Category Archives: Introduction

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…

I’m Not A Christian Writer

As I continue the process of trying to find a literary agent I’ve been finding it a little strange that I immediately write off any agent who handles christian fiction. There are a couple of reasons for this, some based on content, and some based on the specific genres they handle. The bottom line is that christian fiction is a genre like any other, and just how I must eliminate agents who don’t handle mystery or sci-fi, I equally find myself eliminating christian agents and publishers.

It seems a little odd to me to treat Christianity as a genre, especially since some of my favorite works of sci-fi and fantasy were written by Christians who wouldn’t make the “christian fiction” grade. C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia is an obvious example (his sci-fi trilogy) as well, and J.R.R. Tolkien is in this club as well.

This is not to say that “christian fiction” does not have a rich variety of sub-genres. Frank Peretti writes a lot of stories about very literal spiritual warfare and books that would be considered in the horror category. Still more authors write the christian equivalent of a Harlequin historical romance (all the drama but none of the sex out of marriage). And of course you have the popular Left Behind series about the end times.

What all of these books share in common is an overt christian theme, dealing directly with spiritual matters whether it is the faith of the individual or the trials of a great many. Often these books feature conversions or tests of faith, in other words, christian faith is central to the plot of the book.

But what about books that are written from a Christian viewpoint, but are not as overt in their message?

The Chronicles of Narnia is a story that I think is on the borderline. The stories contained within are fairly direct metaphors for stories in the Bible, including most prominently Christ’s death and resurrection as well as revelation. While all of these elements are present, the story reads equally well to those who do not have that faith background and in fact can serve as a kind of entryway. Tolkien goes a step further in creating a world with a deep history of it’s own with no obvious parallels to the Bible, but still containing many Christian viewpoints. The corrupting power of evil plays a prominent role, as well as faith and friendship through the constant companionship of Samwise Gamgee. The book in fact deals a lot with the notion of trying to save someone, namely Gollum, from being completely consumed by evil.

These are the kinds of stories I want to write. That’s why I say I’m a writer who is a Christian not a Christian Writer.

Take one example, sex. A lot of the agents I was looking at rejected books of any kind that dealt with sex. Some of the ones that did accept it tended to way pretty heavily on the negative aspects. For me it is okay to write about sex in my books if that is something my characters would naturally do at that point, but at the same time I must be careful not to “glorfy” sex. What I mean is that two characters can have sex out of marriage, but if they do I should be honest with the impact that might have on their lives if they do not end up together (or even if they do). The same goes for violence or really just about anything else. I shouldn’t be sexy or violent for their sake alone, but because it fits the narrative (which is something any good writer should do anyway), and if it fits the narrative then the emotional impact should be portrayed as well.

One of the non-literary examples I admire is the Cincinnati based music group Over The Rhine. Most Christian bands perform in a church or in an ampitheatre (and OTR does that too). But they also play in bars, the lead singer sings about whiskey and “sexy cocktail hour stubble” in the same performance as when she sings about “radio-ing heaven” or praying. OTR is not overtly a christian band, but a lot of their music comes from a christian viewpoint. Several of their albums “Till We Have Faces” and “The Trumpet Child” are drawn from christian ideas or literature (“Till We Have Faces” is C.S. Lewis again). You can meet God not only in church, but listening to the jazzy sultry voice of Karin Bergquist while sipping whiskey at the bar.

That’s the kind of writer I want to be. Christ met people where they are, he had dinner with tax collectors and sinners, he dealt with the tough subjects of his and our day, and he did it by telling stories. I can make someone think about God without saying Jesus or Lord a certain amount in every page. That’s my genre.

Note: I fell in love with OTR by listening to their live concert recordings on the internet archive. They make dozens of their performances available for free and you can get a good sense of the 20 year sweep of their music. Check it out here.


Filed under Faith + Life, Introduction, Writing Goals

Lost Moon

I don’t watch a lot of movies. Some of this is a taste thing, and some of it is a quality thing, but mostly I just don’t find myself excited about more than a couple of movies a year. Watching the Oscars last night, though, did get me to thinking about the movies that have meant a lot to me, and at the top of that list is Apollo 13.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that part of the reason I am a writer and a programmer is from watching that movie. I was 10 when the movie first premiered, and I was lucky enough to see it in the theater (though I had to wait a day since they were sold out the first time we tried to go see it). What’s great about that movie is that it is a true story of “working the problem.” Both the mission control team and the astronauts in the capsule work the problems one at a time toward the ultimate goal of landing them safely back on Earth.

