About Writing in General

Feb. 11, 2010 • Posted in FAQ

Q: What are the “thin places” you like to explore in your novels?

A: If you’ve read C. S. Lewis or anything about Irish history, you’ll know that “thin places” is a Celtic idea. It describes locations in the world where the veil between physical and spiritual realities is so thin that a person can see through it—or perhaps even step between the worlds. Figuratively speaking, thin places represent moments of spiritual revelation, a connection between the seen and unseen elements of our lives.

The Irish girl in me has long been fascinated by this concept. My married name, my maiden name, and my given name are all Irish, so perhaps it was inevitable. As a young adult I spent half my waking hours in the Pentecostal church, and I came away from that tradition with an unshakable belief in the existence of an active spiritual world. I was a high-school sophomore when my mother gave me a copy of the new book This Present Darkness, and the imagery of the spiritual world invading this one stayed with me.

Early in my editorial career Dean Merrill challenged me with a critique of books published in the Christian marketplace. The weaker ones, he said, cause readers to say, “Amen, I agree with you!” The stronger ones, on the other hand, cause readers to say, “I never thought of it that way before.” I hope my exploration of fictional thin places will cause readers to think of their spiritual and physical lives in new, desegregated ways.

Q: Are the rules changing in what’s acceptable for fiction in the Christian retail market?

A: I don’t believe the rules are changing so much as the market is fragmenting, and by that I mean the definitions of “Christian reader” and “Christian story” are continuing to multiply. Conservative Christian readers who buy conservative fiction defined by overt themes, Christian characters, and an absence of sticky cultural wickets still exist. Publishers who serve these readers continue to do so unapologetically, as they should. But there is more room now than there was even ten years ago for stories that wander into the gray, ugly, murky areas of the human condition. There are more authors, publishers, and readers who seem to want to explore these themes. These are newly identified markets, though, not new rules for pre-existing markets. The more important question, maybe, is how Christian readers are reallocating their limited resources (time, money) among all the choices they now have.

Q: With vampires, werewolves, and zombies making the rounds, what subjects/areas are still off limits?

A: It seems that sex is still taboo, even married sex. So is “questionable” language, the discussion of which gets humorous and even ridiculous at times. As storytellers keep mastering the craft, however, even these layers will likely be included in stories embraced by the Christian retail market–but only when they are used carefully and intentionally, for the sake of the story and with tremendous respect for the reader. Though it’s trendy elsewhere, there’s little tolerance in this market for pushing the envelope just because someone thinks it should be done.