When Characters Are Sinners

Photo by theilr

A really nice priest emailed me after reading my last post, When Prayers Are Answered, Sort Of, and ended the email by wishing me luck and saying he bought my novel, Blaming the Wind. I’m grateful to everyone who supports my writing, but I also wish my books had some sort of warning like: May Not Be Suitable for Priests (NSFP). I’m only half-kidding, because while I am Christian, my books definitely have Rated R content, and I’m mindful that some people may find it offensive.

Of course an option is certainly to only write Christian fiction, but I’ve felt called to write about people who would be considered sinners, and I don’t shy away from exploring “bad” behavior. And though it’s often not talked about, the holiest of books – the Bible – is full of messed up and sinful people. Whether it’s Cain killing his brother Abel, or Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, or the daughters of Lot getting their father drunk so he could impregnate them, or David getting Bathsheba pregnant then ordering her husband to be killed in war, or Saul persecuting Christians, or on and on, the Bible depicts the full gamut of human nature. But to me, it’s not the fact that Bible portrays bad behavior that’s important. What’s more important is the long history of how God endlessly calls sinners back to Him, His never ending mercy, the importance of repentance, and the hope of redemption.

Before I wrote my first novel, I had grown fed up with the contemporary stories I read: women who had perfect lives that were suddenly faced with a trial of some sort but ultimately made the virtuous decision and lived happily ever after. I couldn’t identify with these perfect people, and I wasn’t the only one. There’s a large population of people who don’t fit inside the middle-class, white, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied box with a storybook perfect life. So, when I started writing, I focused on characters that also haven’t always had it easy, and often don’t make the right decisions, and unfortunately face discrimination, and have experienced the toll that disability can take.

In my second novel, Everything She Lost, neither of my female protagonists grew up in easy circumstances and as adults both continue to struggle with the hand they’ve been dealt in life. Toward the end of the story, Deja has a conversation with her estranged mother, Kim, who says, “It’s not easy being a single mom. I know firsthand, and we both know I’ve made decisions I regret. My choices made it so you didn’t have it easy most of your life. Sometimes, we have to choose between hard and harder. That doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.”

I write stories filled with people who are far from saints and make the wrong decisions. I write to give a voice to imperfect, underrepresented people. I write to remind people no matter how far someone falls, there’s always the possibility of getting back up and becoming the hero of the story. So while my novels might not be suitable for all people (or priests), I will continue writing them.


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