Recently I received this e-mail:
I enjoyed the books I read in this series (5,6,7) but was somewhat perplexed by some of the characters in the book, Emily’s character in particular. I was struggling with the concept of church going, prayers to God for direction, protection, etc. while still having a sexual relationship out of wedlock. I am a Christian…believe God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin as well as the sin of others, that Jesus was without sin and died in my place, was raised from the grave, and sits on the right hand of the Father so even though it wasn’t stated for fact in the books I read that Emily was a believer, the book suggested a relationship with God. Believers do sin and have to ask for forgiveness but certainly should not be ‘living in sin.” So as I said I was perplexed with the story line that had no problem with sex outside of marriage.Thought I should at least share my concern.Sincerely,Your Reader
I responded, after much thought and chatting with my assistant, Bobbye, who keeps herself busy (more than) as mom-to-four, romantic mystery author, and pastor’s wife, amongst about a bazillion other things. Here was my reply:
Great to hear from you, and I think you’ve nailed one of the themes of the book. Can an imperfect person believe and still sin? I think the answer is yes, that is a normal condition with a multitude of sins, not just “living in sin”. 😉 I didn’t try to write Emily perfectly, just authentically, which means having flaws consistent with her upbringing and experiences. If I wrote Christian fiction, I would have left Emily in a different place in her personal development, but I don’t, so I left it to the imagination of each reader to figure out where her growth will take her next.
After our talk, Bobbye asked if she could guest post on this topic, and I loved the idea, so, I want to share her interpretation on this question, from a bigger perspective than just my novels, to include all the novels from SkipJack Publishing, my publisher. She rocked it, so here you go!
By Bobbye Marrs, romantic mystery author and publishing assistant at SkipJack Publishing
SkipJack Publishing is a small, indie-focused publishing company. We may be small, but we have huge expectations. Our authors are professionals with award-winning masterpieces. The types of books we publish are “novels for adults that are not inconsistent with a life of faith—whatever that faith may be, and however questioning.” Wow—that’s a mouthful. Recently a reader showed concern for one of our main characters who appears to be a Christian, but displays behavior not traditionally Christian. This incongruity of choosing a lifestyle that some would consider sinful, but also praying and appearing to have a relationship with God, was cause for confusion.
So where does this “faith—whatever that faith may be” come in to the writing process for our SkipJack authors? If you were hoping that because I’m a pastor’s wife that I’m the in-house expert theologian, you are in for disappointment. But I hope I can give some insight as a reader into the characters of the What Doesn’t Kill You series, and those from Whippoorwill Hollow as well as the characters from Pennies from Burger Heaven that sleep beneath the Warrior Angel statue.
It really boils down to one thing: Authenticity. When you read the pages of these books you’ll find people struggling with addiction, dealing with broken relationships, behaving in ways that might not be considered polite. And that’s authentic. To take those things out would be to write a sci-fi novel about a utopian society (which sounds interesting, but not what we publish). Or to include them and resolve them consistent with the highest aspirations of the Christian faith would be Christian fiction (and that’s not what we publish either).
If I were to meet some of these characters in real life—Katie with her “sloppy drinking habits,” or Emily who lives with “smoldering and mysterious” Jack, or Michele who has a hard time controlling her language, or Copper who’s seen more than any kid should, or Wallace and Ethan, the homosexual couple from the Emily and Michele books—what would my reaction be? How would I treat them? I hope I’d be a nice person. I sincerely pray I wouldn’t be a jerk. I’d like to think I’d be my authentic self, too—BTW, that’s someone with “a past,” someone with flaws, and someone always in need of an extra measure of grace.
I’ve thought about Emily’s specific situation, which Pamela’s reader referred to as “living in sin.” Let’s be super clear here and identify the actual issue here is sex outside of marriage. Wow, that’s can of worms if I ever saw one, but it is an issue at the foundation of the Christian faith. In the course of my adult life I’ve had many friends and loved ones in Emily’s situation; specifically, people who were Christians but lived a life not necessarily consistent with the values they professed. What have I done? I’ve smiled. I’ve hugged. I’ve welcomed people into my home. I’ve hoped that I’ve been a blessing to those around me. Maybe that’s just part of getting the plank out of my own eye before I worry about the splinter in someone else’s. I try to be totally authentic in real life, and I want that in the characters I read about, too. As a reader I love to get to “peek behind the curtain” and see the emotional turmoil in a character’s life. It’s rewarding to travel with them along their character arc.
We write fiction here at SkipJack, but that doesn’t necessarily mean fake. SkipJack books are not faith-based books, but our writers understand that within the human heart is a place made for faith. And just like in real life, that faith takes on a lot of different forms. For many of our characters their religious upbringing or their experience in church or their search for life’s meaning is what makes them deeper than just the page they’re written on.
So if you see characters whose actions don’t always match up to what they may profess to believe, take a look around the real world, or even in your own mirror. I’ll bet you’ll see some real people just like that.
Bobbye Marrs is a supermom extraordinaire with currently 5 jobs, 4 teenagers, 2 dogs, and a husband crazy enough to be a pastor. When she’s not working or learning some new hobby like the HAM radio, she is trying to be a romantic mystery writer. Look for her book, I Am My Beloved’s to debut this spring. In the meantime, she started a t-shirt business to support her writing habit at www.greetingsfrommarrs.com.