The other day, I had the privilege of hearing a brand-new priest’s homily at his first Mass, and a connection struck me regarding something I’d written. The priest’s words were true - nonfiction - and what I had written was a fictional scene for a book. That scene actually got cut from the book – I decided it didn’t fit, but it had provided valuable “pre-writing” that gave me insight into one of the main characters, so it was not time wasted.
Why write Catholic fiction? What are my goals? The connection to the priest’s reference to a flowing stream leading us to our own ascension into heaven and having its source and destination as the same - God - had me marveling at how a fictional character’s wonderings about his own source and destination in relation to a river could point to greater universal Truth. Both of these waterway analogies express the realities of God. If God is the source and summit of our lives, then wouldn’t it make sense that characters in a fictional story are also seeking Him?
Truth, beauty, and goodness. We've all heard them before, but can they be goals of a Catholic fiction writer?
First, I do not write with a goal of making money or gaining notoriety. I’m fortunate that my husband’s income provides for all our family’s needs. Some writers do need the money, and I encourage anyone who enjoys a good story to seek out fiction writers of faith: purchase their books, support their families, put your money where your faith is.
I write because there was a story to tell. There were two characters begging for purpose, for redemption, for God. These are real things that all humans struggle for, whether they recognize it or not. To feel a longing or emptiness that only God can fill, to sense that we were not made for this world in its imperfections, is to be human. Fictional characters, while not real people, have human struggles with which we can identify. We may not experience their same situations, but we can see ourselves in their temptations, their failures, and their yearnings to be better. As they search for Truth, we cheer them on, knowing that we do the same in our own earthly journeys. And the subtleties of absorbing truths by entering into fiction is something that pulls people in as they delight in the action and conflict of the story, mourning with and rooting for the characters.
The world is a hostile place for Christianity. Movies and books - our secular fictional stories - too often want to glorify sin and depravity, or leave God out of the picture entirely. A good story does contain evil. It features sin and temptation and struggle. But the hero comes through it stronger. A Christian fiction story doesn’t mean the protagonists have perfect lives as soon as they recognize and accept God as a reality – at least, they shouldn’t. In fact, the devil often throws obstacles in our paths when we are on the right track, because he doesn’t want us to get to heaven. Christian fiction should feature heroes who make mistakes and learn from them, or who face depravity and sin but fight against their allure, or who experience sorrow with an attitude of offering it up, accepting their crosses to unite their suffering with Christ. Everyone likes a happily-ever-after ending, and that ending should be heaven. It doesn’t mean there won’t be struggle along the way.
My family asked me recently if I would dedicate my first book in this series to anyone. I answered, “It’s dedicated to all young people seeking to follow God’s will for their lives.” The protagonist is a young man, but young women can find truth in his story as well (I think I can say this as a female myself). Anyone who was ever resistant to God as a reality, anyone who has struggled with control issues, anyone who’s made impulsive mistakes, anyone who faced challenges to forgive self and others, and most particularly, anyone who has never considered that God has a specific plan for their lives – my hope is that all can find something to which they can relate. We should see bits of ourselves represented in a fictional character, even in those whose lives are vastly different from our own.
I also write fiction because it is a creative outlet that brings me joy. Losing yourself in a story, revising and editing so much that you really get on a personal level with the characters, knowing them inside and out – I find it personally satisfying. Many people need an outlet, an escape, but it’s not healthy if you find the wrong kind of outlet. Writing fiction is one that produces rather than consumes, gives rather than takes. However, reading fiction consumes, takes. When doing things that entertain – be they producing or consuming – it’s a good idea to ask whether these things can be categorized as the true, the beautiful, and the good.
So, what’s my goal in writing Catholic fiction and having it published? Of course, it is to have people read it. But I hope it will share universal Truth with the readers. I don’t want to promote it so that people will look at me. I want them to look at the characters and the stories and see God working in those lives, just as He works in their own lives. I want them to feel the emotions brought on through fictional characters while seeing that God is in everything – that truth, beauty, and goodness exist in our world, even (and maybe especially) when we must walk through the fire to find them.
In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem
After requesting several Catholic fiction novels to be purchased by my public library as part of the Stock the Shelves campaign sponsored by Chrism Press, I was surprised to get a message a few days later saying one of those books was already in. When I went to retrieve my book on hold, I found that it had been sent via inter-library loan. Apparently, In a Far-Off Land was already in our system. In fact, there are five copies already circulating in the public libraries in my system in the state of Georgia. Yay!
In a Far-Off Land is a story that keeps you reading. I finished it in about a week, the second half of it in about two days. There is just enough detail given to make you wonder what’s coming next and want to keep going. It is a redemption story – I’m partial to those myself – in which the reader meets likeable characters with flaws who sometimes learn their lessons the hard way. I think my favorite part about the writing style is that it switched between characters, with only the protagonist’s view in first person as she tells her story. We get Oscar’s story told in third person, as well as brief snippets of Mina’s father’s story. Towards the very end of the book, we get Max’s point of view told in first person too, which was unexpected, but it worked well.
My favorite character was Oscar. His loyalty to his family, his sense of duty and wanting to do the right thing, and his assuming of all responsibility for his brothers were appealing traits that drew me to him. I enjoyed seeing him wrestle with wanting to do what was right while not always knowing what that was, and also while struggling with the grudges he’d held. In spite of his grudge against Max and his anger at Mina for falling into his life and throwing everything into chaos (which she truly did), Oscar still made the right choices ultimately. An inability to forgive others was his biggest hurdle and brought mental anguish on himself, and he was able to gradually soften as it unfolded that he’d not always had all the facts of the story to begin with.
A great lost-and-found story, In a Far-Off Land’s prodigal son themes show us that fame and fortune aren’t all they are cracked up to be and that love is a gift rather than something earned or deserved.
Did you know that you can ask your local public library to purchase books? They have funds allocated for this very purpose, so why not visit your library and ask them to put those dollars to good use in buying some literature from your favorite authors? This is a great way to get those new authors or lesser-known novels onto the shelves and into the hands of a wider audience of readers!
The Stock the Shelves campaign, sponsored by Chrism Press, is your prompt to ask for fiction from Catholic and Orthodox authors - books that are often less known to the general public. Some libraries have a place online where you can make materials purchase requests, but the way I did it was to stop by the front desk with a list of about eight different fiction novels by Catholic authors. I asked them to consider making these purchases.
Keep in mind that you can do this year-round! Some libraries are nearing the end of their fiscal years right now, so it is possible they have extra money they need to spend, but asking for books to be purchased in the fall when they have more money available would be a good strategy as well.
You can visit Chrism Press's website to see a list of participating authors - consider asking for one of their books at your own library! As for me, I have no books published as yet, but I hope to be able to get some into the libraries once Firetender comes out early next year.