Tag Archives: faith

Guest Post – It's Complicated

Aeons ago, I put out a call for guest posts on how your faith might influence your fiction. Author Nobilis Reed was kind enough to submit a post and then life intervened. In addition to NaNoWriMo I had some site issues. Anyway, with apologies I submit his post. If you’re interested in writing one up, please contact me!

If the Divine and I had a Facebook relationship, it would be defined as “It’s Complicated.”

Let’s start with my definition of faith: “Faith is the belief in something that cannot be proven by reason.” Pretty much everyone has faith in something, even hardcore rationalists.* My unprovable assertion is “There is at least one influence in existence that transcends human understanding.” It’s unprovable, because in order to prove it, you would have find this influence and understand it, and by doing so you would disqualify it from the assertion. As a result, my relationship with this entity cannot be anything but complicated.

When you’re dealing with an entity that transcends human understanding, the only way to think about it is with as-if constructs and metaphors. When it’s raining outside, and I step out the door and find that the storm has suddenly abated to a mere sprinkle, which then returns to a steady downpour once I’m inside the car, I raise my eyes skyward and say, “Thank you.” When that happens, do I believe that there is a deity which listens to my prayer in the same way a parent listens to a child? No, but it’s a useful as-if construct to describe the situation. When I describe the experiences of a friend of mine, who was rescued from a (pre cell phone) flat tire stranding by a muscular redheaded guy in a convertible sports car, and now describes Ares as her personal deity, do I believe that she met an actual god that day? No, but it’s a useful as-if construct to describe the situation.

Any deity you encounter in the real world, whether it’s the Christian God, or Allah, or Jehovah, or Zeus, or any of the dozens of other names for the divine or the infernal, what you’re talking about is an as-if construct created by people to describe that great unknowable entity beyond human understanding. We put a face on it, usually a human face, to make the relationship possible.

My personal spirituality doesn’t play a role in most of my books, but there is an exception in the Orgone Chronicles series. The cultures of these novels is entirely spacefaring; they don’t live on planets at all, but instead have space stations and starships scattered over the galaxy. To them, the great unknown is immediate and pervasive, always there just past the outer bulkhead; it’s space, hard vacuum, the void, the hungry nothingness outside the airlock. Different cultures see it slightly differently, of course; the Stationers see it as a cthonic ending, a sort of real-world hell, representing suffering and death. Scouts and Pirates see it as a veil of ignorance, that must be pierced to discover the unknown. They swear with the word “vack,” short for “vacuum,” and the worst punishment that can be inflicted is to expel a criminal out into the void without an airsuit.

In general, though, I think my worldview allows me to more easily empathize with people who have different constructs than I do. I have a work-in-progress sitting on my hard drive (one of many, I’m afraid) set in a future America where cultural divisions have led people to segregate themselves into ideological enclaves where any ideas challenging the local dogma are severely restricted. One of the enclaves featured in that story is an Evangelical Christian community, and I believe my worldview allows me to write them more authentically, because I can more easily get into their heads and avoid excessive caricature.

* If you count yourself a hardcore rationalist and you find this statement offensive, consider your opinion on the following assertion: “There exists no element of human experience that can never be explained by science.” And then consider the difficulty of proving that something does not exist.

Nobilis can be found at Nobilis Erotica and on Twitter @Nobilis

Guest Post – The Word and The Breath

This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at scott@scottroche.com.

Chris Lester is  is an author whose work can be found at http://www.metamorcity.com/ as well as at Smashwords. He’s a long time friend and his journey echos mine in many ways. I highly recommend you check his work out. This guest post is the edited version. He gave me permission to edit as I saw fit, but I’ve posted it in its entirety here. I recommend you read the whole thing. 

The Word and the Breath – an essay on writing and belief by Chris Lester

Scott Roche invited me onto his blog to talk about my system of belief and how it shows up in my writing.

“In the beginning was the Word.”

