Thursday, November 28, 2013

Breaking Down the Doors by Cecily Paterson


There’s a common belief around that if God wants you to do something he’ll open the doors for you. Conversely, if he doesn’t want you to do it, he’ll shut them.

If this is true, I’m not sure God’s met many writers.

Perhaps I’ve understood it wrong all these years, but the idea seems to be that if everything works out smoothly and easily, it’s obviously God’s will. If it’s not that simple, perhaps he’s saying ‘no’.

Since day dot I’ve wanted to be a writer. But to do it, I’ve had to beat down a lot of doors and find alternative entrances. Sometimes I’ve even had to sneak under fences and scratch through bushes to get in.

Take for example, my novel Invisible. To even find the time to write it, I had to seriously reorganize my life and make difficult choices about not mopping floors and such. (Actually, that particular decision probably wasn’t that difficult…) More than not, putting the words onto the screen felt like torture. If I’d been using a pen I would have tried to poke my own eyes out. (It’s not so easy to do that kind of damage with a keyboard.)

Once it was written, the really hard work began. Agents didn’t bother replying to my query letters. The manuscript was rejected by every Australian publisher except one and every rejection was like a punch in the stomach. The publisher who didn’t reject it, didn’t accept it. But they did suggest I rewrite it. So I did that. Twice. Then they said, ‘yes, we like it’ and then they said, ‘sorry, no, we don’t’.

Bam.

A year after I’d finished it, it looked like Invisible was done for. In desperation I decided to do what I then considered the unthinkable - publish it myself. So I did the work and put it out there for free on all the places you can download e-books.

At that point all I could see was the closed doors and the very large sledgehammer I was wielding.

And then I started to feel guilty.

Should I be spending all this time writing?

In fact, should I be writing fiction at all? Was it just a vanity thing? Did God really want me to be doing something else? Like sticking to Christian non-fiction. Or starting an orphanage. Or working against climate change. Or maybe just doing a better job of organizing Sunday School.

But then, people started to download and read Invisible. And the letters started to come in.

For one girl with dyslexia, it was the first book she’d ever read start to finish. For another, it gave her courage to stand up and find her own voice. One 70 year old woman told me it opened up old wounds from her childhood but in a healing way.

And then a Christian teenager who had been struggling for a long time read it with her dad. She loved it so much that she went out and bought a journal to write down her feelings in, just like the main character, Jazmine. When she brought it home, she turned it over to see that the name ‘Jasmine’ was written on the back.

“I think that’s God saying that He’s with you,” said her dad. I think he was right.

That email was important for me. It means God is using my work and my writing, even though I haven’t been sure about it and even despite the many locked and bolted doors.

So I feel affirmed. And I’ll also continue to break down barriers and find ways to do what I’m passionate about, even if it seems like the doors aren’t wide ‘open’.

(Actually, I’m always telling my kids to shut the doors because they let in the flies and mosquitoes. Perhaps there’s something in that…)

 
Cecily Paterson is the author of the award-winning memoir Love Tears & Autism and is currently working on her third novel for young teenage girls.



Monday, November 25, 2013

When did you last share your story?

Photo courtesy of Ambro/Freedigitalphotos.net

“It’s time!”

I woke with those two words on my lips. I knew exactly what they meant because I knew who said them.

My life changed in that moment.

I knew then I was being pursued…

That’s typically how I start my story when I share it. No, not the stories I’ve written, but my personal story or to use Christianese, my testimony.

BTW, “It’s time” are also the first two words in my debut novel, Angelguard.

We make ourselves vulnerable when we share our written stories with others whether it’s our critique partners, in competitions or to the masses if we’re fortunate to be published or self-published. Increasingly with the interconnectedness the virtual world avails us, we are likely to reveal more of ourselves than authors of even ten or twenty years ago did.

Such vulnerability can be intimidating particularly for many of us introverts. But it also allows us the opportunity to share our testimony, how important our faith is, both to our writing and in who we are.

The evolution of Angelguard paralleled to some degree with a personal renewal in my faith. When I’m asked to share the inspiration behind the novel I try to share some of my faith. It makes sense to having been handed the opening line by the Lord.

