God’s Purpose for Fiction

“Hey.”

(Sidles onto stage.) “How are you? Ahem.

(Waves nervously.) “Hiya, my name is Kathrese McKee, and I’m the newest Scriblerian.”

Stage Fright

I was asked to introduce myself, and I came so close to complete writer’s block. Let’s call it stage fright. Should I write the standard Ten-Things-About-Me post? Should I just pick one thing, like Army brat or Texan?

A Message About Timing

Fortunately, I read a Facebook post by C.W. Briar (Chuck) in which he told the story of how he became an author. Specifically, he wrote about his journey to where he is today, “It wasn’t a crisis of faith, but rather a search to find where I belong and how to use my gifts and talents.”

Along the way, with prayer and the Spirit’s help, Chuck decided to take writing seriously and publish by age 33. He set to work, learning and practicing his craft until he finished his book. According to God’s perfect timing, then, he received the first proof copy of his book three hours before he turned 34.

Individualized, personalized timing is normal with God. My story is similar to Chuck’s. My search took longer, but all those years while I was doing other things, God was preparing me to write fiction (and other stuff).

God's Purpose for FictionOur Reason Why

In the parts of the world where technology is readily available, we are consumed by a thirst for entertainment. We binge watch programs on Netflix or YouTube or Amazon Prime. We read ebooks all day long; there’s a never-ending supply. We float on a sea of amusing infotainment, and we only return to shore for the kids’ soccer games and work. Even then, it’s hard to put the mobile devices away and just be human for a few hours. Don’t think I’m being self-righteous about this; I include myself in that number.

Based on what we see happening around us in the growth of Christian writing support groups like ACFW and Realm Makers, it seems that God is calling authors out from among believers in increasing numbers to write fiction. I think God is calling us to reach out with His message to our blind and deaf generation, a generation of people who won’t meet Him any other way than through the pages of an entertaining story.

Meeting This Generation on the Page (or the Screen)

In a few weeks, I get to join a group of other authors at the Realm Makers  conference. This isn’t your usual writing conference where lots of genres (and belief systems) are represented. This is a meeting of Christian authors who write speculative fiction. How oddly specific!

Here’s my theory: God wants us, the science fiction and fantasy authors He has called out, to meet speculative fiction lovers on the pages (and screens) where they spend their time. If they want entertainment, then our job is to (stay with me here) provide entertainment. To be present where they are. To hold out truth. To entertain—absolutely—and while we have their attention, to prompt them to blink out of their blind trance. To think for a moment. To consider Someone bigger. To know Him better.

I am a speculative fiction author who currently writes for young adults, so my assigned audience is young adults who enjoy epic fantasy adventure. Authors of other genres and sub-categories have different sets of readers to reach. Some audience overlap may occur. Personally, I enjoy reading a well-written Regency romance followed by a political thriller with a space opera for desert.

[Brace yourselves; we are entering personal opinion territory.]

Is there such a thing as Christian fiction?

In my opinion, the answer is no. A Christian is a person who is in Christ, and his or her message is Christ crucified. I know you want to argue for the existence of Christian fiction, but keep reading.

We have turned “Christian” into an adjective for the stuff we create, but the Scriptures only use the term in reference to believers. Go ahead, check out this search for “Christian” on BibleGateway.com . These days, “Christian” has become an imprecise shorthand for “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly . . . timey-wimey . . . stuff.”

My apologies, Dr. Who fans; I couldn’t resist. “Christian”—as a descriptor for stuff we create—is a dumbed-down, wishy-washy, amorphous concept that has little to do with God’s precious gift to mankind. To me, it makes more sense to label so-called “Christian art” as “Christ-inspired art.”

Can art be Christian?

Again, my answer is no. Art can be inspired by Christ. Art can point to Christ and glorify Him. Art can be offered to Christ in love, like the crayon drawings of a three-year-old. Such art, in God’s perfect time, can inspire non-believers to take Christ seriously, but only because God works on its audience through the Spirit by using the artist’s creation as a meeting point.

All art communicates a spiritual message, whether for good or evil. The massive sculptures and friezes created at the direction of the USSR’s government sent a spiritual message. Atheists’ art sends a spiritual message, whether they wish it or not. The art created by Christians, then, is important for the spiritual messages it communicates. That is why it is important for a Christian’s work to agree with God’s Truth.

Okay, I know I’m fighting a losing battle on the whole Christian-as-an-adjective-for-stuff thing. The publishing industry is deeply entrenched with the idea of a secular, “mainstream” market versus a religious market, some of which is “Christian.” The labels Christian music, Christian books, Christian jewelry, and Christian so-forth are here to stay. I just wish that we had settled on the term “Christ-inspired” instead.

