Thursday, April 12, 2007

TM: The Three Big Lies of Writing, part 3


Over the last couple of days we’ve laid to rest—at least I hope we’ve laid to rest—two of fiction’s biggest lies. And today I would like to address what I feel is the biggest lie of them all:

If it’s Christian, it cannot be Art.

This is not only a lie; it is a blatant lie. If it isn’t, then “The Last Supper,” the “Pieta,” and virtually every important painting, statue and museum-quality sketch created from the Renaissance through the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is junk.

And they aren’t. Yet most are Christian in subject matter or message.

Skeptics might say that this applies to the visual arts, but not to literature. Which leaves them hard-pressed to explain A Pilgrim’s Progress, The Divine Comedy, or Paradise Lost. Indeed, for centuries, western civilization went through a period during which secular writing was in the decided minority. It’s only in relatively recent times that the matter has been reversed.
But boy, has the tide ever changed.

Write a good Christian novel today, and you’ll probably get a good review. But it will probably end with the phrase, “Those who enjoy reading Christian (place your genre here) will no doubt enjoy this book.”

I would so like to be reviewed without the disclaimer.

To secular publishing, the year is 1960, they’re rock-and-roll, and we’re country. And we are at least partly to blame for this ourselves.

I recently had lunch with an agent friend (not my agent) who congratulated me on my most recent novel and asked when the next one was coming out. When I told him it would be out in 16 months, he looked appalled.

“That’s too long,” he said.

Says who? Where is it written that readers will forget you if you go more than 8 months without a new release? And even if it is written somewhere, then why do we not forget John Irving (who quite often goes four years between novels), or Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (generally two to seven years between novels, and most recently no new novel in the last 11 years). Even J.K. Rowling is permitted two years between books and still considered prolific.

That’s because art doesn’t come with an expiration date.

Even if it takes a bit more time, even if it means that our publishers may occasionally produce a catalogue without one of our books listed, I think we as Christian novelists have a holy mission to prove our critics wrong. We must refuse to write books that are simply good, and we must instead put in the hours and months and even years required to write books that are well and truly great.

Why? Because we are instruments of the ultimate Creator. He made the mountains, the sunset, the sinuous curve of the breaking wave. He made nothing that is less than marvelous. And while he loves every effort we make in his name, I think that we do him the most honor when our work reminds the reader of His work.

There are writers doing just that sort of work today. I count several of them as my friends. And I applaud what they are doing because, even though they may not be shattering the records on the best-seller lists, and even though their bookshelves may not be groaning with awards (odd as that may seem), they are the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. They elevate our body of literature, and that, I believe, pleases the one for whom we write.

Many writers are doing this already, and if you are one of them, then I encourage you to keep it up. Show that what you do is not a fluke. Stack the evidence for your art so high that it cannot be ignored. Press your craft to the point that no critic on earth can conscionably do anything but give it its due.

Let us not produce just great Christian novels. Let us instead produce great novels that happen to be Christian. And then let them be recognized as such.

Without the one-sentence disclaimer.

Tom Morrisey .


At 7:59 AM, Blogger relevantgirl said...

Wow, Tom, Lovely.

Especially this:

That’s because art doesn’t come with an expiration date.

Much of what you said has been knocking around in my head for some time. Thanks for saying it succinctly.

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Janet Rubin said...

Tom, what a terrific series. thanks for dispelling the lies! I'm still pretty green- just starting to figure out that not all of the writing advice I read and hear is true:)

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Bookworm said...

Excellent post, Tom! (thanks for the link, Janet)

“We must refuse to write books that are simply good, and we must instead put in the hours and months and even years required to write books that are well and truly great.”

My sentiments exactly. Reminds me of Sayers: “For a work of art that is not good and true in art is not true and good in any other respect.”

And L’Engle: “Too much Christian art relies so heavily on being Christian that the artist forgets that it must also be good art.”

Instead of writing so it's ready today, let's write so it'll last thru tomorrow.


At 11:04 AM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Love the series but have to take issue with one point.

"We must refuse to write books that are simply good, and we must instead put in the hours and months and even years required to write books that are well and truly great."

Why? I think there's a market for both great, literary Christian fiction and for simply good. We Christian readers surely need to have things to read while we wait for the great stuff, don't we? That's not to say I don't think we should have standards. The good stuff has to really be good, not mediocre at best. But I'm okay with good because it allows me to feed my voracious reading appetite while I wait for the 5-star meal.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger Bookworm said...


Here are a few things to peruse while waiting for the great stuff. :)


At 9:29 AM, Blogger MaryAnn said...

Thank you for this inspiring commentary.

MaryAnn Diorio
Novelist and Poet


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