I was reminded of the power of sharing our testimony in a recent message at church. The pastor1 started with this verse from Revelation:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.’ "(Rev 12:10-11 NIV)

I’d never really seen that verse before. What great encouragement it is to know that our personal stories of God’s hand in our lives have real power in defeating the enemy.

“It’s okay to feel afraid when being brave.”

We should be ready to share our story of how we became a Christian. The pastor suggested a four-step approach to doing just that (the Four P’s):

1.   Prepare it,
2.   Pray about it. Prayer raises our antenna so we’ll be looking for opportunities to share,
3.   Practice it. In front of the mirror, your loved ones, your prayer partner or small group, even cows in a field (this was the pastor’s first audience)
4.   Pursue opportunities when they are put before you.

The pastor’s message was a wonderful reminder to me to dust off my testimony and seek opportunities to share it with grace.

When did you last share your story?

Note: 1. Andrew Kubala, “No-one is you-er than you.” C3 Church Sydney Australia 10 November 2013


Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney, Australia. Ian's first novel, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aah! The Good Old Days



When I first began to write fiction in the 1990’s I experimented with contemporary fiction for a while, but soon abandoned it as I was forever hitting moral dilemmas that I felt ill-equipped to handle. I was new to the writing game and really those early manuscripts that sit at the bottom of one of my filing cabinet drawers are slightly embarrassing. It wasn’t long before I decided to write period-drama-romance. I had become a fan of Jannette Oke who ironically wrote about pioneering women, and she herself was pioneering the genre of Christian Romance. I decided to follow her lead and write in that easy-read style.

One of the reasons I felt safe writing ‘old-fashioned’ stories was that the period context allowed me to embrace my faith, the Christian values and ideals that were comfortable for me to work with. The ideals of the late 19th and early 20th century were such that my characters didn’t feel a need to swear and were somewhat bound by the Victorian moral codes that I myself still believed in. If they were tempted by sexual sin, it was a problem for them and had to be resolved as a problem. If they wanted to use coarse language, it was frowned upon and seen as unacceptable. The society of that time kept the rules for me and that made it easier for me to write.


Since those early days I have written two contemporary dramas. The first one I felt I was always bumping into these moral dilemmas and was tiptoeing around situations, trying to sound realistic without compromising what I myself believed. A couple of times my characters swore. They had to swear. ‘Golly Gosh’ simply wasn’t going to cut it to express the depth of anger and despair.
This past year I have been sitting in university lectures doing Arts subjects and my hair has practically curled with some of the language that is used. What was somewhat disturbing for me is that no one else batted an eyelid while I was in knots. You might laugh, but in one class we were required to read each other’s screenplays out loud. I was chosen a number of times to read certain parts, and on more than one occasion I was given lines that had some very uncomfortable language in it. I quickly calculated how useful it would be to storm out of the room in a self-righteous display of disapproval and decided it wouldn’t be useful at all. The feel of these words in my mouth was rather horrendous. It didn’t feel right and I’m sure it didn’t sound right, but nobody seemed to notice.

The truth is I have lived in a lovely Christian bubble for most of my life. Christian family, friends, church, Christian Schools and work associates. It has all been very nice and comfortable and not confronting. I have been aware of the four letter words, and have heard them a time or two. I’ve always wondered what the fascination is when deciding what words would be the best to use as expletives. Bodily fluids and excretements, sexual organs and sexual acts seem to be the criteria for choosing a new swear word. None of these words really have anything to do with the emotions or the sentences being spoken, but as far as popularity goes, the F word is now firmly fixed in our western vernacular, followed closely by the S word and a vast array of other four letter words from these categories.
Writing for the Christian market has meant that I have avoided coarse language as much as possible, and really I’m not a fan of coarse language anyway. I can’t see the relevance. But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that on occasion, when after a stressful day and the soup burns to the bottom of the pan, I didn’t make use of an expletive or two. I would also not be being honest if I didn’t confess that of recent times, having sat in a soup of four letter words, that some of them might have popped into my head first as the word of choice for the disaster at hand. This is usually followed up by a quick apology to the Lord.