[That wasn’t too bad, was it? And now you know how convoluted my thinking gets.]

A Light in a Dark Place

Our stories are one of the mediums through which God acts. The funny part is that our books don’t have to preach about Christ or contain an “altar call.” Christian authors don’t have to write allegories in order to glorify Christ or communicate Truth. The book of Esther contains no mention of God, yet the story is all about God’s power to save His people.

I think it is important for Christians to write fiction if they are moved to do so. Our “job” is to attract an audience and offer our best, most thoughtful, stories written from a Christian perspective.

When we meet our readers and fans in person or on-line, we must wear the name of Christ proudly and without shame. We must not shy away from being His witnesses. We must be Christians and walk the walk that we talk. Christians who write fiction can be a light in a dark place, and God will do the rest.

Wrath and RuinOur search, to paraphrase Chuck, is to find where we belong and how to use our gifts and talents. Our mission is to work conscientiously at our craft and present our best work to the reading public. We are called to meet non-believers (and believers too) on the page and on the screen through the medium of storytelling.

Chuck wrote this:

“I won’t say this is some God-ordained book. I won’t say this is the greatest thing I will ever accomplish (in fact, I hope to write many books and to improve with each and every one). I don’t know where this writing journey is leading, what stories I will tell, and whose lives I will impact. But I do know this: tonight I received the first copy of a book I wrote, a tangible confirmation of a journey started in earnest 4 years ago.”

My thanks to C.W. Briar for giving me permission to hijack his Facebook post. His first book, Wrath and Ruin, is on schedule to be released by the end of July, 2016. Love the title, by the way.

Do you agree or disagree?

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Pep Talk to My 15-½-year-old Self

Okay, Cindy, pay attention because this is some of the most important stuff you’ll ever hear. And the only time you’ll hear it.

First, congratulations. You made it through your freshman year of high school. Now in 10th grade and 15 ½ years old, you’re midway through your teen years. And still alive and well. That’s an accomplishment you’ll appreciate later.

Caught at the halfway point between childhood and womanhood, you’re having a Mid-teen Crisis, although you have no name for it. You’re tying to figure out who you are, while others are tying to tell you who or what you should be.

That’s all right. In fact, it’s pretty normal.

You forget to shave your legs or tweeze the uni-brow because you’d rather be outside examining trees and plants, playing with your dog, or running wild in an open field and flying a kite. And maybe when you finally go inside at dusk, you don’t feel like washing your hair and winding it around giant rollers to make it straight, as fashion of the time dictates. You get teased about your unkempt appearance.

So what? Enjoy being a kid a while longer.

Try not to obsess over your delayed physical development. Don’t even think about it for another year, because you’re wasting your time. Of course, you’re in awe of girls your age and younger who wear a bra cup size with letters that otherwise represent mediocre to poor grades in school. It hurts sometimes when boys pay attention only to those girls, especially that one boy you like in particular.

Don’t worry. Your time will come.

When it does, don’t let a boy you date convince you to drop any activities, hobbies, or friends you enjoy. He criticizes those things you love because he’s jealous. He knows they make you look interesting and attractive, and he can’t stand it.

DrawingTeenCouple

A drawing I did in high school of a happy couple I hoped someday to be a part of.

On to the practical aspects of life.

It’s great that you learned to sew. That skill will serve you well in your impoverished college years when you mend torn pants to wear another semester and create a blouse from a dollar’s worth of fabric.

Now learn to cook. Don’t wait so long.

And read more. A lot more. Classic novels and current events magazines.

The times in which you live are a turning point in American history. Watch the news, and listen to adults talk about it. You’ll use the knowledge gained to interpret the cultural and political events in your adulthood.

Even though it’s hard to talk to your father, do it. Think of topics you both might enjoy. You won’t have many more years of conversations with him.

Consider more career options than you do now. Research them and ask questions of professionals in those fields. Seek advice about what to study in college to prepare for more than one option.

Bottom line? Don’t limit your possibilities in any way. In forty years, the people and things you enjoy in life may surprise you.

profile_pic  Cynthia

Save the Bell Bottoms, Trash the Tube Top!

In keeping with Kathrese McKee’s idea of writing a letter to my younger self, I have decided to continue. Only, I’m writing to my seventeen-year-old self instead of the fourteen-year-old version. I went through the biggest transition of my life at seventeen. All through high school, decisions were made for me and my goals were set by someone else. Suddenly I stood on the edge of my future with no one but me calling the shots. Exhilarating freedom, with a huge side-order of fear.

