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Looking for Theo-Lit Writers


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#1 Andrew Bowen

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 09:42 AM

I'm looking for folks like me who write with religious/theological/spiritual elements in their plots. This isn't the Inspiration section, but one where the harsh realities of religion as it plays a role in our lives comes to bear. There is no evangelism, no spiritual prompting per se, but a truth revealed through fiction of how messy religion truly is.

Folks who write in this genre struggle with an uphill battle. Their work is often too gritty, heretical, or "worldly" for the Inspiration markets, and yet perhaps too religious for mainstream fiction. I'd like to find kindred spirits who aren't affraid of thier imaginations when it comes to religious issues. If we can muster a few together, we could begin a forum of our own.

Peace,

Andrew Bowen
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#2 shawnrohrbach

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 12:50 PM

start the forum, i'll join. my fiction is informed, not so much inspired, by a long trip through catholicism and bhudism. i studied in a catholic seminary and earned my mfa in a bhuddist inspiured university (Naropa). I enjoy weaving the spiritual life, botrh genuine and phoney, into my fiction.
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#3 Cat Woods

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 01:36 PM

Hey, Andrew.

I write with religion in mind. Only because it's part of who I am and my life experiences. What I don't do is write religious material. Just stories where religion is one part of a character's life. This can get tricky for exactly the same reasons you mention: they are not religious enough to fit in the inspirational market, yet by virtue of having God/religion/spirituality within the pages can be enough to turn away mainstream publishers.

On the old site, a forum was set up for this type of thing, but it never got much attention, so when AQC updated, it got dropped. Until a more appropriate place for this thread can be found, I think you're okay to use this thread to ask questions and discuss the concerns that writing about these particular elements pose.

~

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#4 Andrew Bowen

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 01:48 PM

Thanks for responding, Shawn and Cat.

Catholicism and Buddhism are two of my favorite traditions, so I'm interested to see how you incorporate them into your writing, Shawn. I agree, Cat, and I think that--especially as more writers move into self-publishing--you'll see an increase in writers formerly reticent to craft such work coming forward and striking their own brand. That doesn't mean the road is easy, however. Religion, as pervasive as it is in culture, is still taboo even in conversation.

Do you apply any sort of self-censorship in your writing when it comes to religion? What sort of creative license with faith do you think the reader market will bear?
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#5 Cat Woods

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 03:07 PM

I'm very careful not to be pushy, but let my MC's work through their own obstacles through the scope of faith if and when it's appropriate. As a Missouri Synod Lutheran with extended family that ranges from atheist to Catholic, I try very hard not to preach in any way, but to let the character's life unfold naturally--as if their faith is no different than their gender, their socio-economic status or the color of their hair. It is simply a facet of who they are, not what they are. I hope that makes sense.

In terms of marketing, I think a well-written novel with characters who resonate with readers is our first battle. If we can write to engage our audience, I think they will take faith statements in stride. As long as they are not used to send a message to "all ye sinners" out there, but are used within the scope of the characters' personalities. The second they feel pushed or preached to, however, they will toss the book.

That's not to say these novels will have an easy time passing through the publishing arena. Again, not quite religious, but not quite mainstream. It's a tough gap to bridge.

Altering current religious beliefs may be a little more difficult for some readers to swallow. I suppose it depends on how creative we get and with what aspects...

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#6 S Jenan

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 06:28 PM

I think a deft touch is key to writing about religion, and Cat, your point about keeping it focused on the MC's journey is critical. I read both Martel's Life of Pi and O'Conner's Wise Blood within the last few months, both novels are overtly religious and present theologies that I find (in some ways) personally objectionable, but they never deign to hector me about my beliefs. As a reader, I enjoy being challenged. But not insulted.

I can see why agents & publishers are chary though; just follow the query threads here and you'll see novels pop up that are aggressively disdainful of others' beliefs.

The MS I'm querying now drips with religion (and fighting and shooting-- it is a thriller, after all), and I struggle with how to present its milieu, informed by God and metaphysics and conversion, with the caveat that I'm not trying to punch anyone in the snout.

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#7 Cat Woods

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 10:38 AM

The MS I'm querying now drips with religion (and fighting and shooting-- it is a thriller, after all), and I struggle with how to present its milieu, informed by God and metaphysics and conversion, with the caveat that I'm not trying to punch anyone in the snout.


A tough balance, to be sure. Best luck!

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#8 mwsinclair

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 11:00 AM

Religion is almost always embedded within my stories. In one novel, for instance, all the main characters' names are those of saints. Those names, while rather common in the U.S. (Bernadette, Monica, Brendan) also help inform knowledgebale readers of character traits -- either in an ironic fashion or in a straightforward manner -- without being absolutely necessary to understand the story.

#9 Andrew Bowen

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 01:41 PM

There is indeed a balance, and I think that's what makes theo-lit such an art. Careful articulation, like tha sand mandalas of the Tibetan Buddhists, is required to ensure that the convictions of a character become the message of a piece of fiction. This, I believe, is what separates this sub-genre from the Inspiration section.

What sort of reaction are you folks getting from your readers with this type of fiction (or even non-fiction)? Do you see it one day holding its own as a mainstream genre?
Andrew Bowen
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#10 Cat Woods

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 03:26 PM

Do you see it one day holding its own as a mainstream genre?


In a word, no.

And I don't know if it should be.

