CC0 photo from pxhere.com
Children are natural storytellers. Their play involves making up stories. Sadly, as they grow older, many lose the capacity for “make believe.”
But not authors. We look at the world around us and wonder “what if this happened” or “what’s that person’s life like?” Maybe it’s because most authors are introverts. We can be socially awkward, shy, or intimidated by groups of people. Instead, we have a lively interior world.
Me? Inside I’m an introvert, too. Inside I feel shy and socially awkward. I don’t enjoy being around big groups of people. And I dislike making small talk.
And yet… somehow, I ended up in ministry where I am around groups of people and have learned to make small talk.
It sounds crazy, I know. This introvert has been serving in churches for almost 30 years. How does that happen? Simple. I was called. For those unfamiliar with what “called” is, I’ll let Lins Mitchell, the protagonist and minister in Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll, explain it:
“It’s an expression. It just means you feel that God wants you to do something. Of course, the deal is to figure out what that something is.”
On some levels, all of us are called to “do something.”
For me, I ended up serving in United Methodist Churches as a religious educator, assistant minister, or director of communications. My present position involves all three of those things.
I believe in God, I try (by God's grace) to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and I belong to the United Methodist Church, even though I am righteously ticked off at its current rule forbidding local churches to conduct marriages for LGTBQI+ people and forbidding annual conference from ordaining LGTBQI+ people as clergy.
In my novels, the characters are a mix of beliefs or lack thereof, but my protagonists (Maggie and Lins) are Christian. Maggie is Methodist Episcopal, one of the larger Methodist groups of her time. And Lins is… undeclared, although if pushed, I’ll say she’s UMC like I am.
Authors often write what they want to read. And so it is with me.
Ah. So all that must mean I write Christian fiction. Right?
Wrong. I don’t write that genre. When I first started publishing, I did add “Christian fiction” as a genre to my books’ descriptive tags. But that was until it became clear the term for some people meant “safe” reading. Thusly defined, “Christian fiction” must have no cursing, very little violence, only a hint of sex, and Christian characters who stand strong against the big, bad world and come out on top.
I’m probably wrong about some of the previous paragraph. But I have received enough criticism from some readers to decide, “Bag it. I really don’t write Christian fiction.”
What I want is to tell my stories my way and not according to someone else’s predetermined list of “do’s and don’ts.” As a result, I now classify my Maggie books as a mix of historical fiction and women’s fiction genres. And Heart Soul is contemporary romance and women’s fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. Lins believes. In Heart Soul, she tells her story of how she was called into ministry. She views others as children of God and as such worthy of her attention and care. And so, she doesn’t ignore homeless vet Kenny Jameson when he asks her for spare change. Instead, she buys him a sandwich and a friendship starts – something that leads to Kenny getting a job and a place to live. Lins also loves rock and had fronted a band when she was in college. Upon meeting Neil Gardner, front man for a bar band, Lins finds him interesting, despite his antipathy toward religion. Does this mean she converts him at the end of the book? You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but I think she gives Neil a lot of space.
Maggie obviously is a Christian. The first book, Saint Maggie, contains a lot of Bible verses and theological rumination, and some people find that uncomfortable. But it needs to be there. Maggie is historically spot-on for a nineteenth-century, journaling Methodist who strives to live according to Jesus’ two greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor. All the rest is commentary.
In the 1860s, many Christians were involved in positive social reforms – everything from anti-slavery to votes for women to temperance and to later in the century to laws to improve conditions for workers and to protect children with child labor laws. Maggie’s desire to see people treated with respect and love puts her shoulder to shoulder with those Christians.
While Maggie’s belief system can and does pit her against those who don’t believe, she more often than not finds herself facing off against co-religionists, which is reminiscent of Jesus, who broke the rules when they hurt people or impeded healing and wholeness.
Sometimes I get asked why I write these stories. My answer: have you looked at the world around us? There’s so much anger and violence out there. I want to bring a little hope into the picture. With some luck, maybe the books will inspire folks to love others. Maybe they will want to be like my characters. Maybe. But even if all I do is pull people out of the dark for a few short hours, that’s something.
It could be that by writing this way I am just whistling in the dark. But what if inspiration actually counts for something? According to Merriam-Webster, inspire comes from the Latin word “inspirare (‘to breathe or blow into’), which itself is from the word spirare, meaning ‘to breathe.’” It also is related to the word spirit, “which comes from the Latin word for ‘breath,’ spiritus, which is also from spirare.” ( https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/the-origins-of-inspire)
So, inspiration literally is being breathed upon by something and given life. And that's good enough for me. Because where there’s life, there’s hope.
And that’s why I write.
I write to give myself and my readers hope.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder