Saturday, November 29, 2008

Show Me The Line

So... I've been reluctant to post about this on my own blog, because I know the elders at the non-denominational church of which I am a former member occasionally check in on it and I'm not trying to start a fight. That bit is over and done. They won't eat with me or socialize with me and that's just not going to change. I'm not even trying to get that changed. This blog post is not about what happened. If you'd like to read more about what happened, I've answered that elsewhere (Note: the online discussion started here then here. I forwarded the link from Jason's site to Lindsay over at Urban Fantasy Land, which led to some discussion here and here. And then some folks were nice enough to blog their support here, here, here, here, and here.) But this blog is about the central question that I still have.

Let me back up. I have always had problems knowing exactly where "the line" is. At Briarwood Christian School, when I was in, I don't know, the fourth grade, maybe? We were doing relay races and I remember acting like a little moron and shouting "boo" at the people on the other teams whenever they got near the rest of us to pick up their baton and run back. Call it the juvenile version of trash talking a batter to mess up his swing. It worked famously and Coach yelled over at me, "How would you like it if they did that to you?"

"I wouldn't mind, Coach. I fully expect them to," I answered back. He didn't respond.

The next time I did it, Coach hauled me out of line, got the wooden paddle, and paddled me. "I told you not to do that," he explained afterward.

"No, sir," I argued. "You asked me how I would like it if they did that to me?" He paddled me again.

Don't feel sorry for Fourth Grade Jeremy, folks, I had it coming for plenty of other foolishness if not for that particular instant and I tell the story not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but to explain that I've never been very good at reading a vague warning. Don't muddy the waters with me. Don't speak to me in vagaries expecting me to read between the lines. Odds are, I won't pick up on it. Don't say, "Do you really want to wear that shirt" if you mean "Change your shirt" either, for example.

So having said all of that, one of the comments I've gotten about the whole church business was a reference to Philippians 4:8

The King James version of that verse says: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

I read that verse to mean that we should dwell on positive things rather than negative thoughts, but I fail to see how it disqualifies Urban Fantasy. For example, most Christians agree that the works of C.S. Lewis are good, but bad things happen in them. Good triumphs over Evil, but some very grisly and unpleasant things still occur. The Bible itself contains accounts of incest, rape, murder, slavery, kidnapping, and attempted genocide... so obviously writing stories that contain those things isn't instantly wrong in the context of a Christian writing fiction. There are also accounts of man being confronted by the supernatural both the divine and the infernal. There is magic, used by evil men and... sometimes... very good men meet terrible ends. So, again, writing about such things is not explicitly wrong. And let's not even get into the fact that the Bible doesn't really address novel writing for good OR for ill. Obviously story-telling is okay, because parables are fiction... so no direct: "Thou Must Not Write Vampire Books" there.

The same commenter pointed out that the book has strip clubs in it and was therefore, wrong from the outset... and true, I have a stripper or two in my novel, but the Bible has prostitutes... so again, I don't see a disconnect. And we can't say that it's unacceptable just because I don't accomplish everything I set out to do with Eric in one novel either, because the Bible is a collection of "books" and not all of them ended happily or with the Jews is the best spiritual place possible.

In Staked, and again in ReVamped, and I dare say in any future Void City novels that I write, Good and Evil will mix it up to some degree. And not to put too fine a point on it, or spoiler anyone, but Good *does* triumph over Evil in Staked. *GASP*

Sure the victory may have pyrrhic aspects, to it, but any win that you can walk away from... Well, you get my point.

So my question is this: Where is the line?

Because... though I'm not exactly certain where it is, I don't see where I crossed it.

21 comments:

JSB said...

I think only you can really determine your line. My co-author and I bump heads with this all the time. We're both very religious people and in our books people do and say things that we'd never personally do or say, but like you mentioned we're writing a story about bigger things. Writing about love and good and evil and even faith and belief. A lot of it is about the journey to get there, not the destination. And we've seen the backlash to smaller extents. My sister, for example, freaked out when she found cussing in my book. well...writing an ex New York police officer it just didn't work to say. Ow, that hurt instead of son of a bitch, and if the story is to be believed and her journey not to be shorted I have to be true to the character. There's a difference between the things required to tell the story and gratuitous page after page of depravity. I'm pretty darn sure your line comes before that. I for one, like Eric and can see him on an interesting path...though Talbot is the one who has me even more curious.

~Jana

Anna the Piper said...

Hi, I read about this over on Catie Murphy's Livejournal. Just wanted to say 1) I'm sorry that your church felt compelled to dismiss you from the congregation on so specious an excuse, and 2) not that I'm any great arbiter of right and wrong myself, but it seems to me that wherever the line may lie, you certainly didn't cross it by writing vampire novels.

Also, 3) I'll be buying Staked at my earliest opportunity.

Thom said...

The line is the path that Johnny Cash walked ;)

I'm Buddhist now, but through out high school and college I was a Christian, so I know the mind set. The verse that always summed up that kind of thing to me was about eating meat sacrificed before idols.