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#11 Dayspring

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 03:13 AM

I have religious elements in my novels - Christianity is so much part of my life that I find it difficult to avoid. At the same time, I find it difficult to address in a natural way. I don't tend to like "Christian" books because there's a certain formula of what's allowed and what isn't, certain topics and time frames that seem to sell, and usually an overt 'moral of the story,' which rarely (unless you're C.S. Lewis) reads well or subtly. I think I write best when I draw on my beliefs for certain themes (forgiveness, say) without addressing biblical themes overtly. No, I don't think it's likely that 'gritty' books will ever hit the Christian bookstores - though I've often wished I could start my own genre along those lines! However, if done well, there is no reason why religion has to be a turn-off in mainstream fiction. Most books do address people's beliefs in one way or another, whether from a faith or secular viewpoint.

#12 shawnrohrbach

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Posted 11 July 2012 - 03:09 PM

Thanks for responding, Shawn and Cat.

Catholicism and Buddhism are two of my favorite traditions, so I'm interested to see how you incorporate them into your writing, Shawn. I agree, Cat, and I think that--especially as more writers move into self-publishing--you'll see an increase in writers formerly reticent to craft such work coming forward and striking their own brand. That doesn't mean the road is easy, however. Religion, as pervasive as it is in culture, is still taboo even in conversation.

Do you apply any sort of self-censorship in your writing when it comes to religion? What sort of creative license with faith do you think the reader market will bear?


I focus on the characters not necessarily the official theology of any religion. people tend to muck up the official line of thought by making up their own theologies and I like to observe that. social behavior is often inspired by such manufactured religions and the result covers the spectrum from fascinating to diabolical.
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#13 Melissa Bianco

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 10:22 PM

Wow, stumbling across this thread was quite fortuitous. I like to add faith to my writing as one character or another is a Christian and even though they have Jesus as a co-pilot, life is still messy and ugly and imperfect.

The MS I just finished has a main character who is a Christian. It's part of her like the color of her eyes, but I am trying very hard not to be preachy, wondering if this will help or hinder me. It definitely creates some decision challenges for her.

My first book only alluded to having faith. This book, I have my character talking to God when things get tough. But that guy from Braveheart did it, too, and look how popular that movie was!

Melissa

P.S. Glad this thread came up. I'd like to meet like-minded writers. (I'm a Christian -- not any denomination - just biblically centered.)

#14 Cat Woods

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:09 AM

Welcom, Melissa. Sounds like you've found us!

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#15 Lanette Kauten

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:30 AM

The current novel I'm writing, the MC is Catholic. I made her that way instead of a Protestant because it was more fitting to her circumstance. The last novel I wrote, the MC was irreligious but her love interest was a former Baptist minister.

The religious themes in my books are more like what Dayspring described. I'm a very devout Protestant Christian, and everything I write comes from that world view, but I don't read or write Christian literature because in many cases ideology gets in the way of good story telling. It's my goal for both my stories and my characters to come across as being authentic, and it's extremely rare to find any art that is agendized, no matter the ideology, to be any good. A non-religious example would be ATLAS SHRUGGED.

The last book I read was THE DOOR by Magda Szabo, translated from Hungarian into English. The narrator is a devout Catholic, and there are a lot of Catholic themes in the novel, but not once did I feel it was a "Catholic" or "Christian" book. It was simply brilliant story-telling from the POV of a Catholic.

To me, writing is a vocation, so while I'm a Christian who writes, I don't write religious fiction just like back when I was a nurse, I worked for the good of my patients, but I didn't preach to my patients.

#16 Melissa Bianco

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:35 AM

Thanks, Cat! Great to be here! (Now I'm going to meander off to your Profile and poke around.)

#17 S Jenan

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 10:00 AM

Lanette,

Bringing up your work as nurse really gets to the heart of this whole discussion. You're right: in our lives, the 'preaching' we do with our actions is almost always more effective (and genuinely loving) than opening our traps. Why should writing be any different? Why should a boorish dinner guest be any more entertaining between leather-bound covers than sitting at our table?

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#18 Leigh Teale

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Posted 27 August 2012 - 06:24 PM

My MC is Catholic, while I'm a humanitarian universalist with naturalistic leanings. It's merely a plot device for me. Everything she believes in is challenged throughout the book and whether or not she is able to hold onto her faith is a major end point. It defines her as a character, though, it doesn't define the whole of the book itself.

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#19 A. E. Lucky

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 05:42 PM

A fear of "preaching" seems to be the common theme here. Seems to me the world could use more of preaching. But from a practical standpoint, preaching in a book can be quite dangerous. Indeed, especially if the reader has convictions of a different sort. And if your intent is to sell your book rather than change the world then preaching is downright suicidal.

 

While I'm a die-hard Christian, religion very rarely, if ever, crops up in my stories because my intent is to entertain. Doesn't mean I can't promote Christian "values" (as opposed to Christian beliefs) though. In fact, most religions promote the same values.


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#20 Kingsman

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Posted 26 April 2013 - 07:50 AM

And here I was thinking I was navigating uncharted waters - too religious for the mainstream market, and too ecumenical for the "inspirational" market. Little did I imagine there was a word for it! (My MC actually went through a fictitious journey very similar to Andrew's real one, traveling the world and immersing himself in several different traditions. He ended up becoming a professor of comparative religions, while still trying to work out what exactly it was that he believed.)

How providential it was to stumble on this thread! Thanks, Andrew, for starting it!




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