One of my favorite little moments (and there are many) is when one of the NASA engineers grabs a bunch of guys and dumps a whole pile of materials out onto a table in front of them. He then holds up a filter from the command module and a filter from the lunar module uses and says basically “we need to fit a round peg into a square hole using nothing but this junk.” In a feat of MacGuyver like brilliance the ground team designs a solution, then feeds it to the guys in space and they actually get it to work.

This last describes a lot of the practical challenges I deal with every day as a software designer. When you’re programming under the gun, you often have to figure out how to make existing structures work for you, rather than designing a perfect solution from scratch. It’s not always an ideal fix, but it is often the solution that actually works. My most frustrating moments are ones where people put the theoretical perfect solution ahead of the solution that’s working correctly now.

Maybe this doesn’t sound fun to you, but seeing a bunch of people work through a problem appealed to me. Apollo 13 is also a tight piece of drama. One crisis is averted only to have another crop up in its place. One of the early critics of the film criticized that it had a “Hollywood” ending when everyone made it back safely (even though this is what actually happened), but to get home there were a lot of obstacles to overcome. And the movie is legitimately funny in a lot of moments, when the astronauts tear off their medical monitors, or when Lovell’s mother doesn’t recognize Buzz Aldrin.

Not long after seeing this movie I wrote my own little short story about a disaster in space, and the team on the ground trying to solve it. Though the story line has evolved and changed over the years, this became an early basis for some of the ideas that later led to my first novel. While “Trapped – A Space Adventure” will never see print, the fruits of that early labor one day may.

It can be hard to summarize something that means so much to you (there’s so much more I want to say about the direction of our current space program, but that will have to wait for another day). Bottom line is that while movies generally do not move me, this one did and still does. If you’ve never seen it (where have you been the last 17 years?), you should check it out.

What pieces of creativity (movies, books, music) have influenced the career path you’ve chosen (or have they)?


Filed under Introduction, Writing

Little Red Haired Girl

Today is the fifth anniversary of my wife and I’s first Valentine’s day together. I was still a student at OSU and classes were canceled due to weather.  She picked me up and we played Risk and drank hot chocolate and ate a cheesecake pie I made with just a bowl and a fork.  Five years later we’re still keeping things simple but fun for both of us.  She creamed me today at Monopoly, we ate homemade lasagna, and watched 30 Rock. The best part of it all was spending the time with my little red haired girl (my wife, I’m kind of a big Peanuts fan if you hadn’t guessed).  There’ll be a full post tomorrow, but for what remains of the day, Happy Valentine’s Day! Spend it with someone you love, and spend it doing things you both enjoy.


Filed under Introduction

Brush With Cancer

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer four and a half months ago. My thyroid was removed on Sept. 30th and my cancer was gone. I lived with a cancer diagnosis for about two weeks, and then it was over.

I am a “cancer survivor” but I don’t really feel like one. Cancer is something disruptive. It requires surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and regular follow-ups. I have known many people with Cancer, including my own family. Some won their battle, and others did not. I didn’t have a battle.

Talking about this with one of the members of my life group he called it “cancer with a little c”.  It’s not that thyroid cancer isn’t serious, it’s just very slow growing. I could have lived for 20 years or more with this cancer living inside me before there was an outward sign. As it is, this cancer was only discovered because of a blood test reading being slightly off. There was a whole series of dominoes that fell before an actual diagnosis, but that blood test was the start of it.

I’m lucky and I’m grateful for it. The only consequences of this brief period are a three-inch scar at the base of my neck which should fade with time, and I have to take a pill every day the rest of my life. That in itself is kinda cool, they took out an organ, and all that my body needs is a tiny purple pill to replace it. How weird is that?

I don’t know what to make of this experience, even after a number of months. It went by in a flash, relatively speaking. The thing I was most worried about at the time was my voice (I like to sing and the thyroid sits on top of the vocal chords). A day or less after the surgery I was speaking normally. Singing’s a little different, the shape of my throat has literally changed, but I’m getting used to it.

I was working on my third novel at the time of the diagnosis (trying to get it done before the surgery which ended up not happening). The last thing I wrote before the surgery was a prayer. My character had been through a great deal of trauma himself and was on the cusp of a final crisis. My character doesn’t really know how to pray, so his conversation is very informal, basically just saying what he’s feeling at the time, and asking what he should do. The specifics require more explanation than I’d care to go into here (this is at a point 90% through the book after all), but a lot of my feelings at that moment came out through my character. I read it back to myself for the first time today. It was a good reminder of how I was feeling, but it didn’t really have any answers, because I didn’t have any then.

I don’t want to obsess about this episode, but from time to time I think about it. Why did it happen at that particular time? How has the experience changed me?

Again, don’t really have an answer right now, but if I find one worth sharing, I will.

Have you had an experience like this one?


Filed under Introduction