and therefore lost all credibility with them.
  • Never assume you know what a crit partner meant by a comment–especially those that sting. If appropriate, ask for clarification, particularly before doing a rewrite based on the comment.
  • Never assume you know what an agent or editor meant on something that seems a little fuzzy. Agents don’t bite. Well, some might, but I hear rabies’ shots are required for the higher-ups in the publishing biz. It’s okay to shoot off a quick email as long as you do so appropriately.
  • Never assume all agents and editors are the same.
  • Never assume submission guidelines are the same across the board for all houses.
  • Never assume that a rejection means you’re a crappy writer.
  • Never assume that selling a book means you can quit your day job.
  • Never assume you know anything, let alone everything, about the world of writing.

Instead, check things out. Ask around. Read yourself sick on the topics you write about. Become besties with professionals who know what they know and can make your writing accurate.

And probably the biggest and best advice I can give: research your options and topics from all sides, not just from the POV you want to be true.

On our way home from lunch with Little Sister, DD and I talked religion. She finds it infinitely intriguing that (in her experience) people who don’t believe in God are more well-versed in the Bible than the people who live their religion on a daily basis.

There’s a lot of truth in her observation. Those who cut their teeth on Faith typically assume what they’ve heard in church and in their homes is correct. Those who were never immersed in it as a way of life will often seek to find the truth behind the Faith.  They actually dig into the nitty-gritty of it all. They ask questions and challenge the answers. They research all points of view and probably have a more well-rounded understanding of religion as a whole than those who have never read outside their Faith teachings.

We can learn a lot from this method of asking, not assuming. We have a better chance at succeeding in the publishing biz if we research our options and make informed decisions.

In what ways have your assumptions been challenged as you’ve walked your writing (or life) path? What things did you really know and which assumptions were proven faulty? How has this changed the way you’ve approached your writing/publishing (daily living) endeavors?

Curious minds want to know.  And if you’re still curious, you can check out my post on From the Write Angle regarding bios and bylines.

 

A Taste of Heaven: Things Writers Can’t Make Up

Last night, Youngest treated me to a foot massage for Mother’s Day–a much appreciated pampering after a weekend of impromptu garage sale hosting.  My feet were killing me, and I told Youngest my massage felt like heaven.

“How do you know?”

“I’m just guessing.”

He never paused, but seemed a bit disappointed in my answer.  “Oh.  Well, I tasted heaven once.”

In case you’re wondering, Youngest isn’t fanciful.  Unlike his older two brothers who spun tales of dinosaurs visiting them in the night or their adventures aboard pirate ships, Youngest is a factual kind of kid.  He’s so factual, he doesn’t even lie.  In fact, he dropped his bombshell about tasting heaven in much the same way he would state that he ate pizza for lunch.  As a simple truth.

I needed to know more.  “When?”

“Well, one day after school I had a tummy ache–you were gone–and God came to visit me.  He gave me a piece of heaven to eat and said it would make my tummy feel better.”

“Did it?”

“Of course.”

And then he was on to other topics.  I immediately understood his disappointment in my assumption that my Mother’s Day foot massage felt like heaven when I’d had absolutely no experience with the actual place myself.

It kind of makes me wonder…

As adults, we often turn cynical in the way we view the world.  We rationalize and debate and search for proof and argue our viewpoints to the point of nausea.  We know what we know and we quit seeing the world through innocent eyes.

Young kids don’t see skin color or religion or sexual orientation or economic status.  They simply see other kids.  A potential playmate.  A friend.  Their take on “innocent until proven guilty” is “everything’s good, right and normal until we’re told otherwise.”

When writing for young kids, this is important to keep in mind.  Kids see the world very differently than we do.  They are not hardened by experience, shame, guilt, peer pressure or poverty.  They are sweetly innocent until life strips them of this most precious commodity.

It isn’t until the end of our life journeys that we yearn for a return to that innocence and sheer faith in the goodness of life.

