With the book in final review stage, waiting on the cover to go, I’ve been picking at it, finding little stray hairs of errors and cleaning up the glossary of things I should have caught long before. Then, I had something come to light that forced me to look hard at my creation.
The Prodigal Son by James Tissiot
One of my reviewers, whom I thank for taking up the task, let me know that the book was inappropriate because of something that happened in it. Now I bring this up not to bash, nor to seek to shame or take to task, but to help myself and others understand my work. I keep the book relatively clean. There are only a couple points where the language gets ‘blue’, but there apparently is one thing in here that someone found unforgivable. It was put to me the challenge of whether or not I should remove the phrase from the book to make it ‘safe for a Christian audience’. That caused me to think about it over the course of a day on what was the purpose of the use of the offensive/blasphemous oath.
I asked myself about the phrase. Was it gratuitous or unnecessary? No to both. What the phrase did was set the tone for the kind of environment the characters were about to enter. It was not a completely safe place and not everyone there were good citizens or Christians. They were complex fallible people who sinned, but also gives a hint to several things deeper in the future and serves as a warning sign to the reader that not everything is as it seems. Yes the phrase is blasphemous if you want to strictly adhere to the law violating taking God’s name in vain. Something that we in modern times are often guilty of dozens if not hundreds of times a day. But for a sailor in the 16th century… this is right in line with the speech and attitude many had despite being a faithful person.
What I then realized is that the reviewer’s statement was not going to be uncommon. There will be thousands if not tens of thousands of Christian readers who will see this one statement get very offended and ban the book from their own libraries and possibly others. I was heartbroken about this realization. I did not foresee it. But I also saw the solution. Remove or soften the phrase. Now, I’ve done this once before already, and I’m still troubled by it being the right choice. Is leaving this phrase in the book a hill I want to die on?
I finally realized yes. It is going to stay and here is why.
Although I want this book to be edifying and uplifting to Christians, they are not my target audience. It is not primarily for legalists and purists of the faith. I will be ecstatic if they read the book, get something out of it and love it none the less. I really hope they do. If my beta readers and some of my reviewers are good indicators, this will be the case.
The main audience I hope to gain with this book is not just nerdy Christians who have been in the faith all their lives and have never been outside God’s grace like I had been. This is a book aimed at nerds who have never been exposed to Christianity in this way. Who don’t want to be preached to. Those who do not want to hear a sermon and talked down to like they are the sinner and must be saved. I think I accomplished that even though the characters in it live their faith out loud. You are talking a monk dealing with ecclesiastical problems who is being punished by his superiors for failing to toe the line and is caught in a crux of the plans of others.
I want those people to find a book that is entertaining… scratch that… I want them to be THRILLED by the book! I want those Christians who are slipping or doubting their faith or wondering if they are good enough for God to be encouraged by what they find. I want them to see characters who are not perfect Christians and fail and sin and are hot messes but God loves them and is with them inspite of themselves, while others who seem pious and in God’s good graces to have to take a step back and realize that is not all sunshine they’re standing in.
I want them to the little heresies of life to be evident, because it might inspire someone to look at their lives in a new way. Under all the entertainment, that is what I want them to find if they look for it. I want those who have never seen Christianity in the same ‘cool’ lighting and stagecraft before like we so often see paganism, pantheism, atheism and other occult philosophies. How often have we read fantasy novels or even Sci Fi novels that are chock full of “ancient weapons and hokey religions” and nobody blinks an eye at it being preached and praised? That’s what I am doing with Christianity. “Azeroth Metrion Xinthos…” see nobody bats an eye at something that although made up, it stands in for praise of something occult when you boil everything away. Change that to “In the name of Jesus, demon come out!” and you get the point.
This also speaks to the other reason I am leaving the blasphemous oath in. I have a hard time reading most Christian fiction because everything seems to be… sanitized. Even the villains seem to be only Disney Channel level of menace. Even demons seem that way at times, but people are sanitized the most. Nothing that could besmirch the squeaky clean image of the Mouse is there. A lacquered Jesus that doesn’t even get dusty. Never do we see the real challenging aspects of faith in a mud and blood spattered mess that is mankind. I mean even JRR Tolkien is grittier than them and he never cusses or deals deeply about crisis of faith in any of his books, but the people there feel more real than the glossy clean brand image you’d expect with people’s Easter Sunday behavior. This is what I hope to avoid as a writer, because I want these characters you root for to be relatable because they walked in situations like you have and do on a daily basis sometimes because being a faithful Christian can be hard and we fail over and over again, which necessitates God’s forgiveness more and more.
On the other hand, you can completely gloss over the Christianity and just treat it from a historical POV slapped into a fantasy setting like you would if you watched the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Name of the Rose” (Nobody but crazy literary people and scholars actually read Umberto Eco do they? I love the movie though!) The rest you can treat as typical low/historical fantasy with heavy steampunk elements thrown in on top. Nobody will fault you for it and honestly, if you don’t care about the spiritual stuff, just enjoy the story. So I pray what I put together actually stands up that way and does not rely on faith and sermonizing to work. It’s part of the setting and historical context, but I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m evangelizing them deliberately.
That means I now realize even more than ever this book is in God’s hands. Hell, this whole SERIES will be in His hands! He’s gonna do with it as He sees fit. But then again, when doesn’t He? ;c)
Lastly, I also realized two things that form a viscous worrisome stew in my head.
1. I realized that if this book somehow only ends up on the shelves or pages of Christian Bookstores or online retailers, I will have failed in my mission to deliver something good for nerds and fantasy geeks. I will have missed my intended audience and gotten my secondary one. That’s not bad, mind you, but it will go against my hopes. And I refer back to “God’s gonna God”.
2. I’m probably going to get hate mail from multiple sides over religious purists who will not like my handling of the faith, spiritual warfare or history, despite this is a fantasy and fantasy twist that comes from a historical basis. It is biased to my understanding and is not perfect as theologians may say. In fact, I deliberately have mistakes in it because it’s part of the setting and/or based on historical precedents of the medieval Catholic Church and monastic system. This will piss off legalists who will come up with a laundry list of reasons to hate this. Ultimately I will unashamedly refer to “It’s fantasy and welcome to the liberal use of Handwavium.” if I must.
But you know what? I am going to have to learn to deal with it. I wrote all this because I really felt it appropriate in the book itself. This novel is what I felt God wanted me to write, and so I’m going to do it the way my understanding guides me and let see what happens.
Just like I cannot pick my fans (thanks artists who demanded Ivanka Trump remove their art from her walls for teaching me that… but did not offer to buy it back.) I just need to say, “Thank you. I am grateful that you love my work.” and respect the fact that I touched someone I didn’t intend. But God knows what He’s doing, and that is what I’m going to have to rely on.
Thank you for reading.