If you’ve read any of my novels, you might have noticed that the characters within are not Christian people. In fact, most of them – even the protagonists – are not very nice people at all.
For example: In A DEATH OF HONOR, D.A.Payne haunts the sex-and-dance clubs of his seedy future. ANGEL’S LUCK hero James May steals his repossessed spacecraft back from its corrupt financier. His co-pilot, Duke, lies to escape from his two fiancees. The best description of PEMBROKE HALL’S Boddekker came from my wife: “He’s such a moral wimp.” And THE COMPANY MAN’S Andy Birch – well, when you first meet him, he’s not the kind of guy you’d want to bump into in a dark alley.
Any religious faith operates in the background of my novels. One of the few characters who is open about her faith – Lucy Harper from THE COMPANY MAN – is that way for reasons that are largely symbolic (but it also suits her character).
Does this mean that Christian characters boring? I know several characters in the Bible who would disagree… especially Saul of Tarsus (if you’re up on your Bible, you know where this is going. If you’re not, check out the ninth chapter of Acts).
This news would also be disappointing to the Christian bookselling industry – especially in light of successful series fiction titles like Tim LaHaye’s LEFT BEHIND novels. Likewise the characters in one of my favorite films, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, where the faith of one Olympic athlete fuels his drive for success and provides a conflict in the framework of the story.
So why don’t I deal with Christian characters more, since I am one? I mean, Robin Cook is a doctor who writes medical thrillers. John Grisham is a lawyer who writes legal thrillers. Isn’t there some precedent out there that says I should be writing Christian Thrillers?
But I can give three reasons why I’m not working in that particular genre:
Reason Number One:
The market for Christian Fiction didn’t exist when I was starting out.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There was Christian fiction out there, but it was rare. It didn’t become the burgeoning industry that it is now until the last decade or so. If it was out there when I was developing as a writer, I certainly didn’t see it (outside of one juvenile novel called THE SUGARCREEK GANG IN CHIGAGO, which I never finished reading).
Reason Number Two:
I let myself get put off by the Christian Fiction industry.
Sometime after the publication of THE ESSENCE OF EVIL, I had an attack of conscience and decided that Christian Fiction was out there, maybe I should be writing it. So without telling my then-agent, I put together a proposal for a novel, explained my background as a Real Writer, and sent it off.
It got rejected.
But that’s fine. I was a writer. Coping with rejection is a pre-requisite. Right? Of course.
What got me was that someone in the editor’s office took the time to hand-write a note on the form rejection telling me that I should not bother to make any further submissions to this house.
It wasn’t like they were on the verge of bankrupcy or something. Following the rules of submissions, I started with one of the top publishers with the intent of working my way down. And they’re still around – prospering, in fact – today.
So I said “Forget it,” shelved the proposal, and started working on FERMAN’S DEVILS.
Reason Number Three:
It never occurred to me to try and write anything but the kinds of stories I was interested in telling.
And for what it’s worth, I never had it in mind to tell stories about Christian folks. I wanted to write Science Fiction. And for that matter, I didn’t want to write SF about people who Sold The Moon or were the big Earth-shattering Newtons-Pasteurs-Einsteins-Hawkings of the future. I wasn’t interested in the people who shaped the future. I was more interested in people who were shaped by the future. People who were products of their environment.
The D.A. Paynes and James Mays and Andy Birches and Boddekkers.
These characters weren’t Christians. But all of them had some kind of strong moral underpinning. They just didn’t notice their (dare I say it?) values until they were up to their neck in alligators (never let it be said that I don’t know how to beat my characters up!).
Interestingly enough, for the first few books I didn’t even realize that this moral undercurrent ran through my novels. I had to have a critic put it in writing. He said: “Joe Clifford Faust’s moral universe is that of the idealistic movies of the 1940’s like CASABLANCA and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.” That really caught my attention because CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite film, and I had just seen (and been blown away by) BEST YEARS.
But that made me think of something else. Was there some kind of moral streak running through the books that, in my closeness and newness to noveling, I had not seen? I called a friend who loved my books and loved even more to pick them apart and analyze them.
I said, “Someone just wrote a review of THE COMPANY MAN that talked about the morals in my books. I thought I was just telling a good story. What do you think?”
Without hesitating, he said: “Oh yes, HONOR and COMPANY MAN are both very moral books. It’s real obvious.”
This taught me something very important about my writing. If you’re honest with yourself as a writer, trying to tell the best story you can, your story will be an honest one. And your values will come out, no matter how hard you try to disguise them.
And when you think about it, if you’re trying your best to walk with God, that sort of thing is going to happen anyway. Even if you’re not writing books.