I recall a little poem penned by Grace Livingston-Hill, a Christian novelist from the early 20th Century:

Little words like ‘bother’ and ‘blow’
Lead to bigger words
And a fiery place below


I was actually quite astounded when I read this. I loved reading her Christian novels, truly authentic period romances; however, to her they were contemporary. But the Christian attitude of the time was that there is no place for expletives of any sort for any reason, and the consequences could be quite eternally devastating. Wow. Poor old Winnie the Pooh! I had rather taken to the use of the word ‘bother’ as a way of expressing my pent up feelings.
Here I sit today contemplating the chasm that has gradually formed between my nice little Christian place and the language of everyone else in the world. In my discussion with other authors we have found a mounting frustration with some of the niceties of the Christian Bubble. Not that it isn’t nice, safe, comfortable and decent; it most certainly is, and a nice little escape from the realities of life. But that’s the point: it is an escape from the realities of life. This is a question that I am asking myself as a Christian writer. Do I just want to write nice, warm fuzzy stories that reinforce my Christian convictions and ideals? If I do, then I have a nice market of nice people who will feel warm and fuzzy when they finish. But what are the chances of other folks in the world reading these stories? Not great really. The folks I’ve met this year in the different writing and literature classes would dismiss my nice stories very quickly.
What am I saying? It’s not about the introduction of swearing, though that discussion comes up frequently. It’s not about the absence of sermonising and moralising. That is also another point of contention. I think it is about listening to the heart of the world outside the Christian Bubble and trying to understand where it’s at. I haven’t quite got a hold of what is going on to the point I can clearly articulate it, but I feel as if we – Christian writers – are on a journey of some kind, and it is a journey with a purpose. I think it is time to listen and observe carefully, and keep our hearts open to God and what it might be that He has in mind.

Meredith Resce


Meredith has been published in the Christian Market since 1997. Her ‘Heart of Green Valley’ series has been widely received. Recent publications include ‘The Greenfield Legacy’; ‘Mellington Hall’ and ‘For All Time’. These are available as downloads from Amazon.com and in hard copy from lightthedark.com.au

Monday, November 18, 2013

Keeping books alive


It's surprising what we sometimes discover. I read in a short article that when Harper Lee was about halfway through working on "To Kill a Mockingbird", she had a bad day and flung the manuscript out of the window into a pile of snow. If her agent hadn't convinced her to fish it out and dry it off, the world might have missed out on what is regarded as one of the world's finest novels, a social commentary and coming of age novel rolled up in one.

I was also amused to read that J.R.R. Tolkien always thought his "Lord of the Rings" manuscript needed just a bit more work. He always procrastinated handing it to his publisher because he was trying to fix it up somehow, but there was always some other glaring fault visible. Eventually his family suspected that it would never be done to his satisfaction. They stole the manuscript from his drawer one day and sneaked it to the publisher themselves. He was surprised to receive the call telling him, "This is fantastic!" It seems he never quite forgave his family, shaking his head and telling them, "I hadn't quite finished."

True stories such as these tell me a few things. The first is that when we are working on our books, we authors may reach a stage at which accurate, unbiased judgment is impossible. Sadly, it's the same in every aspect of life we work hard on. The housewife who slogs along, cleaning and nurturing all day might have long spells of missing how wonderful her family and lifestyle really are. With writing, although we are often loners and consider our work a solitary occupation, we do well to have a few straight-thinking allies to support us. Who knows, they may be required to save the day. Lee's agent and Tolkien's family were unsung heroes who actually played huge roles in the history of twentieth century literature.

Secondly, I started thinking about the sad waste of brilliant stories we'll never even know about. The two examples up above were saved to see the light of day, but the world must be filled with manuscripts representing hours of work which will never make their way out of dusty drawers, not to mention the ones which were probably attacked with blazing matches. It's easy to shrug about this, as we'll always be ignorant, but we'll never know how bereft the world may be, for missing some of this fantastic material. I'm sure there must be millions of pages.