When writing for middle schoolers or young adults, we must also keep this in mind.  Kids need validation for the tumultuous experiences they encounter.  But, they also need hope.  Hope for something better.  Hope for a brighter future.  Hope for a return of that innocence they once cherished.

Did God really minister a piece of heaven to Youngest when I was unable to do so myself?  I hope so, though I’ll never know.  The only true answer I have is that Youngest experienced this event in his mind and in his heart.  And that’s reality enough for him.  Who am I to tell him otherwise?

Do you believe kids have an inside track on certain things?  Do you feel that writers have a responsibility to foster hope and inspire change for the future?  How can we accomplish these tasks if we, ourselves, have already lost the magical wonder of a child?  And where can we find novel fodder so uniquely innocent besides the mind of the child?

Curious minds want to know.

P.S.  Spell Check thinks massage is wrong.  It wants me to replace the a with an e.  I’ve never had a foot message before, but I suppose it could be interesting.  And yet another example of things writers cannot make up on their own!

Controversy Alert! Judgement Day

Our tiny town lost a child yesterday.  A first grader succumbed to cancer.  Whatever your faith, whatever your nonfaith, whatever your journey or life experience, this is a tragedy.  A life lost before it got started.  A potential never reached.  Silence, not laughter.  Emptiness never to be filled with love and joy and the growing pains of raising an innocent child to adulthood.

Sadly, a dear friend relayed the loss of a child in her hometown two days ago.  An eighth grader took his own life.  Rumor had it he was bullied.  Another loss.  Another silence in the hearts of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, basketball coaches, peers, future employers, a future spouse and future children.  Another gaping hole where once a child lived.

Each and every life is precious.  Each and every one.

Yet, if I started layering these stories with other information, opinions might begin to change.  Humans are judgemental.  We let our values and prejudices interfere with our basic human compassion.  We put ourselves–and those like us–on pedestals and deem others somehow inferior, somehow less deserving.

I hear it all the time.  As a court advocate for kids, as a mother, a member of social groups, a Christian, a wife, a coworker.  Every role I play puts me in a position to hear–and pass–judgment on others.

Too often, I hear compassion slip away as information is revealed.

“Her dad is black.”  Or Hispanic.  As if this is somehow the reason behind the grades a child gets in school or how well she sits in class.  For the record, plenty of “white” kids get poor grades and fidget through first grade.  They also bring weapons to school and drink and get detention for smart-mouthing teachers.  Yet, I’ve never heard, “Her dad is white.”

“He’s gay.”  As if this somehow negates the very idea that he could love a child without having perverse thoughts toward it.  Hello, folks.  Lots of molested children are victims of heterosexuals.  Lots.  More than you care to consider.  Some of them by biological fathers or grandfathers or uncles or brothers or mothers.  Yes, that happens, too.  And far more often than you’d care to consider.  Our children’s sexual safety isn’t in danger from homosexuals, but rather from a pool of psychologically aberrant individuals taken from every race, religion, gender and profession.

“Ugh.  She lives in a trailer.”  As if this automatically relegates a child to a life of unwashed clothes, headlice and burger flipping.  I grew up in a trailer, as did my business-owning, neat-as-a-pin, liceless brother-in-law.  I’ve been in tidy trailers and trashed mansions.

“But they’re Muslim.”  Or Catholic, or Buddhist, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or Atheist, or Wiccan.  As if these people are incapable of doing anything productive, compassionate or selfless simply because of what they believe or don’t believe in regards to faith.  Plenty of Christians I know are hypocritical, selfish and judgemental.  Just like plenty of people in every other religion or nonreligion known to man.

We are human.  We persecute those different from us.  We are brash and cruel, thoughtless and dehumanizing.  We forget the very basic, underriding compassion for others even as we tell the world how wonderful we are.

We suppress and oppress.  We judge people on factors that may or may not have any impact on events, behaviors or failures.  We generalize and stereotype.  We inhibit and prohibit.

