Friday, April 06, 2012

A bible doesn't have to be banged . . .

I've pretty much been ear-deep in edits lately (for Carny's Magic, my May 29 Loose Id release), so between that, my domestic obligations, and shopping for nonfiction books -- I've recently developed a craving for them -- I haven't paid much attention to anything else. I realized, sort of at the last minute, that I had a release on Wednesday. But since I was on a tight edit-deadline, I didn't pay that much mind, either. (Besides, what can you do aside from letting readers know your title is available? When a book's out, it's out. Pimp-hammering the hell out of people doesn't accomplish much.)

Anyway, my search for new books resulted in the usual link-following. I'll admit I'm easily distracted. :)  A study of the 1856 Mormon handcart-pioneer tragedy eventually led me to Marie Sexton's Between Sinners and Saints, which I've wanted to read since it came out. Like Marie's other excellent books, this one is highly regarded. But plenty of readers still took issue, however delicately, with the story's religious content.

I'd had a little knot in my stomach before A Hole in God's Pocket was released. The knot returned. 'Cause I ain't Marie Sexton.
Often, any m/m romance that centers on the subject of questioning one's faith invites a certain reaction complete with certain words. I've encountered this before, and I'm sure other writers have too. Whether a character is criticizing or defending his (or his love interest's) beliefs, or simply trying to explain the nature of his spiritual conundrum, the author is setting him/herself up for charges of being "preachy" or "heavy-handed"; of "lecturing" or "sermonizing."

This bothers me. A lot.

How can an individual or a couple work through such a profound dilemma without pondering or discussing it? Communication is part and parcel of relationship-building. It leads to understanding, to closeness. Character conversations that center on faith, or doubt, don't mean the author is trying to make converts. They don't constitute either evangelical sermons or atheistic diatribes. They're simply a means to the end that readers of m/m romance are always looking for: character self-acceptance, and intimacy grounded in mutual respect.

Here's an extract from an earlier post about A Hole in God's Pocket. I hope it offers some insights that will allay readers' fears. (And if it doesn't, I'm sorry to disappoint you.)          
What drove me to write the book (in addition to my lifelong fascination with human belief systems) was something I'd read online a while back, an opinion piece by a queer guy who lamented how the issue of spirituality was usually overlooked in queer fiction. He was right.
Authors don't hesitate to cast fundamentalist homophobes as villains, which is perfectly understandable and justified, but not many in the m/m romance genre want to tackle the importance of faith in the lives of gay men and the painful struggle that often results when orientation clashes with theology. None of the so-called Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in nearly all their various sectarian manifestations -- takes a kind view of [deviations from strict] heterosexuality.
So I considered the difference between Christian manifestos disguised as fiction (the Left Behind series, for example) and religious faith as a theme in fiction. Although I still haven't breathed a sigh of relief, the difference quickly became apparent. The aim of evangelical writers is, essentially, to proselytize. Spreading the Word is part and parcel of their raison d'etre. But the rest of us, whether it's Marie Sexton or Andrew Grey or Shelter Somerset or authors of "literary" GLBTQ stories, aren't ideologues. We're simply trying to examine a significant and often troubling issue that shouldn't be ignored.


Chris said...

I shall keep that in mind, the distinction.

BlueSimplicity said...

I find this entire topic disheartening. Or, more precisely,the avoidance of stories that deal with a character's sprituality disheartening. I'm not one of the "standard" religions so I tend to be a bit sensitive about this topic. That said, I LOVE LOVE LOVE stories that deal with a character's journey through life and how their spirituality evolves with them. (Ariel Tachna had another wonderful story about this topic last year - Once In A Lifetime.) I also love learning about different religions. Learning about them in an honest way, not being preached to.

It's a hard line to walk, because anything that's "preachy" will instantly put me off. And how to define preachy itself is difficult. (It falls under one of those "I know it when I see it" umbrellas.) But when the story details a person coming to terms with themselves and their faith, and both those senses of self evolve, and does it in an honest and sensitive way, I'm so there. Because I think ultimately when someone like me reads a story with religious undertones, it's not about the religion, per se, but the journey. And what is good writing if not for the author taking the reader on a wonderful journey?

Um, OK. That made a hell of a lot more sense in my head. Sorry for the ramble.

K. Z. Snow said...

You made perfect sense, Blue!

My spirituality is also rather fluid, which is why I think there's something of value to be culled from just about every religion that's ever existed. Belief in supernatural forces has shaped all cultures throughout human history, so it goes a long way toward defining us as a species.

"Preachy," to me, means trying to peddle some form of dogma from a very narrow platform. It usually comes bundled with a rigid definition of right and wrong, and an equally rigid conviction of how people should live -- no exceptions allowed.

The work of non-inspie fiction writers doesn't fit that definition. We're focused on how faith (or lack thereof) shapes our characters and, as you said, affects their journeys through life. We're not trying to get readers to believe in some "-ism." We just like exploring what makes people tick.

Jenre said...

This is a bit of a toughie for me. I read for pleasure and so whilst I often want a book with a bit of meat to it, I don't ever want to feel that an author is pushing his or her's view onto me. It's a fine line between showing the views - be it political or religious - of a character in a way that enhances the book and provides me with a good understanding of the background and ideology of that character; and me thinking 'hmmm, the author is using this character to put forward his or her own political/religious views. when that line is crossed, I'm pulled out of the story and feel a little exploited. Characters should never be used as a soap box in which an author harangues a reader.

Having said that, I'm all in favour of a book which deals sensitively with religion in a way which shows the struggles that many gay men and women of faith must feel. I haven't read A Hole in God's Pocket yet but I look forward to it.

BTW, I read half of the first Left Behind book, after a friend recommended it. Now that WAS preachy :).

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Jen!

Believe me, I understand your position. Religious or political proselytizing irritates me, too. (And hell yeah, the Left Behind series was pure fundie preachment!)

One of the wonderful things about this genre is how so many authors push so many envelopes. And since religion is an integral part of thousands of gay men's lives, I see no reason why the topic shouldn't be explored.

But you know how I like to mix things up. My next book, the Jackson and Adin novel, is pure fantasy . . . so it's not like I'm on some kind of heavy-contemporary jag. ;-)