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October 2018

Poison Pen?

Depression BOHO ScotiaToday's post comes from the very gifted fantasy writer known to us as "Skeli". What she has to say on this month's topic of "how deep and dark do we go?" takes us, well, deep. It challenges, and yet it reassures. Isn't that what we want to do for our readers? Writerly women, I give you Skeli ...  


Poison Pen?

How far is too far for the Christian when it comes to writing about evil?

Where does evil come from?  Is it transmitted by mere knowledge of it?  If you look at it, does it get inside you like the scrawling of the Fisher King in Dr. Who, making you a target? 

Christ said that what makes a person evil isn’t what goes into him, but what comes out.

But our writing comes out of us.  How do we keep it from being evil?

We need to take a look at our identity and what we allow to stand within us. 

It isn’t by our own efforts that we shine.  This little light of mine is merely a reflection.  I don’t generate it.  It comes from the Great Source.  If I keep my mirror clean, I reflect it well.  That means washing off the mud of my adventures from time to time, sometimes with tears. Bath Skeli

So how do we do that? The best defense we have is God and each other. We need to ask ourselves: do we savour the dark, or do we have a more utilitarian handle on it for the purpose of illustrating the truth?

Tell it like it is, but always ask yourself why am I telling it this way, this much, this dark.  Is it true?  Is it necessary?  Do a gut check.  And run it past mature peers, those who have walked in the dark before you.  Nothing like a fellowship to help out on a quest.

But do we add to the stock of evil in the universe when we write?  Or is evil simply a fact of this reality, like gravity, that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with?   Answer to critic

The Bible calls us to be witnesses, to give a true account of what we see.  Perhaps this applies to evil as well.

 It is not enough to merely “hold my attention” as Margaret Atwood put it.  We as Christian artists have an obligation to work out what we think the truth is and put it out there as honestly and clearly as we can.

If one is going to engage this world with authentic writing, one cannot be shy about telling it like it is.  This is being a good witness. We are people of truth.  We take in shards and output perspective.

But what about the power of evil? Do we sub-creators, as Tolkien phrased it, have that kind of wattage, to add to the sum of darkness in this world? We might.

Any act of creation is kind of magical.  We set forth our intent, bring out our crafted thing, something that did not exist in the universe before, and release it like a dove (or a Fender-wielding punk rocker, depending) to our audiences.  From there it takes on a journey of its own, and we no longer have a say.  That journey can last centuries.  Ever read anything by Shakespeare?  Hammurabi?  The Sufi poets?

The problem is not all truth is pretty, and some of it is downright horrifying.  Are we going to get it on us?  

There is risk here.

Evil is very good at masquerading as cool and powerful.  Strip away the Hollywood, though, light up the consequences, the fallout, and there is nothing pretty about evil, nothing cool, nothing fun.  Death Eats Dessert
It is the grand masquerade.  It is our job to pull away that mask. We can’t do that if we soften up the truth. If one doesn’t have the stomach to tell it like it is, perhaps one should write about something else, or risk not honouring the truth.

There is also a question of quality.  As Madeleine L’Engle put it, bad art is bad religion.  We have an obligation to quality in what we create. A poorly told tale does not reveal truth very well.  

So then, it becomes a contest between authenticity and gratuitous immersion.

We are warriors going into the misty dark.  What we do there matters.  Be shallow, and those who most need what we offer will toss it aside as untrue.  Muck in too deep and we risk being swallowed by evil’s siren song ourselves.  The stakes are high.  This is not a game for cowards.

But we go into the dark with love and light, and we don’t go alone. 

Light vs. darkness 2Unsheathe your shining blades in the dark.  Stick close to your peeps, feast on the Word, and honour the truth.  Unmask as many wyrms as you can.  Slay them all.

I don’t think that’s going too far.



Amen, Skeli, Amen. If you want to leave a comment, tell us, on a scale of one to five -- 1 being "I don't even want to go there at all" and 5 being, " I think I have to get to the rock bottom" -- how far YOU need to go into the dark in your writing in order to answer the call that whispers to you.



Nancy Rue 

"We have to go straight to the devil!"

With MarjorieAh, Writerly Women. On the very first morning of my amazing trip to Concord, Massachusetts, (which you'll be hearing about, probably ad nauseam, in the weeks to come) I met a marvelous fellow writer named Marjorie Meret-Carmen. She is the founder of a small publishing company, Moonglade Press, which is publishing 'new works by uncommon voices.' Her current project, as she faces her eighth decade in this life, is a historical fiction saga entitled Perceptions involving Henry David Thoreau. I won't tell you more, except to say that it promises to be very real.

In one of our all too short but intense conversations I told the Marvelous Marjorie about our blog and this month's topic and asked her our question: how do you handle going deep? She didn't even hesitate before answering. 

"Oh, you have to go straight to the devil! "

She laughed, something she has apparently done often and well in her years of full-out living, but she quickly grew serious and continued:

"To write about good and evil in these times, you have to be very imaginative. You have to show how frightening it is."

We do indeed have to show our readers evil in its reality. Nekkid, as we say here in the South. Not the spooky Halloween version that gets packed away on November 1st, but the truth of the thing. As we discussed in our last post, we can't gloss over  the grit of sex trafficking or paint a romantic picture of the ugly face of war or soft pedal the rock bottom crash of depression. If we aren't going to tell the truth, why bother to write about it at all?

