One thing I try to do as a writer of inspirational fiction is to keep up my reading in all genres and types of books. I believe this keeps me well-rounded and stimulated in both my thinking and my creativity. Recently I finished reading the memoir What I Know for Sure by Tavis Smiley. Tavis Smiley is a talk show host and political commentator, but to tell the truth I had not heard much about him until I recently was invited to a breakfast at Seattle Pacific University, where Smiley spoke on the state of American education.
Smiley had a lot to say about American education, and What I Know for Sure was a well-written memoir. But he wrote one statement in his book which really grabbed hold of me as a writer: “When there are no obvious paths to achieve your dreams, make up your own.” Whoa.
I have been frustrated for some time with the lack of paths for what I write in the area of inspirational fiction. One editor of my novels advised against labeling my work as “inspirational fiction” because he felt it was the kiss of death if you actually wanted to sell some books. To be fair, some inspirational fiction does sell – if you write books about Amish romances, or any other romances where the characters are able to exist without apparent gonads. Also, inspirational fiction from men sells if you have demons coming out of the woodwork, and you have men banding together against liberal politicians and other forces of evil. Neither one of those is what I write.
The inspirational fiction I write are stories about real people, sexual people who wrestle with the tension between their sexuality and their spirituality, people who don’t know the answers but nevertheless struggle with the big questions. It’s written from a Christian perspective, but is not an oversized sales pamphlet for a narrow concept of Christianity. Inspirational fiction is people facing the most fearful things in life: the death of loved ones, violence and crime, marital stress, the prospect of life failure, terrorism and war – and in the midst of it all finding reason to hope. It’s stories that say you don’t have to put on blinders to the pain in life to believe that there is a good God at the heart of it all.
Are there others out there seeking to write and sell that kind of fiction? Maybe we should find a way to make our own path together. Maybe your inspirational fiction isn’t written from a Christian perspective – maybe it’s Jewish or Islamic or even hard to categorize in traditional terms. But if you write fiction like I have described, maybe we should get together and talk.
The way things have been in publishing, many writers are struggling. Outside of the writers of blockbusters, it seems that the only ones making money off of writing are the ones making money off of writers – the publishers, the book marketers, the promoters of writer’s conferences and writer’s web sites (see my Author’s Den article on “Learning from the Gold Rushes”). And a lot of writer’s groups are too full of rivalry and self-focus to help.
What is needed is something new – a kind of writer’s cooperative where writers who have read and like each other’s stuff band together to give each other support, and pool resources to promote the work of the whole group -- not just individual works of fiction, but an approach to fiction. This writer’s cooperative I would not envision as being large – maybe 8-10 writers. I don’t know exactly how it would work, but that is what we would need to work out together.
So if you also are frustrated with the lack of a workable path to your writing dreams, get in touch with me. My website is www.keithmadsen.com , where you can find my other contact information. I’m ready to start working on my own path. If you are also, maybe we can clear the way together.