Loraine at 17

Dear Loraine,

First and foremost, stop comparing yourself to others. That girl you think has it all together: looks, brains and a hot guy? She’s as human as you are and is headed for 3 bad marriages and a few other bad choices. And the hot guy? At the 20th grad reunion, he was single and embarrassed himself and everyone else by flirting madly with all the gals. Totally unattractive.

But really, the quicker you realize it’s not about how you look, (because that changes) the happier you’ll be.  And luckily you settle down with someone who loves you. And that’s the very best you can hope for. I won’t tell you how you meet, but don’t underestimate car rallies. Nuf said…

And don’t think babysitting other peoples’ kids will be like having your own. As much as you loved those kids, another whole world opens up and there will be no boundaries on how much you will be able to love your own. So scrap the idea of having no kids in the future.

Beware of that religious group that has no affiliation with a church. Scary stuff!  Mom does have the right instincts on that one. Listen to her!

Please, don’t let the cat sleep with you. I took years of desensitization shots to get over our cat allergy. And also, take better care of our back. Leave the 75 lb. bales of hay for others to drag around. This back won’t last us till ninety if you keep thinking you are super woman!

Much to your surprise, we turn out just fine. The dead-ends and detours are actually moving us forward. They are God’s ways of teaching us some things about ourselves and our dependence upon Him.

Oh, and keep your bell-bottoms, trash the tube-top, don’t buy the Vauxhall, don’t wear the friend’s jade neckless to the dance, believe in your dreams, and get rid of your eyelash curler.

Can I clarify the bell bottom suggestion? For females, the fashion comes back, but, thank heavens, not for men! Seriously is this a good look?

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And, one more thing. Love yourself more. God knew what he was doing when he made us! 🙂

Love,

Your older self.

What would you have told your seventeen-year-old self?

Dear Fourteen-Year-Old Me: A letter from the future by Kathrese McKee

Lessons learned the hard way

What Advice Would You Give Your Fourteen-Year-Old Self?

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for The Scriblerians entitled, Failure Is An Option. Learning lessons the hard way must be much on my mind these days. There are many things I wish I had known ahead of time, so I wrote a letter to a younger version of myself. I’m putting it in a time travel capsule and hoping for the best.

Dear Fourteen-Year-Old Me,Dear Fourteen-Year-Old Me,

If you’re reading this letter, then the time travel capsule must have worked. This is me—or is it you?—writing to you from 2016.

First, let’s improve our overall quality of life. Skip working at that computer consulting firm (the second one, not the first one). Total mistake. Oh, and invest every spare dime in Apple stock—the company, not the fruit. But I’ve said too much already.

Second, start writing now. Put all your stories in a drawer and wait until the world’s longest river starts a fire. You’ll know what I mean when it happens. But seriously, write every day so you’ll be ready with lots of raw material and the skills to polish your stories for publication.

By the way, your “Only Friends” policy towards guys totally works, so keep that up. But you need to get out more. Go to rock concerts against the preacher’s advice. Lightning won’t strike you down if you attend prom. Don’t listen to the legalists, and don’t worry so much about what people think about you. Live a little. Then write about it. Do you sense a theme here?

Let’s see. What else can I tell you without triggering the “butterfly effect?” (I can use that reference since I know you read Ray Bradbury.)

There will come a time when a Cuban American, a Jewish guy, a reality television star, and a grandma will run for president. Sounds like a bad joke, right? I can neither confirm nor deny that I made it up, but a political thriller with that plot could become a bestseller. Trust me. Oh, and publish it in 2014 for the best marketing opportunities.

When a storm named Rita strikes, stay home. Sorry, I hate to be so cryptic. Never say you’ll never live in Dallas. Don’t buy the Volkswagen TDI. Beg, borrow, and steal to go to the second Realm Makers Conference because you’ll always regret that you spoiled your perfect attendance record. Okay, that’s probably enough, and let’s hope it’s not too much.

Stay in band, work hard in school, keep reading everything that looks interesting, and stay close to God.

Love,

Kathrese

 

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Don’t you wish you could write a letter to a younger version of yourself? What would you tell him or her? What hints would you try to pass on (without disrupting the space time continuum)? Would your younger self believe what you wrote or blow it off?

I tried to keep it light, but I do wish I hadn’t had to learn so many things the hard way. Who doesn’t wish that? Maybe humans aren’t able to learn certain lessons except through enduring the consequences of making mistakes.

The truth is that I had some lessons I needed to learn at the second computer consulting job. However, I regret that I didn’t start writing in a serious way much sooner. I chose to write epic adventure fantasy with lots of political intrigue built in. I have to say, the contemporary political thriller would have been big, especially if I had nailed the election results. Move aside, Nostradamus!

Imitating Good Examples

We don’t need hints from the future to know that we should use our time wisely. Occasionally, we hear of someone who provides a great example of the best way to live.