So says the Gospel According to John. The universe, all that ever was or is or will be, began with a Word.

What is a word?

Words aren’t just ideas. They aren’t just thoughts. You don’t actually think in words, as much as your long experience with language might make it seem like you do. People who have no language still have thoughts and ideas. A baby can recognize its mother, can have the idea and concept of its mother, before it ever knows the word “mother” or “mama.” An idea alone doesn’t make a word.

Nor is a word just a sound, or an assembly of letters on a page. I can write the arrangement of letters “ancagwalathump”, and I can sound it out according to the rules of English (or any other language that uses those letters), but that doesn’t make it a word. Symbols by themselves aren’t words.

A word is an idea packaged in a way that conveys it to a recipient. Words are relational.

The Word was intended for an audience, an interlocutor.

Before we even existed, the Word was for us.


In the last few years I have come to a new understanding of my faith that integrates Christianity with progressive social values. I have learned to see the teachings of Christ as not only a framework for individual salvation and healing, but for the healing and restoration of the world. I have come to believe that God intends for us not to escape Earth for Heaven, but to work for Heaven manifest on Earth — until “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” I came to see that prayer as not a passive cry for deliverance, but an invitation for God to use me in that purpose. To sincerely pray for God’s kingdom to come is to indicate our own resolve to participate in its coming.

In coming to this new understanding, I set myself at odds with many of my brothers and sisters in the church. To the Evangelical mindset, human beings have no agency beyond repenting and begging God for forgiveness; there is nothing that people can do to make the world any better, and indeed their whole eschatology presumes that things will get progressively worse, until at last the world is remade in God’s Last Judgment. This worldview leads logically to a nihilistic mindset: “It’s all going to burn anyway,” I was assured by more than one elder in my church, as justification for why environmentalism was unnecessary and doomed to failure. It also leads to an attitude of life under siege: everyone on the outside, in “The World,” is captive to Satan’s will, an unwitting pawn of darkness; and everyone on the inside, in “The Body,” is constantly at risk of being tempted and led astray by worldly desires. Any material pleasure is suspect, and none more so than sex, or indeed any activity even tangentially related to sex. Paradoxically, we were told that sex was a great gift from God, but apparently one so dangerous that it had to be carefully contained within a set of rigid cultural walls. I had already seen the ways this repression could go wrong, had spent years hating my own body and its stubborn, insistent desires. Now I saw how the obsession with sex led my brothers and sisters to hate and fear whole classifications of people whose sexual desires they deemed abnormal: gay, bisexual, transgender, polyamorous, all were branded as unholy and immoral. All rejected. All outsiders.

So naturally my next story was about them.

MAKING THE CUT was my love letter to the conservative branch of Christianity that I could no longer be part of. In the Hive’s paranoia, its apocalyptic fantasies of future conflict with the mundanes, I could explore the terrible consequences of the Evangelicals’ obsession with Armageddon. Like the church, the Hive controls the sexuality of its members to serve its own purposes. Like the church, it exacerbates conflict with outsiders because it believes that such conflict is inevitable. Like the church, the Hive’s strictures sometimes lead its people to make very poor decisions, twisting and burying their own identities in a desperate desire to fit into what is expected of them. Some of my readers found it unbelievable that Daniel would become a woman in order to have a place in the Hive — but is that any more incredible than a gay man trying to force himself to become straight? By the end of the book, my heroes were in the same place as I now found myself: tangentially affiliated to the group that raised them, still feeling some loyalty to it in spite of their disagreements with it, but not really part of the community as they once were, and unlikely to ever be so again. They can hope that, in time, the Hive will come to see things as they do, or to have more flexibility to permit differences of belief — but large, ponderous organizations of fearful people do not change themselves quickly, or without a fight. They have too much emotional investment in the rightness of their cause to back down now.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking of all the ways the Hive is different from the Church. You’d be right. I didn’t set out to write an allegory, or to make the story an author tract. The themes I describe above arose organically through the process of writing the story. Other themes appeared, too, and blended with the religious ones — there’s a lot of post-9/11 America in the Hive, as I tried to process the changes that were happening in my country during the previous decade, and Daniel’s frustrations with his place in the world mirrored my own trapped feeling as I worked a dead-end job in title insurance after returning from grad school. I didn’t try to nail down any one of these themes with perfect one-to-one correspondence. I knew from the beginning of the story most of what would happen, but it wasn’t until a third of the way into writing it that I realized what it was about.