We forget to strip away the irrelevant information and remember that underneath, we were all innocent children.  Are innocent.  That we are all precious and deserving of respect and compassion regardless of where we came from, whom we love or what our faith.

Take a moment to evaluate your own prejudices and judgements.  Ask yourself where they came from and why you feel the way you do.  Consider if your feelings have been passed down through the generations and have relevance in your life in the here and now.  Is it a stereotype you’ve learned from television, the newspaper, your preacher?  Is it a generalization you’ve made based on personal experiences?  Is holding onto it conducive to living your life?  Do you take into account other’s personal experiences before foisting your values onto them?  Do you have room to improve?

You don’t need to answer those questions here, but I ask that you think about them as you go about your day.  Don’t let the loss of our innocent children slip away forgotten, because underneath the labels we paste on ourselves and others, we are all inherently the same.

hugs~

*Thoughtful and respectful commentary is welcome, regardless of the content.  However, any blatantly disrespectful comments will not be approved.  This blog does not support attacking individuals or groups of individuals for any reason.

The Journey

Last night we paid our respects to Barb and supported our friends as they mourned the death of a parent.  Today, DH will carry the burden of his love for her during her funeral service.  One of Barb’s wishes was that DH be a pall bearer on the day she is laid to rest.

This is a difficult task–one I have never performed myself, but one I watched DH struggle with when he and his cousins carried their grandfather from the church to the cemetary.  I have to believe this is one of the hardest journeys one must walk.

In life, the only guarantee is death.

Marriages fail, children are led astray, jobs are lost and families split apart due to affairs, drugs or tragedy.  Yet even through the pain, nothing is final.  Emotions wax and wan.  Joy follows sorrow.  Anger preceeds calm. 

Life is fluid.  Experiences hinge upon each other.  Journeys change from one moment to the next.  One week to the next.  Year to year and decade to decade. 

Yet there is always, inevitably, an end.  This simple fact shifts the focus from life itself to the journey through life.  Like any good  book, there is a beginning, a middle and an end.  Like the characters between the covers, we face obstacles, experience success and ultimately grow and change because of the choices we make.

While writing my DD’s confirmation poem, I focused not on her confirmation, but rather on her faith journey.  I wrote it to have meaning last Sunday, ten years from now and a lifetime from now–however short or long that may be. 

It is timely today, as my DH prepares to carry Barb to her final resting place.  It is a poetic replica of her life–the kindness, acceptance and grace in which she lived–and I’d like to share it with you.

Faith journey

Love journey

Hope journey

Life

Walk in the way of your spirit; your heart knows the way.

Follow where it shall lead, the path is ever under your feet.

And should you stumble, lift your voice to heaven

the answer is there.

Reach for the stars

Believe in miracles

Trust in the Lord

He is your guide.

Faith, Love, Hope

This is the journey of life.

 

These last days have been filled with raw emotion, both good and bad.  I suspect writing will flow easily for the next little while and my “voice” will be authentic.  Some of my best writing follows the emotional tides of my life.  I suspect this is true for most writers.

What life experiences have shaped the kind of person/writer you are today?  What events played a major role in your life/writer’s journey?

Napkin Notes

Sometimes life trails a finger down our spines just to make sure we’re paying attention.

On Saturday morning, DD and I searched through boxes in the basement to find some baby pics, her baptismal candle and anything else that might dress up the cake table for her confirmation.  It goes without saying that we got wrapped up in time as we fingered a miniature pair of jelly shoes, pink and white hair bands and DD’s baby ring. 

In the bottom of a box, we also came across her birth cards.   One did not fit in with the commercialized cards.  It was not decorated with cutesy sayings, baby booties and rattles in pink and blue.  In fact, it was nothing more than a plain white napkin.  

This simple card read She’s beautiful.  See you soon.

I pointed it out to my daughter and her eyes welled up.  The impromptu card had been written by my dear hubby’s surrogate mom–the mother of his childhood best friend.  At the time of DD’s birth, Barb worked in the medical center and was our first non-family visitor.  She had sneaked a peek in the nursery while the rest of the world slumbered.  There, she penned her warm welcome to our newest family member on a hospital napkin, too excited to wait for a trip to the store.