The Scriblerians are grieving the passing of their friend and fellow writer, Vanessa Morton. Their stories about her are inspiring and full of love. She seemed too young and bright to be gone so soon. Her friends definitely think she was one of those examples to imitate. Let us burn as brightly as Vanessa did, and live as faithfully, to the very end.

What advice would you give your fourteen-year-old self?

The things we do for our kids

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This is what happens when your husband goes to the grocery store and buys an after-Easter rabbit on sale and your daughter asks you to put antlers on it.

The Easter bunny turned jackalope happened yesterday. How could I say no when my daughter asked me to turn her bunny into a jackalope? Where there’s a will (or an idea), there’s a way.

So I took a scroll down memory lane this morning and found pictures of all the strange “fixes” I’ve had to do to toys over the years. I hope you enjoy. What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to do for someone?  (Tweet this)

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This is what happens when your daughter’s favorite Barbie, Cheetah Girl, loses a hand. She becomes Pirate Barbie! Arr!

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This is what happens when Cheetah Girl #2 loses a hand (see the blue hook) and also loses a leg. You make her a hook hand AND a wheelchair. I offered to make a peg leg but my daughter told me no. /shrugs/

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This is what happens when your dog eats the horn off your daughter’s unicorn. You make a prosthetic horn. Looks like a little party hat, doesn’t it?

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This is what happens when the same dog, a few days later, eats the eye off the replacement unicorn. You make a patch and voila, a pirate unicorn.

And a couple of fun projects revolving around wardrobe.

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When you want to go as a fairy for Halloween, Grandma makes dresses and Mom makes wings.

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Camp shirts for Glow in the Ark. 

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When you want to dress up as Abe Lincoln for a school project. Before you ask, the 16 is because he was the 16th president. 😉

And, remarkably, all of these requests have come from my youngest daughter. She thinks outside the box and apparently believes her parents can fix anything. It’s interesting to me how sometimes all you need to be creative is for someone to challenge you to do something you never thought of. (Tweet this.)
NOW YOU: HOW HAVE YOUR KIDS FORCED YOU TO BE CREATIVE?

Taste of Heaven

Once upon a time, a little girl attended the annual Thanksgiving feast at her aunt’s house and discovered a plate filled with beautiful, glossy miniature fruits. Set apart from all the other appetizers, their brilliant colors called out for more attention than the bold Chiquita Banana Lady in the ads of the era. “Take a bite,” they stage-whispered. “Our flavor is even more exquisite than our beauty.”

The little girl popped an apricot shape into her mouth for she loved apricots above all other fruits. Ohhh. Surely, the taste of heaven filled her mouth! She couldn’t help it. In no time at all four – or was it five – more pieces disappeared from the plate. Sad that she couldn’t eat it all, for someone was bound to notice, she abandoned the table.

I was that little girl, who shortly thereafter suffered a major tummy ache. The candy-fruits were marzipan, the richest, sweetest dessert I’ve ever experienced. Composed of almond paste, molded into complex shapes rarely larger than the diameter of a quarter, and decorated in rich colors, marzipan is a culinary work of art. And NOT to be gobbled. You savor each nibble allowing the flavor to glide over your tongue over and over.

Poetry is served best in the same manner. (See Poetical Immersion) I savor one poem over and over when I read poetry. The marzipan of literature.

I had promised to share a few of my favorites. Here they are:

Eletelephony.” I’m a person who loves mixing and matching words, and Laura E. Richards does a delightful job of making it a game.

I learned two of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems while a young child. Often in bed with strep throat in those early years, I identified with “The Land of Counterpane.”

illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

The poem “My Shadow” fascinated me because I had just discovered what shadows can do. Imagine that a grown-up wrote about the same phenomenon!

For rhythm, expression, and fun, I taught Eugene Fields’s “The Duel”  to my fifth-graders. They learned to drop their self-consciousness at the door and use their voices to over-emote the silliness of toys and household objects personified during the ridiculous spat.

Once my students were at ease with the above introduction to poetry, we moved on to “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’” by James Whitcomb Riley. They could use onomatopoeia of “clackin’ and cluckin’” with alacrity, and the class next door could hear the rooster’s “hallylooyer!”

frosty pumpkin

My all-time favorite is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. He offers me ripples of reflection as I consider the what-ifs of life. What if I had chosen a different college? Where would I be living? Who would I have married? What if I had never taken the National Novel Writing Month challenge six years ago? Would I be writing a blog today? What might I be doing instead?

road not taken

“What-if” is the exquisite question to ponder every time I read “The Road Not Taken,” for in life, we truly cannot retrace our steps and find out what might have been. Yes, I will savor the poem and allow it to glide through my mind over and over once again…