JUST TELLING STORIES
My journey to becoming a fiction writer…
I have a confession to make. When I began the journey to become published, I was writing non-fiction—Bible studies, general inspirational books, a book on marriage, etc. My spiritual gift is teaching, so it seemed natural to do so. But, frankly, I had a rather snobby attitude toward fiction writers. I would pass them in the halls at writers’ conferences and although I never said it out loud, I would think to myself, “They are just making up stories. I’m writing biblical truth.” Ahem, ahem—as I smiled sweetly.
I was on staff one fall at the Glorieta Christian Writers’ Conference and having a few free moments, I slipped into the back of a fiction class. What I heard in that one-hour session rocked my world, and I’ve never looked at fiction the same way since. Dave Lambert was leading the workshop, and he said that a non-believer is probably not going to pick up a Christian non-fiction book. However, they might pick up a novel and read it. He said as Christian fiction writers we can imbed the gospel in a novel in perhaps a more palatable way than in a non-fiction book, which sometimes is way too preachy for a non-believer. I walked out of his classroom reeling.
The Holy Spirit had fingered a chord in my heart. I remembered that Jesus was the Master Storyteller and taught biblical truth through stories. Why had I been so arrogant as to believe telling stories was an inferior method of spreading the gospel?
About the same time I came across a published genealogy of my French Huguenot ancestors. This treasured leather-bound volume not only held the record of the lineage of our family, but the stories and journals of these brave and courageous people. The French Huguenots were followers of John Calvin, persecuted Protestants in 17th century Catholic France. They had previously been granted amnesty by Henry of Navarre, but because of ill advice from his counselors, King Louis XIV began to send dragoons to conscript Huguenots’ homes, kidnap their children, close their colleges and churches and submit them to unspeakable torture if they refused to convert to Catholicism. Hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled the country. Coupled with Louis’s obsessive building of Versailles, France just about went bankrupt because of the exodus. I wanted to tell their story, and I decided I would do so as historical fiction. As I began writing and submitting my chapters to my critique group, they enthusiastically encouraged me. They assured me fiction was definitely where I needed to be. The rest, as they say, is history. I procured an agent and a four-book contract with a major publisher.
What surprised me in switching to fiction from non-fiction was how much more difficult it was to write good fiction than it was to write non-fiction. Perhaps it was because I had written so many Bible studies and Sunday School curriculum for my church. Or perhaps it was because I’d grown up in a newspaper family. My father, his father and all the brothers were newspaper editors, journalists and authors. But I began to learn the skills and craft of writing fiction by going to writers’ conferences, reading good fiction, submitting everything to my critique group and writing, writing, writing.
What I learned in that initial fiction class has proven to be true—that a non-believer might be more amenable to picking up a novel than a Christian inspirational book. Recently I received word from a friend who lived and worked in France for a few years. A friend of hers, an atheist, saw one of my books on her coffee table. She picked it up and said, “What’s this? I need something to read.”
Our friend cautioned her. “Oh, a friend of mine wrote that and it’s really good, but you need to know that it’s Christian fiction.”
“That’s fine. It looks interesting.”
The fact that In The Shadow Of The Sun King was set in France was probably what initially prompted her to pick it up, but after finishing the book, her comment was, “Maybe there is something to this God thing.”
I watched an atheist professional safari guide from South Africa sit down in the den of our daughter’s home and read through In The Shadow of the Sun King in one day. He has since ordered the rest of the series for his mother. I receive emails on a regular basis of similar testimonies.
My profession is to tell stories. I am so blessed to write and just tell stories. I pray they in turn bless the readers and bring glory to God.
It is amazing how God can suddenly redirect our path in one single life moment! I would love to hear comments below about unexpected turns God has lead you to take in your own life?