The question is, how do we know we're doing that? As always, I can speak best from my own experience, and here's what I've found:

*    I write about the darkness I've seen myself. Until the miracle of medication and a gifted therapist and ongoing inner work with God, I used to suffer bouts of clinical depression. I know the tunnel of anxiety and hopelessness you can't find your way out of, and I called upon that in writing about Sullivan Crisp and his clients in the Healing Stones, Healing Waters, Healing Sands novels. I'm no stranger to an eating disorder, which inspired me to write the YA novel When Is Perfect Perfect Enough?  Many of my characters have endured the loss of loved ones because I had to grieve the death of my brother and father at a young age. It's not a matter of exploiting your emotional life in a calculated way - it's more a way to say, "I've been there ... I know what it's like ... you're not alone." And sometimes, only a person who has felt the anguish can write it. 

*  I know I'm getting it right when can feel it viscerally.  Here's an example. In Healing Stones, therapist Sullivan Crisp is on his own agonizing inner journey, and at one point he experiences a panic attack. I wrote, rewrote and revised that scene so many times and still couldn't quite get it there. The scene takes place in a car going over a bridge, and Sullivan comes very close to driving his vehicle off the side, just as his wife did twenty years before. I obviously wasn't going to get into my Volkswagen and reenact that, but I did go down to the water's edge (I live on a lake) and envision the scene as Sully in slo-mo until the pain he'd stuffed through all his efforts to heal everyone else finally erupted. I went back to the keyboard and wrote -- chest aching, palms sweating, fingers trembling so that it was difficult to type. When Sully pulled his car over to the side of the road at the bottom of the bridge and rolled down his window to talk to the concerned officer who' followed him, both of us were surprised he could even speak. That's when you know you've gone deep enough.     

I think it's the motive that guides us. If we want to go deep and dark just for the sake of it, just to be considered serious writers, we'll be about as deep as the nearest puddle. While I was in Concord last week (I told you this would come up again!) I visited The Old Manse, which is the house Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride Sophia Peabody rented for the first three years of their marriage. Nathaniel had  written a few short pieces but he wasn't well known yet, and he was using his time there at the Manse to find himself as a writer. He sat at this desk (see photo at right), facing the wall, and, it is said, thought and wrote serious thoughts. Hawthorne's desk Are we surprised he didn't come up with much? It's probably a good thing he and Sophie were kicked out for not paying their rent and had to move back to Salem and live in the House of the Seven Gables or we wouldn't have the book by the same name, or the Scarlet Letter ... but I digress.   

Writing deep is first about having conviction and being committed to the truth no matter where it takes us. I don't think we can be afraid to go there. Especially if we're not just doing it to be darker, grosser or sexier than the last freak-out novel that was written. We're not talking about sensationalism. We're talking about real. And aren't we always?

In next week's post we'll talk about what happens after we dig deep, get dark -- 'go straight to the devil' -- which is something GLORIA brought up in her comment in case you want to check that out. If YOU want to comment -- and I hope you do -- will you tell us why you think we write about the tougher side of life?

Two more things:

GLORIA  has "a small milestone to report":     




After, like, a year of knowing it's something I need to do, I finally started a social media presence on Twitter!!!

I had downloaded the Twitter app after deciding that it would be my Writing Social Media Of Choice... then didn't touch it for three weeks. XD  So yesterday when I was with my writing group, I announced that I would like them all to walk me through setting up an account.  It was so much easier and so much more fun when I had them all watching and saying 'yes, that's good' 'now you push that button' 'it looks great' 'just push the button' 'I'm telling all my followers that you're on Twitter'.

So yay!!!

Here's to the little steps forward!

I would also love to have your prayers for this weekend when for the first time I'm hosting a two-day Intensive here at my home for three clients who are coming together to immerse themselves in all things writerly. There WILL be pictures in next week's post! 





How Low Should We Go?

Girl in the mirror 3Favorite Client Quote of the Week

"If I don't answer when you Skype, I might be locked in a trunk."

            - Natasha

It gets that real, doesn't it? Which brings me to our October topic, suggested by one of you. 

How do we balance the need to portray our villains realistically with the need to be sensitive to our audiences?  You know, how dark is too dark? Is there such a thing if a story needs to be told?

Before you brush that off as a dilemma faced only by the writers of fantasy and thrillers and crime novels, hear me out, because it's an issue I think we all deal with on some level if we want to write real.

Case in point. When I was proposing the novel Antonia's Choice to a Christian publisher, about a woman who discovers that her five-year-old son has been the victim of pornography, the acquisitions editor asked me, "Will it be palatable?" My reply: "What about this issue IS palatable? If what I write goes down easy, I'm not doing my job."

That doesn't mean I wrote graphic descriptions of the photos. Nobody needs to read that. But I was very explicit about the pain the little boy and and his family went through because people DO need to be aware of that or nothing is done to change the frighteningly pervasive situation. 

So, yes, there's much to think about on this topic. Some writerly questions to ponder:

  • How deep is deep enough before it becomes unnecessarily scary?
  • How dark is too dark, where there's just no light?
  • How dangerous is too frightening until it allows for no rescue?
  • How decadent is too salacious and becomes too 'only for its own sake'? 
  • What do we have to employ to strike the balance?

This is heavy stuff, so just to lighten things up a a little, some celebration is called for:


 *         KAREN finished her first draft. BIG accomplishment!!!!

  • SKELI launched her blog, Skeli's Closet, which you totally need to check out.
  • LILY is submitting This Is Love to agents. Big, scary step.
  • SUSAN has completed her final draft. HUGE deal.
  • SCOTIA has been invited to by-pass the agent piece and submit her non-fiction proposal directly to a publisher
  • HEIDI is dipping her toe into the fiction world -- who knew?
  • AMY has discovered she's actually a poet, and a fine one.
  • PAM HALTER'S first novel FairyEater  will be released by Love2ReadLove 2Write Publishing on October 22. See the cover here , but I'll do a big ol' spread for Pammy on release week. This is SERIOUSLY ginormous.

It happens - because we take those risks. Let's do it together. 



Nancy Rue