So let's be encouraged to keep doing what we do for as long as enthusiasm burns in our hearts. As authors, even when our books deeply touch the hearts of just a few people, it's well worth working on them. As friends, we may be called on to help our fellow authors return to their work, because we can see the value in it, while they are blinded with discouragement and fatigue for a short time. Finally, let's always be on the lookout for gems from the past which may be resurrected to see another day. In this electronic age, I love to see old, formerly beloved titles from decades ago renewed as eBooks. With these, we are sometimes told something like, "A team of volunteers got it ready for kindle." Although they are also unsung heroes and rarely named, what a wonderful work to be part of.

Paula Vince lives in South Australia with her family. She is a homeschooling mother and award winning author of contemporary inspirational fiction, which is mostly set around her own beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons. She believes that nothing has more power and potential for good in the world than a well-written and powerfully told story.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Blessings Abundant!


With the weather becoming warmer I thought I'd bless my son with a treat from his school canteen for lunch. To save him some time I had the order written out and told him, as simply as possible, "You just have to take it from this front pocket of your bag and place it in the lunch order box. That's all you need to do. Do you understand? Yes?! Okay."  This conversation has now occurred every morning for the past two weeks! It is so frustrating; I just want to bless him, to give him his most favourite chocolate milk drink as a way of saying, "Hey, kid, I love ya!" But as much as I want him to have this, there is still that one step that he needs to take to receive the blessing.

Yesterday morning, having gone through "the speech" once again, I watched him walking to his classroom and hoped that today would be the day that he finally 'got it' and received his treat.

"Get your camera out and go for a walk this morning."


I started the car and left to drop our youngest boy at daycare.

"Get your camera out and go for a walk this morning."

Leaving daycare.

"Get your camera out and go for a walk this morning."

By the time I returned home, I knew without a doubt that this was not my mind prompting me to "Get my camera out and go for a walk this morning."  I like indoors. My computer. Coffee!  But I recalled my thoughts to my son from barely one hour earlier, 

". . . as much as I want him to have this, there is still that one step that he needs to take to receive the blessing."

And so I did. I didn't even take my mobile phone with me! And it was such a sweet, calming, relaxing time of "aaaahhhhhhh-ness" that what I thought was, perhaps 45 minutes, was a solid 2 hours of standing beneath the trees that I look out upon every single day; talking to the galahs - privy to the courting ritual of one couple that was so delightful - looking at the ways the trees moved and the patterns in their bark; I even cheered on a baby bird as his mum and dad and aunts and uncles waited eagerly for him to leave the nest and fly!

On returning home I stopped; to smell the roses, to watch a spider spinning her web, and to play hide-and-seek with Sticky the Stick Insect. I marvelled at the abundance of life dancing in the sun's cascading warmth in my front garden. 

And in all of these things, I praised our awesome God for his gift to me; this time away from my usual thoughts and actions and feelings, this gentle and most excellent display of His provision and joy and love for all creation. 

And His personal, father-heart love for me - Helen - his daughter, whom he wants to bless over and over again, in ways that will draw me out of the everyday ruts and drudgeries of life, and fill me to overflowing with his beauty once again.

May you, too, be blessed by our Father God in a big way, by the small things of everyday life.


Helen







Monday, November 11, 2013

Writers are Artists by Catherine Sercombe

I was a capable reader as a child yet I still begged my mother to read aloud to me; I would close my eyes and enter a world where I could savour the flavour of music, inhale the aroma of colours or float as easily as a helium balloon. In that world, every house had a way of escape through a secret passage, and enough room to share with a small Swiss bear who loved meringues.  I could conjure a landscape of snow-covered mountains, perilous rope bridges spanning treacherous chasms, labyrinthine underground caverns and I had the courage to conquer them all.  In the realms of my imagination, my artistic ability knew no bounds … a state of being that was quickly dispelled in real life by my year eight art teacher.  The value she placed on my practical art work convinced me I had better explore alternative career options – I gave up art and learned to touch-type.  But one day, I discovered the Reader’s Digest’s Towards More Picturesque Speech and a seed of possibility took root.

Words are a wonderful medium to work with – and they’re free!  I’ve been collecting and collating them for years.  I’ve discovered some absolute beauties.  The dictionary is a treasure-trove.  We writers can mix words together and spread them out, stack them, blend them, rearrange them.  There are endless combinations to explore.  It does take some effort, gathering tools, learning techniques, developing skills.  It takes time and dedication to produce any worthwhile work of art.  But what a privilege and joy it is to indulge the artistic muse and create more picturesque speech.

Writers are Artists – Catherine Sercombe © 2011

Tongue-tested words, selected and ordered, 
glued into patterns or crazily paved,  
mosaic montage or serpentine path    
to step out and search
or sit still and dream –
a world to explore
or snapshot of life.

Tongue-tested words, soothing or seething,
waves at the beach or crabs in the sand,
motion that rocks the cradle of souls
or crashes and churns
soft sand into grit –
a pincer of pain
or pillow to sleep

Tongue-tested words, drifting and floating,
clouds in the sky or scum on a pond,
ethereal beauty or rank saturation
of raw sore emotion
from dark fetid swamp –
truth has its beauty
and ugliness form.

Tongue-tested words, the laughter of children  
dancing and singing a rhyme in the sun,
music and mayhem, myst’ry and meaning,                     
daisies and daydreams
or we’ll all fall down –
sing me some wisdom
and I will be wise.

Tongue-tested words, surreal and confusing,
colours on canvas, flame upon glaze,        
unyielding marble till hammer and chisel
chop off the dross
and the sculpture appears –
writers are artists
creating with words.


 

 
Catherine Sercombe is a wife, mother of three, education business manager, tutor and creative writing student who lives in Toowoomba, Qld.  Described in Christmas Tales from the Upper Room (2012, Pantaenus Press) as ‘a creative and talented writer whose work reflects an infectious love of language’, Cathie says, ‘From A to Z, surely the best writing begins and ends in God.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1-2). That’s an epidemic worth spreading.’  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Blogging bonuses

In July 2009, after much help from our daughter in setting things up for me, I began my own personal blog. Since then, I have written a new blog each week—227 all up! On top of that, I write occasional blogs for this site and for two others. Yet why would I choose to spend time writing so many, when I could be focussing on my next novel or non-fiction book?

As far as my own personal blog (joanneberthelsen.wordpress.com) is concerned, I think it’s good to discipline myself to write something new each week, where I often reflect on lessons God is teaching me from Scripture or from my writing or from life in general. It helps fine hone my writing skills and also reinforces those lessons from God for me as I put them into words for others to read. And others do read them, judging by the various comments I receive via my blog or via Facebook, where I post my blog each week. As for contributing to writers’ blogs such as this one, I like the idea of encouraging other authors in some way and also sharing what I have learnt from my own writing journey.
But around three years ago, my blogging paid off in a different way. One day, a gentleman from Strand Publishing contacted me, asking if he could include two of my blogs in his volume 40 Aussie Stories he planned to publish in 2011. I was delighted and of course said yes. Apart from anything else, I discovered the book would include my author bio at the end, which would help promote the five novels I had written at that stage. Yet there was even more good news. Via a link on the sidebar of my blog site, this publisher had also discovered my friend Kerry Osborne’s blog (mrsozzie.wordpress.com), thereby finding several more short stories he wished to include in his upcoming collection!

The following year (2012), both Kerry and I found our blogs included in a new volume from Strand Publishing, Inspirational Stories for Aussie Women, and again we were delighted. Then earlier this year, we were asked if we would like some of our blogs included in yet another short story collection, Aussie Reflections. Because this year has been so busy for me, I had almost forgotten about the whole project until around two weeks ago, when my sparkling new copies arrived on my doorstep. This time around, my friend Kerry’s five stories and my own three that have been included make up almost a third of the book!
I love how God orchestrates things in ways we could never imagine, don’t you? I didn’t even know such books of Aussie stories existed initially, yet somehow my blogs have found their way into them. Not only that, but in these past three years, I have sold many copies of these volumes of short stories on my book table, alongside my own novels—particularly at secular venues. Who knows who will get to read these books? Who knows who will read our blogs when we put them out there in cyberspace? I know God does. So let’s keep listening to him and writing the things he puts on our hearts to share with others!


Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren. For more information or to purchase her books, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com or www.soulfriend.com.au.
 
 
 

Monday, November 4, 2013

MY FEISTY FOREBEARS

Grandmother and Great Aunts
For some strange reason I wish I could just sit and talk with female family members that came well before me.  I guess it's a touch of nostalgia or plain wishful thinking.

What would they have thought about my writing career? Would they have enjoyed reading what I write? I have a sneaking suspicion they would. They had the Brontes and Jane Austen of course, but not the plethora of faith-based novels we have today. Maybe they'd be shocked at the way we portray our feisty heroines...no, on second thoughts, I reckon they'd be thrilled. Yes, come to think of  it, some of the family tales told and retold down the years involved some exciting (for those times) scrapes and adventures. None of these girls seemed to be "under the thumb" of their lord and masters. Or were they simply not admitting it?

> To look at  my great great grandmother you would say she appears to be a disapproving type, but surely her expression is only because the photographer
was fiddling with his apparatus and her corset was killing her. However, my
darling tells me I can look at him like that at times when I am merely thinking of some plot twist and that takes concentration! I would hope she'd enjoy reading my stories.

My sweet faced great grandfather left his beloved wife to go to Heaven. She was desolate And maybe, according to my mother, that's why she became rather pessimistic. She began every sentence with "The worst of it is," before she ever got to the best of it. I suppose there is some merit in looking at the downside of something before committing oneself. No, I don't think she would have liked my heroines who tend to be optimistic even when one thing after another goes awry. Great grandma turned out to be a very practical no nonsense type of lady. And no wonder when she had three lovely young girls to take care of. Her dreams had to be tucked away while she looked after her daughters' future. A hurdle many young widows had to face in those days.

My feisty heroine, Megan Trevallyn, gets a lot more than she bargained for when she meets Captain
Charles Cantrell. This included two little surprises
with the outcome of being transported as a felon to a far flung colonial penal settlement of New South Wales - a world away from all she has known and
loved.

The question for her to face is, will this be a land of 
perdition ... or promise?

Although fiction, in my research I discovered this scenario was all too common in our early history. Yes, we had many convicts who had committed awful crimes, but there were always those who had arrived on our shores innocent of the crimes for which they were penalized.

While capturing this story I asked myself whether I could have survived such an ordeal and I knew deep down I couldn't have without the Lord.

 I am so pleased my historical romance with elements of intrigue is now online at Amazon Kindle at a reasonable $3.99.

* Rita Stella Galieh will leave this week for on an In Step Together Tour of Thailand with Thai interpreter, Somchai Soonthornturasuk. Her husband George is a violinist cum preacher and she sketches with Rembrandt pastels while he speaks. They will minister in Government Buddhist high schools, hospitals, men and women's prisons, orphanages and Christian churches.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What is Christian Fiction?


“Every good story, well told, is a moral story” 
Ben Marshall*  

Over the last few months CWD contributors have reminded us 1) of the call not water down our faith just “to fit in” to society and 2) thechallenge to write fiction that connects with non-Christians. And for others, the aim is just to write good fiction. This forms part of a wider debate among faith inspired writers about whether or not to write “cross-over fiction” – fiction that breaks through the Christian “bubble.” The debate can become very passionate as different writers take a strong stand on what they believe to be paramount.


So, what is “Christian fiction”? Do we need “cross-over” fiction?  Where do you stand on the spectrum between a strong, pure message and culturally relevant fiction?