But we write what’s on our hearts, whether we mean to or not, and the religious and cultural issues I was wrestling with inevitably worked their way into my story. This is one of the great benefits of writing fiction for me: it helps me figure out how to talk about the things I don’t know how to articulate. It gives me a window on my own subconscious.

Since my religious transition from conservative to progressive values, I have repeatedly found the themes of progressive spirituality cropping up in my fiction: the importance of honesty and authenticity to one’s self; the need to embrace the diversity of others; the crucial importance of empathy and compassion; the futility and self-destructiveness of brute force as a tool for resolving conflict; and the root of so much suffering and misery in the world coming not from malice, but from simple arrogance and moral blindness. Now I am writing the third full-length novel in Metamor City, tackling head-on the questions of class divisions, economic injustice, marginalization of the Other, and way that shame and discomfort lead the middle classes to turn a blind eye to those in the greatest need. These themes are as progressive as anything Freire or Chomsky could have asked for, but they are inspired not by Marxism, but by the Sermon on the Mount, the Syrophoenician woman, and the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The teachings of Christ, taken as more than bland moralizing, are as radical as anything that political thinkers have proposed in the last three centuries — and sparked a similar violent backlash from those holding the power.


How does my faith inform my writing? How does it not? Throughout my life, with all the twists and turns in my spiritual journey, my fiction has been a reflection of my faith. In it, you can find the things that are important to me, the questions I am wrestling with, and the answers whose boundaries I am beginning to feel out. I believe in Christianity, as C.S. Lewis said, “as I believe the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” The Word, the source of all life and all truth, finds new expression in my sub-creations, and through them I speak back into the universe: an imperfect reflection of the original, but with inflections, variations and perspectives that are uniquely mine.

And that is what makes them beautiful.

Guest Post – Telling The Stories Of Another Kind Of Faith

This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at scott@scottroche.com.

Matthew Wayne Selznick is an author and creator living in Long Beach, California.

It’s an honor to be part of this exploration of the effect of faith on fiction, and I’m pleased Scott agreed I might have something interesting to share. My faith is an integral part of my fiction. To explain how and why, I think it will help to take a little look back.

Growth and Perspective

Growing up, when asked my religion, I would answer, “Roman Catholic” because that’s what I was told we were.

However, beyond baptism, which happened when I was too young to protest or embrace, I never took any of the sacraments. While my mother had been raised more traditionally, our family’s brand of Catholicism was pretty relaxed, but enhanced with what I recall as a good dose of practicality and a considerable amount of metaphysics and, most valuable to me, active encouragement of curiosity.

A belief in the highly symbolized God of the Catholic church, being raised in a house where belief in ghosts and psychic phenomenon was accepted in hand with the virgin birth and the resurrection, and a strong inquisitive streak created a child ready to know everything… and believe anything. Where most kids of my generation wanted to grow up and be firemen, cops, or the President… I wanted to be a paleontologist.

Later, the hormone-fueled hyper-drama that comes with being a teen-ager fit very well with a theatrical mix of occult complexity and a shift to a more evangelical brand of Christianity that, back in the eighties, we called “born-again.” Stir in a moral compass in which “true north” was defined by a life-long diet of comicbook superhero stories, and I was primed for an intense, romanticized period of spiritual warfare.