The gist of it was that God didn't really care, the only people who wigged out about it were folks who didn't have a strong enough foundation to their faith, so don't go waving that Steak for Hermes under their nose or anything if it will make them falter, but don't let it stop you from enjoying some yummy Pagan barbacue.

It's a bit different when it comes to writing, but I believe that the same principle applies. Just because the idea of people cussing or getting nekkid for money is a threat to their spiritual core is no reason for you, with a much stronger foundation to your faith, need limit the tools you use to tell the story you need to tell.

If they don'y like it, they don't have to read the books in the first place.

Of course, I'm Buddhist now, so my attitude is more that there are thousands of different paths to enlightenment and just because yours may be different from mine is no reason to make me abandon my own because we are all more or less heading towards the same place.

Still, whether Buddhist or Christian, the ultimate answer is the same. They just need to get over themselves already.

Pike said...

I'm gonna try this again because I posted twice and lost them both times.

We all draw lines that we flirt with, especially as writers because without villains and obstacles that put our protags to the test then we have bland, flat stories. You know that the people you write about are figments and just there to entice the reader. Maybe these people should go sticj their heads back in the sand so the rest of us can get on dealing with the real atrocities pleaguing the really-real world.

Honestly, I envy you. When a group of people get toegther to bitch about your work I believe you've hit the big time. Relosh these dark moments because you will grow from this while they whilt. This reminds me of Mel Brook's the Histor of the World during the caveman days. You are the Artist and they are the inevitable afterbirth: the Art Critic (cue peeing on cave painting).

Keep the Void alive and the only person you ever have to answer to is yourself. Judging by your posts you've got a level head on your shoulders and a gift not tobe wasted.

macbeaner said...

Hi Jeremy!

I'll be honest, your book is on my shelf just waiting to be read. But I've read a ton of other urban fantasy, paranormal, erotic romances, etc etc and I review them for bittenbybooks.com. I'm also a member of a Presbyterian church and play in the bell choir and sing in the chancel choir. never once have I thought that I was doing anything wrong in doing my reading and reviewing paranormal, romances, etc. But I think it all goes back to my younger days when we use to talk about D&D. Reality-fantasy. Reality-fantasy. You're writing a compelling story. Where does it say that the story is autobiographical? If you were writing an autobiography, it wouldn't be labelled as fiction!

I think God gives each of us our talents. He gave you a wonderful talent of writing. And I think its awesome that you are a Christian and write urban fantasy books. Maybe God is using you to bring home the reality that you can do both.

I look forward to reading Staked as soon as I get out from under this pile that I have to review for BBB.

-Virginia

Marnie Colette said...

I am sorry there are people out there so intimiated by a simple book that they need to take such drastic measures. If they stepped back and realized that their actions infact are doing the very thing they do not want - drawing attention to your book.

As for the the line... that is a subjective thing. Each and every person has their own definition of the line. As a writer you write what is in you and you take the line to the point that you feel comfortable with, as a reader I reader a book that I feel comfortable with ( yes some don't mind teetering on the line when reading while others want to stay a comfortable distance.)

The key is that people need to be raised to understand that its okay to have different lines of comfortability. I believe that the only true line one shouldn't cross is the line that harms(viciously) another person both mentally and physically.

P.S. I will be checking out your book stacked!!!

Daelith said...

There are plenty of other writers out there who have written books that don't show certain religious denominations in a very good light...Mario Puzo and Dan Brown just to name a couple. Anne Rice, when writing her vampire books, was obviously torn as to where she stood with her faith.

Personally, I don't see that you crossed any line, Jeremy. So you have a strip club in your story. I'm sure your city has a few of them just as mine. Do they honestly feel that someone reading your book is going to be moved to suddenly go to one? I hate to break this to them but it doesn't happen like that. I'm just surprised they didn't bring up the fanatic werewolves, who I thought were hysterical.

As JSB, only you can determine where your line is. God has given you a talent to write. Don't let a few people's narrow mindness turn you away from something you love. But more importantly, don't let them shake your or your family's faith. As I stated at one of the other blogs, talk to some other pastors up front and let them know about your writing career to see how they feel about it. If they are as closed minded as the old church, then it is not where you need to be to worship. I’ll be keeping you and your family in my prayers.

synde said...

Jeremy-wonderful post,very eloquently written. I also ponder over that question. I am Jewish by heritage, but Buddhist by way of paganism as my faith. I have been called Heathen and sinner more than I would like to admit. Even one of my previous bosses told me I was going to hell(seriously). So I also would like to understand the line, if you do good, are kind to all living things(yes even the stupid human ones) and believe in a higher power what else could be bad?
I am truly sorry for the brouhaha you went through with your church(especially since is was non denominational, they should have been more forgiving)but it only serves to tell me what I already knew. Organized religion of any kind is dangerrous.

-Kelly Meding said...

Thom really hit the nail on the head for me:

Just because the idea of people cussing or getting nekkid for money is a threat to their spiritual core is no reason for you, with a much stronger foundation to your faith, need limit the tools you use to tell the story you need to tell.