We packed up and moved shortly after and I hadn’t seen the note since.  Yet, at the time DD and I picked through her infant memorabilia, we both knew that Barb was fighting for her life in hospice.  Ten minutes after we cleaned up our mess, my DH called and told us the news.  Barb had passed away.

She’s beautiful.  See you soon.

In my heart, I know that Barb looked down on my daughter during her confirmation on Sunday in the same way she had gazed in that nursery window almost fourteen years ago.  In the same way she had witnessed DD’s baptism at a ceremony in our shared church.

In my world, guardian angels do exist.  Sometimes they are subtle and we don’t know they are there.  Other times they announce their intentions, sending a blessing our way if only we open our eyes to the possibility.  And I can think of no better gift than the one my daughter received on the eve of publicly confirming her faith.

She’s beautiful.  See you soon. 

Simple words.  Heartfelt sentiments.  A promise for every tomorrow and a gift for a life time.

In life, it is usually the small things that become something grand.  The sweet scent of a daffodil as it promises srping.  The tiny buzz of a bee that signifies honey. 

Notes on a napkin that give hope in a cascade of shivers down the spine. 

My prayer for you, my dear readers, is that you keep your hearts open to the promises around you.  On this day and all those to come.  And never pass up the opportunity to leave a simple note on a napkin.

Because in the end, no matter what our faith or belief systems, love transcends all.  Even in death it lives on in the hearts of those who remember.

~ cat

Book Reports and Baked Bread

When I was a kid, book reports were dull, lifeless regurgitations of novels.  They lacked all creativity and excitement.  Yet how could they be anything different when we simply filled out the same dumb form for every book? 

The English teacher in my kids’ school comes up with amazing book report ideas.  Once, Eldest made a movie poster for his latest Artemis Fowl read.  Arnold Schwarzenegger played Butler.  His Book in a Bag sported snippets of all the pertinent information from Inkheart along with lively illustrations.  DD’s book jacket gave 19 Minutes a whole new look. 

Even their timelines on non-fiction are no longer the straight and boring lines with dashes slashed across the page to denote significant events.  Run Baby Run careens across DD’s poster from immigration to the mean streets to church spires.  The background is a dark sketch of a concrete jungle opening to lightness for the end of the book.  Nicky Cruze’s life was not easy.

I love how this makes kids really consider the words they read.  It connects ideas and vibrant pictures with the written word and allows them to express the impact a novel has on them.  These book reports are no longer summaries, formatted to bore children to tears.  Instead, they create a physical and intellectual connection with the reader and the novel.

They are a visual reminder that we all experience things differently.  Which, of course, is the beauty of literature.

Another book that has as many interpretations as there are readers is the Bible.  Tomorrow is DD’s confirmation, where she will stand before the church and declare her intent to walk in her faith.  I’m proud of her.  Not for memorizing Bible passages or her ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer.  Rather, I’m proud of her because she taken information, her experiences and created her faith.

I will never know exactly what that means to her.  Just as I will never know what it means to my DH, my MIL or my next door neighbor.  Faith and spirituality are sacred to everyone in their own ways.  We all believe, or disbelieve, for a reason.  There are no right answers.  There are only life experiences, hope, love, happiness and the search for personal meaning.

Today I am baking bread for DD’s celebration.  It is something I love to do.  I thoroughly enjoy shaping the bread into edible reminders of an event.  For Valentine’s Day I made hearts.  Today, I shall twist and mold the dough into crosses, hearts and doves. 

Faith, love and hope.

They symbolize my interptretation of the Bible.  They are the words that form the poem for my DD.  They are my wish for her as she steps forward tomorrow and declares the journey of her life.

If I were a teacher, I would take book reports to a whole new level.  I would ask my students to make a food that symbolizes the essense of the story. 

Think of your favorite book.  What shape would your bread take in this delicious version of a book report?