It was exciting to live in such a black and white world where invisible dangers lurked… and it was exhausting, too, trying to maintain a belief that things could really be so white-hot and simple. Eventually, I saw too much hypocrisy in the behavior of my “saved” friends (and displayed my share, to be sure) to remain in that social circle. At the same time, deeper research in comparative mythology eroded my confidence in the internal consistency of the Christian mythos.

Perhaps most importantly, I was gradually learning that attributing the influence of Satan (or the hand of God) to people’s actions served, in a way, to put a layer of distance between myself and other humans.

Meanwhile, the pagan friends I met in my early twenties were, nearly without exception, more relaxed, kind, reliable and moral than the Christians I had known. So I dug that for a bit, and even if the rituals involved with many pagan belief systems were usually too much of a bother for me, I understood that they pre-dated the Christian rituals co-opting them, and that most of the people performing them understood they were symbolic. The whole approach felt more spiritually legitimate.

For a while.

See, through all those years of my childhood and young adulthood, I was mainlining science, thanks to the gateway drugs of Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Carl Sagan. I read voraciously, following the rabbit of critical thinking deep into its branching, limitless warren of discovery.

And also, concurrently, I was learning how to write.

Eventually, examining the mishmash that influenced my formative years — Christian metaphysics, esoteric occultism, the paranormal, and above all else a fascination with science and history and learning of all sorts — led me to become a skeptic and, finally, settle on the only label I feel comfortable with these days: secular humanist.

What Is Secular Humanism?

I like pointing to the Council for Secular Humanism‘s list of elements and principles for a definition:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted by faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific method of inquiry in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life (as opposed to an afterlife) and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Justice and fairness – an interest in securing justice and fairness in society and in eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

All of the above sounds to me like a grand mission statement for the human race. When I discovered it, I felt like saying, “That’s all the stuff I want, all the ways I want to be, all the things I think!”


My Faith Is In Humanity; My Observance Is Through Story

When it comes to the potential of the last extant species of the genus Homo, I have a tremendous optimism for which I am utterly unashamed. I am fascinated by humans; I love us; I have great confidence in us.

My fiction is a deliberate declaration of that confidence. I write to explore what it means to be human… and to speculate on what it could mean to be human. Granted, it could be argued that all literature works toward these goals.

To be more specific:

Every story I tell falls into one of my several storyworlds. I define a storyworld as a milieu, including settings, characters, throughlines, background and other elements, shared by a variety of stories told in a variety of media.

As of this writing, three of my storyworlds have published works (The Sovereign Era, including The Charters Duology and other works; Daikaiju Universe, represented by the short story “Reggie vs. Kaiju Storm Chimera Wolf;” Protector, with the short story “Cloak”) and one has a work soon to debut (The Shaper’s World, with the serial fiction-by-subscription project Walk Like a Stranger: Passing Through Home).

All of my storyworlds are part of a larger megaverse… and the entire mosaic of storyworlds will, ultimately, display the adventure of humanity across a multitude of realities and supereons of time.

Despite that grand scale, the stories I chose to tell are intimate ones…

  • I care less about the struggle between cthonic adversaries and generational protectors than I do about the emotionally repressed slacker dude with the haunted past who just wants to figure out why his girlfriend left him.
  • While the world might be torn apart by tensions between super-powered isolationists and nations with their fingers on the nuclear buttons, I’m more interested in the kid with the funny eyes figuring out how to live in his own skin.
  • A giant monster might tear apart that pretty coastal town, but I really want to examine what’s bugging that dude about his old lover in the middle of it all.
  • The religio-politial order up in the hills might or might not win control of a war-torn, Balkanized region, but I want to know if the young priest will sacrifice his relationship with god to fulfill an unwanted obligation.

See what I mean? People.

People are amazing.

Yeah, sure, individually and in groups, they can sometimes be a disappointing mess… but collectively… taking in all we’ve done so far and all we could do…

People are amazing.

I have faith in humanity… to keep asking, learning, and doing.

And that’s why I tell our stories.

Guest Post – Pagan Spirituality

This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at scott@scottroche.com.

Shen Hart is a pas­sion­ate and dri­ven mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant orig­i­nally from South­ern Eng­land who took the leap and moved to Prague. She does dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing con­sul­ta­tions with indie authors, her focus being social media marketing.

Shen works hard, pushes, takes risks and demands that life plays by her rules. Dur­ing her free time she writes darker strains of fic­tion, and will self-publish her books once she finds time between mar­ket­ing projects. Until then, she is work­ing on a non-fiction mar­ket­ing book aimed at help­ing indie authors under­stand how to mar­ket their books.

Google+ Profile: https://plus.google.com/112678886363980943840/posts
Fiction blog: http://tiaden.wordpress.com/

I’m here today to talk to you about my beliefs and how they slip into my writing. I’m a pagan, a Chaote to be exact. I expect that the image a pagan brings to mind is that of someone in a robe with a wand dancing around a tree or muttering to a black candle. I’m sure there are pagans out there who do that, but I am not one of them. Far from it. A Chaote is someone who embraces chaos and walks a path which is entirely unique to them. There are debates and arguments over it, and the exact definition but the important part is that it gives me an unusual mix of beliefs.

The core of what a Chaote is and does is they look into everything, other belief systems, anthropology, sociology, media, everything. They search for the truth, perhaps not the absolute truth but their truth. This means that my belief systems are complicated and have segments, aspects, from a whole host of other systems.

One of those aspects is a mutation of the native American view on spirit animals, guides. This isn’t the place to go into the full essay, but you will find my connection back to the animals within my writing. It is actually a core component of every long piece I have written. This usually comes out in two forms, the idea of shifters. The animal and man coming together, uniting, in balance to form the complete being. The other being a non-shifter which exhibits, sometimes even suffers from the darker sides of themselves and the struggle that the fight for balance presents. The latter is the heart of my current work in progress. A young woman has no idea what she really is and the fight against her internal predator, the dark, aggressive and purely instinctual self leads to an addiction. She is in a constant fight to control her internal self, to deny it. My beliefs are of the opposite, embracing the internal shadow and animal, to find balance and acceptance.

Another core component of my beliefs is my relationship with the gods, in particular my primary god Loki. I refer to him as my primary because he is the one I’m closest to, the one who’s stood by me through thick and thin. He is present within all of my longer works. I haven’t yet written him as a primary character, he has always been a secondary character who works in the manner I associate with him. That’s to say, he works with and within the shadows, he appears when he judges it to be right, only to vanish again afterwards. He is usually present in some manner and his methods aren’t always entirely obvious in the beginning. An example of this is in the re-write of my first novel, Tiaden Dawn. The character appeared at a key moment to aid the protagonist and remained just long enough to cause a thought process to start, which would then affect the relationship between the two main characters. He didn’t say anything, but it was enough to achieve what he set out to do.

There are many, many ways in which my beliefs step into my writing. I could most likely write a novella on that alone, but these give some examples My beliefs are a core part of who I am, just as my past is. They are ingrained within my persona, my world view, so it’s natural that they then appear in my writing. My works are all contemporary fantasy of some shade or another, this gives me the freedom to express myself and explore those aspects I truly enjoy. The darkness of the psyche, the internal struggle and the clash of broken gods and shattered men.

Thank you for having me.

Guest Post – Parking Lot Characters

This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at scott@scottroche.com.

Jeff Hite blogs at Barely Controlled Chaos and has been an editor at Flying Island Press. You can follow him on Twitter @JAHite.

If you have ever visited my website, one of the first things that you are going to see is the Warning in the side bar. If says something like this: 1. I have opinions they are my own and you don’t have to like them. 2. I am Catholic, and yes I talk about it. 3, I have kids, and yes I talk about them too. 4. I am both a Star Trek geek and a space science geek and I don’t see a conflict. The one thing that I don’t say there is that I am a writer, and all of these things influence my writing in ways that I can’t even predict or explain.

Being Catholic, I understand that the stance that the Catholic church takes on many issues makes it unpopular these days. I got that. I really do. And for me to follow that faith, and stick to those beliefs means that I take a chance on not being popular as well. But a funny thing happened on my way to my writing desk, I discovered that I didn’t care. The stories are not about me. The truth is that I do not go out of my way to offend people. In fact, I go out of my way not to, both in my stories and in person.

A few years ago, I started working with a company called Flying Island Press. They had a stated goal of publishing great science fiction with a positive spin. It was that positive spin that I really found important. We tended to publish things that were not too graphic in nature or language, but instead focused on the positive aspects. The story didn’t have to end well for the protagonist. It didn’t have to have a happy ending but there needed to be something redeeming about the story that made you feel better about the world when you were done reading it.

I have taken that goal and adapted it for my own use. I want to write stories with a positive spin. Stories that are not too graphic in word or deed, but that bring you to a place that is better than you were when you started. If that means I tell you kind of a corny joke that made you smile, great. If that means you got some sort of inspiration from one of the characters, wonderful. If the story made your day in some way, awesome. But I don’t expect that they will cause you to drop what you are doing and join the next available RCIA Class.

When I write, I write because I have stories in my head. Stories that If I don’t let them out will drive me a little looney.

I write to write. I write because I love stories. As a Catholic and a writer, as you might expect I have had priests and nuns, and brothers and all forms of clergy in my stories. Some of them being great examples of the faith and others not so much. But the majority of my stories are about ordinary people. My stories tend to be about people. That sounds odd because all stories are about people in some ways. What I mean by that is that my stories focus on people and how they react to the situations that I have put them in, and not about my beliefs.

When I was younger, and didn’t care so much, It didn’t matter as much to me what I wrote. But I’ve discovered as I have gotten older, note that I say older and not wiser, I find that it is harder and harder not to care about those things that would be against my faith. That does not mean that I don’t tell all the stories I have in my head. Does that mean that all my stories or even some small number of my stories, have some kind of a meaning that you need to find that will bring you closer to the faith? Probably not. I don’t even do subliminal messages.

I believe that we should live our faith through our actions and our words. I knew a priest once that said, “We show our Christianity not here in the church but in the parking lot after Mass.” That is my goal, as a writer. Not to show my characters kneeling in prayer but to show you what happens when they reach the parking lot. I try to remember that my stories are not about me, they are about the characters. They don’t always share my beliefs, and that is ok. I don’t hate them for that, I don’t even dislike them for that, but I do hope that they are like me in at least one way, they do not go out of their way to offend.

Guest Post – Let Your Light Shine

This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at scott@scottroche.com.

Anita M. King is a college English/ESL tutor and a writer of fantasy. You can find her on Twitter as @AnitaKingWrites or on her blog at http://anitaking.wordpress.com/

I was raised with the belief that every creative act is—or at least can be—a way to give glory to God. From painting a picture, to knitting a scarf, to building a brick wall, every time that we shape the world around us by making something with our minds or our hands can be a form of prayer or even an act of worship. For as long as I can remember, even as I have struggled with the things my parents and my church taught me, this belief is something that has remained steady. It is one of few ideas that have weathered the various storms of doubt and fear and anger in my life with very little wavering. When I didn’t know how to pray, when I wasn’t sure what “worship” really meant, creativity was something that helped me to still connect with God.

I believe that the capacity and drive to create are part of what it means for human beings to be made “in the image of God.” As God is the creator of the universe, so are we imbued with the ability to participate in that creation, to reflect that aspect of God’s nature in our own nature. This is one of the many reasons why, in the Orthodox Church, we sing the services and paint icons of saints and Biblical events to hang in our churches and homes. Creativity is part of our human inheritance, not just a proclivity of the imaginative or those talented in one or another of the arts, but something that belongs to all of us and each of us and that we express in many different ways.

Since my early adolescence, when I first began to see writing as a craft, I have turned over and over in my head questions of how to apply this belief and offer up my writing to God. Writing fiction, in particular, has offered challenges that my other creative hobbies have not because stories portray human beings with all their flaws and foibles. Stories contain conflicts that do not always have clear solutions and moral choices that can be as muddy and ambiguous as any faced in real life. I asked these questions first about the stories I consumed: was it OK to read a novel about an assassin, to root for the thief in a heist movie, to seek fictional vengeance as the player character in a video game? The questions became even harder when I asked them about the stories I wrote.

What did it mean to give glory to God through my writing? Did it mean that I could only portray the good, the light, the joyful? Or that I had to make it excruciatingly clear and obvious what was good and what was bad, what was right and what was wrong? Did my protagonists have to be paragons of virtue who made no mistakes, or only made well-meaning mistakes out of ignorance or misunderstanding? Did the good guys always have to win? Did the bad guys always have to be punished? Did I have to mention God or religion? If I somehow messed up, would I be leading my potential readers astray?

Perhaps surprisingly, I was never troubled with concerns that writing fantasy, the genre I am most drawn to, might be un-Christian. My father fed me the fantasy of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien from an early age. My godfather, a retired physicist who is now an Orthodox priest, loves Arthurian legend and has a special fondness for Merlin. When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, he took all of the teenagers at our church to see each installment as a group. One of the most straight-laced, traditional women of the parish introduced me to Harry Potter. It wasn’t until I was nearly an adult that I even realized there are some Christians who have a problem with fantasy. What concerned me far more than genre were the morality of the characters and the messages of the stories.

My first attempts to express my faith in my writing were painfully clumsy and unsubtle. My protagonists were saints, or at least they kept their sins hidden from me. I thought that I had to shoehorn in some good old fashioned moralizing every time an opportunity presented itself. Most of my stories concluded with a deus ex machina—emphasis on the “deus”—and my attempt to imitate the allegory in The Chronicles of Narnia is a thing best not spoken of, much less revealed to the light of day. I knew that it wasn’t working, that my writing was flat and stale, that the end results were more sermons than stories.

But I didn’t know how to fix it until life kicked the stuffing out of me.

I sat down during one of the worst periods of my life, and I did something I had never done before—I wrote a story that I never intended another human being to lay eyes on. I wrote without care for craft or style. And I wrote without worrying that I would be leading others astray or that others would see my characters’ poor choices as a reflection of my own morality. The result was more auto-biographical than fictional, poorly structured and barely coherent. It was part confession, part railing against the injustice of my suffering, and it was more a prayer than anything else I had ever written.

My fiction changed after that, and it took me a while to understand that I wasn’t giving up on my long-standing beliefs about acts of creativity. Eventually, I realized that I could still give glory to God without sugar-coating life or the stories that came out of it. My fiction could still hold messages of hope, forgiveness, and love even as my characters, like me, sometimes acted out of fear, anger, and pride. Instead of sermonizing, I could have an honest conversation.
Most of all, I found that both my writing and my faith are stronger for recognizing that God’s light can shine through any darkness, all the brighter for the contrast.

Guest Post – Faith In Fiction

This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at scott@scottroche.com.

PsychedJuli Caldwell is the author of Psyched and Beyond Perfection. She’s a freelance writer and editor as well. You can follow her on Twitter @ImJuliCaldwell or on her blog http://julicaldwell.blogspot.com/

I’m a Mormon.

That phrase right there may have you thinking you know all about me, so let me smash a few stereotypes first thing. I’m a college educated feminist. I can’t craft, sew, or toll pain anything. I’m not a registered republican. (I was a democrat for many years, until the most recent administration—I’m now unaffiliated, though I lean libertarian, so let’s not waste any time talking politics. We’ll only tick each other off.) I don’t eat green jello and it will be a cold day in hell before I let my kids go to BYU. Maybe BYU Hawaii…I might be able to get behind something like that.

Yes, I garden and bottle stuff. Sometimes. Even though I stink at it and occasionally set fire to the counter in the process. I store food and water, but that’s just being smart. It worked out great when I lived in Florida and hurricanes knocked out the grid for a few days at a time. No FEMA lines for me! Yes, I go to church for at least three hours a week and I have the magic underwear to prove I’m a member of the in crowd. I don’t bash your religion or lack thereof and can’t stand those who do. I’d appreciate the same respect in return. Deal?

My religion is who I am, and who I am infuses my writing. My first novel was very skewed to the religion and trended popularly in our subculture. I write for young adults, and that book resonated with them because I offered up a girl who was just like them, dealt with our issues and pressures, and in some cases mocked us. It was great to share that with people who would get it because we have so much in common.

But I’m a pragmatist, and it takes 30 seconds of looking at census data to realize that writing for 2% of the U.S. population is no way to make a living. My latest release, Psyched, is a greater expression of who I am because I was able to let go of those stereotypes I remolded for the sake of Mormon readers. My protagonist in Psyched, Aisi, is a deeper reflection of who I am because I went back to the basics of what I believe a decent and likeable, if flawed, human being is.
The values I believe are most valuable go back to the beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Mount:

It’s good to want to be a good person
Be a peacemaker instead of a drama queen
Be merciful and kind instead of a jackwagon
Caring about others isn’t a weakness—it’s actually a strength
People who are all of the above will win in the end

beyond perfectionWhat Jesus said is good stuff. Even if you see no value in religious practice, the moral code he outlined, though radical at the time, has led to more loving and kinder civilizations (we can argue the Inquisition and Crusades if you want, but I’m speaking generally of people who live this code and not political leaders who misinterpreted the Bible for personal gain and power). Jesus said love God and love your neighbor. If you add in the ten commandments from the Old Testament we find in the Bible, misinterpreted though it may be, a primer on how to be a decent human being.

This all comes back to fiction, I promise. Writers are told over and over to write what we know. So what do I know? I’ve had enough spiritual experiences to believe I’ve found the truth. And it’s beautiful. I think everyone should find that feeling of peace, in a church, in spiritual reflection, in volunteering, in nature. Just find it. I’m not the one you’ll find wearing a black name tag knocking on your front door, but I still have a desire to share what I think is good and decent with others. As a writer, the best way for me to do that is through the books I offer. That doesn’t mean my characters will find Jesus. But they will find hope and peace.

I write clean, which means no swearing and no heaving bosoms. That doesn’t mean I re-create Leave it to Beaver and the most offensive thing you’ll see is when the Beav stubs his toe and everyone gasps when he says “golly gosh darn it.” In Psyched I draw from the Apocrypha and African mythology to create a nasty villain, a demon named Malus. I know the big thing in my genre is “love” stories with a human girl and a criminally hot, inhuman bad boy, and I may suffer in sales because I don’t play the game. But I prefer to write strong characters with the values I outlined above to tell a story that’s a little different and hopefully more interesting than the latest best-selling demon erotica.

There are plenty of books out there that explore the dark side of life, and when they’re done well, they contribute thought-provoking material to the literary canon. I can’t write this way because I believe in happy endings. Not the fairy tale kind, just the kind where not all hope is lost. Why? Because I believe there’s hope to be found in this life. We read to escape, to find something missing in our own lives. To figure out who we are and where we go from here. I’m probably biased, but I think living the Judeo-Christian code of ethics is the surest path to becoming a decent human being. How can you go wrong if “love one another” is your mantra?

If I can use who I am to create a story someone will love, something that resonates, something that will encourage people to find hope even when they feel their circumstances are hopeless, I call that a win.