It seems that in the U.S., “Christian fiction” is strictly defined – no sex scenes, no swearing, avoidance of controversial or unsavoury subjects (such as drug use, unwed mothers, avoidance of (extreme) violence). It often includes saintly characters, conversion scenes, long prayers and scripture verses. These strict criteria don’t necessarily reflect the Australian Christian fiction scene and there is a move to write edgier fiction even in the U.S. Nevertheless, the criticism of such highly sanitised fiction is that it is unreal and a total put off to most non-Christian readers. Such fiction is written by Christians, published by Christians, sold almost exclusively in Christian bookshops (or shelved in the Christian section of secular bookshops) and read by Christians.

In reaction to this ghettoisation of Christian literature, a number of vocal Christians seek to write fiction for the general market, for example Mike Duran, PortYonder Press (PYP). Chila Woychik of PYP wants fiction “devoid of preaching, Bible verses, conversion scenes” and prefers fiction that deals with “universal themes.”  

Other less narrow definitions of Christian fiction include fiction that is prepared to deal with the nitty gritty of real life in the context of (redemptive) Christian themes; fiction that portrays a Christian world view without necessarily having conversion scenes or overtly Christian content; or even fiction that is written by a Christian. After all, Christians are engaged in most occupations. Do Christian builders only build churches and other religious buildings?

As I think about all this, I wrestle with a number of questions:

  •           If characters are so saintly that they never struggle with temptation or the realities of modern life or fail in any significant way, isn't this escapist? Not only does it not connect to people outside the Christian bubble, it gives Christians a dubious picture of what it means to be a Christian.
  •           Could the Bible be published under such strict criteria? It deals with realities of life, tells the stories of prostitutes, incest, massacres, murderers and doesn't spare the details.
  •           Does all Christian fiction have to conform to one template? The Bible is composed of 66 books – different authors, contexts and genres – some put prayer, conversions scenes, revelations, supernatural occurrences etc at the forefront (Genesis, Exodus, the Gospels, Acts) while others are more subtle (e.g. Ruth, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Esther, Jesus’ Parables) or highly symbolic or cryptic (Parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation). In fact Esther doesn't once mention the name of God though His presence and actions are clearly implicit in the story.
  •           On the other hand, if prayer, reliance on scripture and even miracles (God at work) are a genuine part our Christian experience, why shouldn't these be portrayed in our fiction?


While the Christian fiction scene in Australia doesn't seem to display such passionate polarisation, these questions are still relevant. In many ways, it reflects the difference stances on how Christians should engage with the wider society. Should we be part of a holy enclave (a beacon of light against the darkness of night that draws people to them), should we be ambassadors of hope (who learn the language and rub shoulders with people Jesus died to save) or is it our job to change society (moral crusaders against decay)? Jesus uses the analogy of both salt and light - a light on a hill that attracts but also salt which needs to mix with the world to do any good (Matt 5:13-16). We are to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15-16). This is as much about who we are as what we say. Jesus embodied this – as both the light of the world and the incarnational saviour who eschewed religious jargon and rubbed shoulders with the wrongdoers.

Western society is changing and at a rapid pace. It is becoming increasingly secular, postmodern and even (in some quarters) virulently anti-Christian. We need to be its salt and light.  So let’s avoid being hermetically sealed off from society – so foreign that we might as well be speaking an unintelligible language. On the other hand, let’s beware becoming so like everyone else that we have lost our life giving “savour”.

Our God loves variety. We can see this in the created world, in the nature of the Bible, in the body life of His people (one body, many parts and giftings). In fact, the health of the body depends on the functioning of its different parts. Love builds the body up, disunity destroys it (1 Cor13).

So let me encourage you to be true to the calling God has given you. Hold on to the truth of the gospel, the need to incarnate it to a dying world and to do everything in love. Let’s acknowledge that what it means to be a Christian writer is different for different people. Let’s continue to encourage each other and to explore what means to write as Christians – whether this is overtly Christian, cross-over or just good fiction that subtly radiates the grace of God.

Jeanette O'Hagan

Jeanette lives in Brisbane, has practiced medicine, taught theology, spoken at various groups & is currently caring for her children, studying writing at Swinburne & writing her Akrad series.




  Images by Jeanette O'Hagan 

Find Jeanette at:

Some other posts by Jeanette: