On November 4th, 2015, I finished my fifth novel. I’ve talked about it briefly in a couple of my previous posts, and now that it’s finished, I find myself in that increasingly familiar post-book place. The place where I am both satisfied and restless, pleasantly tired and full of creative energy which no longer has that immediate outlet.
I am also in the place where I can look at my work for the first time as a finished whole, even if it is unpolished, and find answers to the questions I have had since its initial conception, a particularly significant fact given the immense strain I have felt several times throughout the writing of this book in specific regards to its themes and purpose.
You see, at first I thought it was about community, the importance and need for others. Then race, a topic which I have never felt particularly qualified to speak of in the first place, and even more so within the context of this book, which features a slaver and slave as two of the main characters. This was the first pressure point I felt in writing this novel, but surprisingly not the hardest.
The hardest was the realization that, at the end of the day, this book is about sovereignty, positional authority, and with equal importance, grace, and while the last of these themes is wildly popular in our society (a topic I wanted to approach for just such a reason), the first two are not only unpopular topics, but also often wildly rejected. In a society where we are told constantly that our own authority and truths are the most valid, true or authoritative, where if we disagree with something on almost any ground, we can fight or ignore it, the idea that others might simply have authority over us, that they might by the authority of their position be in a place to ordain or command our decisions, is at the very least uncomfortable if not extremely unpleasant for many today, especially within my target market of young and new adult readers.
Compounding this trouble is the fact that the one in my novel who has this control is the slaver, the one who is forced to obey the slave. And while in the context of the novel, one finds the slaver (who is at least somewhat unaware of his complicity, besides his repentance and attempts to fix the inherent problems at their root) to be of a much greater character than the blood thirsty portraits one immediately jumps to given the term, to say nothing of the real parallels I want to strike, given the current racial tensions in our society today, I question how readers might interpret my work.
Now, this is the most overtly Christian book I think I’ve ever written. The themes, correctly interpreted, will hopefully call to attention the importance of God as sovereign, especially in the context of its position in His plan of redemption and grace. Outside of the context of Christianity, outside of this framework for understanding the novel, you wind up with something that is much more easy to misinterpret. Further, though the characters involved do fulfill a somewhat representative role of our relationship with God, none of them actually are God. Atlan, though he shares certain characteristics of God–sovereignty as a King, positional authority, a desire for grace–he certainly doesn’t carry any of them to the same degree. Nor does he have other aspects of God–his perfection, omniscience, omnipotence. Atlan is flawed–seriously flawed–and of course, even if I tried to write him to be perfect, I couldn’t do it. He is at best a flawed picture, a picture as in a dull mirror, as it were.
Which gets us to our summary: I have written a novel for young adults (originally middle grade and I’m still on the fence) which through portraits of a benevolent slaver and his feisty slave seeks to show in part, the importance of positional authority and sovereignty in God’ s plan for redemption.
Essentially, I have written what might be one of my most unsaleable novels.
Except, when I think of what I could do instead, could change, nothing comes to mind. Atlan does want to rescue Mira, is willing to do whatever it takes to free her. Mira will equally resist his friendship until…well…you’ll have to read the book for that. Point is, there’s nothing I can change about the story’s heart. It is what it is, and though smaller things might change, there are others that I’m not sure can, whether it’s popular or not.
Besides that, as an artist–and furthermore and more importantly as a Christian–I believe I am called to ask questions of others, to explore topics and ideas that point to truth whether or not they are seen as worthy in the public’s eye, whether or not people wish to discuss them, or agree with what I think. I am called to ask questions, to start dialogue, to tell stories. There is a great call to tell diverse stories in today’s publishing world. And while I’m not sure how this story will fare in the long run, I feel at the very least that this answers that call. I guess in the end, only God will be able to tell if I’ve answered the others.
Anyway, these are the things I’ve been musing over in this initial post-novel phase.
So, how about you? Have you ever written or created something you felt would be unpopular? Have you ever struggled with the great tension between worldly popularity and the call of God? What do you even think of this novel? Would you read it? Would you ban it? How could you interpret it? How do you think people would?