I consider myself a Christian. I was raised in a Methodist church, then attended a pentacostal church from middle school through high school, and attended a small, non-denominational Christian college. And I still write about vampires, goblins, women who come back from the dead, sex, physical abuse, and magic spells.

I don't feel bad about my choice of genres (UF rocks!). It's how I am able to best express my ideas and tell my stories. I'm sure some people in my mom's church don't like what I write about (it hasn't been my church in over six years). I know for a fact some of my family members will disapprove (if they don't already, just based on the fact that it's paranormal). In a very small way, it does bother me. Overall, I push it aside and go on with things.

Because if you want to pick one overall theme of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, it's that Good will conquer Evil. It will take a long road to get there, it will require sacrifice, and horrible things happen to good people on the way. But Good will triumph. And while I haven't planned my series with any specifics beyond book three, I know that, ultimately, Good will win.

The interesting part of the journey is who will be on which side, come Endgame time.

Jaye Wells said...

I think ou can't be responsible for others' reactions (unless you were being intentionally provoking, which I don't think you were). I just plain think this sucks, Jeremy.

Also, wondering where I can find some of that yummy pagan BBQ Thom mentioned.

Anonymous said...

You've been a lot kinder and more forgiving than most, I suspect, in the true spirit of Christianity. Personally (I have people like that in my own family) I fear it is more a matter of miserable wretched people afraid someone isn't as miserable and wretched as they are.

As for drawing the line: I feel the line needs to be pushed enough that we as writers are a bit uncomfortable, otherwise we are not pushing ourselves or making our readers think. I know the stories that hang with me the longest are the ones that shock me, or at least dwell on subjects that make me a bit squeamish at times.

There are lines I will not cross, either as a writer or a reader (all involve children -- no touchie/hurty!) and they have that right to their line, but to try and impose it on others is just wrong. IMHO

Tom Gallier

Jeremy F. Lewis said...

Thanks, All! I seem to be typing this a lot lately, but I really do appreciate all the kind words and support.

You guys are the best! :)

December/Stacia said...

Chiming in late here, but Jeremy, you know my feelings on this and how sorry I am that this happened to you. {{{hugs}}}

Mark said...

I was just discussing your circumstance with a bookseller who in turn repositioned your book to the front of the store (a high traffic store at that. In their "in the news" section. She's going to put a little card regarding the excommunication.

I'm happy for one thing. That you found out sooner rather than later that the elders in your church are taking the kind of concrete view of the bible favorited by the Puritans and the autistic.

There are plenty of other denominations that understand that the bible is not so simplistic as to not utilize metaphor.

sadieloree said...

I am so sorry that this has happened to you! I must agree with Jaye that you cannot be held directly responsible for the reactions of others. I am a Christian and a reader of UF and Romance. And I am also able to recognize a significant difference between the Gospel of Mark and the gospel of Mark Henry...

Jeremy F. Lewis said...

Thanks, Stacia! Thanks, Mark!

I love thise quote, "And I am also able to recognize a significant difference between the Gospel of Mark and the gospel of Mark Henry..." That's just wonderful, Sadie. :)

TM said...

the gospel according to mark henry...holy canoli, I think possessing that is a faster path to damnation than reading the Necromicon to a kindergarten story hour.

Mark said...

Todd - It's true. I advise against it.

Thom said...

The Gospel of Mark Henry? Isn't that the one where the Zebedee brothers dress fabulous throughout the narrative, Thomas gets really drunk and starts arguing with himself, and Simon the Zealot sends back the last supper because it simply will not do. IIRC, he tries to get the cook fired, but Jesus intervenes and helps the guy keep his job, because Jesus is just nice that way.

sadieloree said...

Nah. It's the one where drug cartel brothers Jesus and Angelo have a spat over managemnet decisions at their herion manufacturing plant. Jesus ends up boinkin' Angelo's main ho Magdalena and consequently Angelo moves South of the Border. You know, back to Bolivia.

Jesus Geek said...

Jeremy,

I heard your interview on C2C and read about your novel on your website. My initial gut reaction is one of caution. I haven't read your book but from the outside looking in it seems like your former church had cause for concern. I don't agree with their execution of church discipline but I understand why they were concerned.

I intend to get a copy of your book and read it and then make my final judgment. If your interested in a conversation that's going on about your book and the topic of what's appropriate for "Christian" literature, check out this link: http://tinyurl.com/dnc4yf

I'd encourage you to chime in. We'd love to hear from the author instead of just shooting our mouths off without any point of reference!

Blessings to you brother.

Who the HELL Do We Think We Are?

We're a bunch of paranormal romance and urban fantasy authors who occasionally blog, make filthy jokes and prowl the halls of conferences and conventions with switchblades!

Current roster: Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Sonya Bateman, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Jackie Kessler, J.F. Lewis, Daniel Marks, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole Peeler, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, K.A. Stewart, Anton Strout, and Jaye Wells

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