Thursday, October 27, 2005

JK: Something I Didn't Know

Some years ago I read an article about a 16 year old who had won a Merit Scholarship in Science for her early work related to water quality. What impressed me wasn’t just her terrific focus and follow-through at such a young age, but something her step-father said about her. He noted that when he picked her up from preschool, she’d get into the car and say, “Tell me something I don’t already know.” I love that. It could be the bumper sticker for life-long learners. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

I suspect one of the reasons we continue to read the backs of cereal boxes, the tiny print on tea bags, buses as they roll by, those little packets that fall out of packaging, even the stickers on mattresses, is because we might just discover something fascinating written there that we otherwise wouldn’t know.

I know that’s one of the reasons I write. The research in itself promises amazing tidbits regardless of the source. I paw through books at garage sales. I eavesdrop at restaurants. One never knows when I might use information about wheat production or pick up a great phrase that shows up in one of my characters’ mouths. And yes, like the internet, not all one hears is “truth” but it is always fodder for speculation that must be run through the filter of wisdom.
Our readers want that kind of enthusiasm for newness as well. In addition to a good story, they want fresh metaphors. New plot twists. They want to discover some obscure piece of trivia or history that makes a reader say, “Well, I’ll be. I never knew that.”

This presents a special challenge for Christian writers. Most of us want to reach those who not only know and love the Lord, but those who haven’t yet discovered that he offers an infinite array of new learnings. We want to stay fresh without wandering into squirrelly theology. We want to encourage deeper thinking without losing our audience in obscurity or dogma. We want to introduce the effect of Jesus on the lives of our characters by showing it through story, and sometimes that means we might not even use his name. We might not have our characters pray out loud. We might have them even struggle with their own faith. That introduces us to the possibility of attack, questioning whether we’ve written a Christian novel at all.

I remember quite well being told that my novel A Sweetness to the Soul couldn’t be sold in a certain Christian bookstores because it wasn’t “Christian enough.”

While it soothed that sting when that book went on to earn a national award for Western writing and was recently named by the Oregon Heritage Commission as one of the best books published in Oregon in the past 200 years, I still struggle with what wasn’t Christian in a story of a young girl’s discovery of forgiveness and love. My character didn’t know about grace until her friend, who was not a Christian, told her of what she knew about the One who loves us most. It changed my character’s life.

But maybe that’s what I was to learn after all: Because of that characterization of the book not being Christian enough, my exploration when I write and read, has taken on new depth. I daily ask God to be my guide in making sure that what I write is something worth knowing, told in a way that enhances and never detracts from the greatest story ever told. And if I’m blessed, along the way, I’m likely to learn something new I didn’t know either.

Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of A Land of Sheltered Promise and her memoir newly revised, Homestead.


At 10:13 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

That's a tough subject. Wish I had the answer but guess all us Christians struggle with it. I was turned down once because my books were too overtly Christian. Guess it's all subjective. They are what they are. Thanks

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Such a thoughtful post, Jane. And loved the "squirrly theology" comment. Made me laugh.


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