Monday, December 10, 2012

The Truth About... Writing Faith

Merry Christmas, reader- and writer-friends!

I hope you're all getting into the spirit. I'm in the writing cave typing like the wind to finish The Truth About Letting Go, a new book that's a companion to The Truth About Faking (link).

TTALG is different from TTAF in that it's not a romantic comedy. It's a romantic drama. But it's still a coming of age story set in Shadow Creek (the ritzy neighborhood next to Shadow Falls).

The main character is Ashley Lockett, who you briefly meet in the last bathroom scene in TTAF. And like TTAF, one of the main characters is a person of faith, which causes a unique set of "problems" for Ashley.

Back when I started TTALG in 2010, Laurel Garver and I exchanged first chapters, and we were struck by the similar themes in our books. Fast forward almost three years, and I did a post on her blog about religion in romantic comedies (link).

Laurel is here today to discuss how she tackled issues of faith in her new book Never Gone (link). So without further ado, I turn the spot over to Laurel~

Getting Real About Faith... and Doubt
by Laurel Garver (link)

In my novel Never Gone (link), fifteen-year-old Dani believes her dead father has come back as a ghost, in part because the strain of trying to live without him is unbearable for her.

From the outset, it’s clear that her dad gave her a lot of emotional support and encouraged her artistic talent. But he also shaped her values by raising her in the Anglican church, just like he had been.

The way Dani identifies her dad and her faith so closely makes grief especially complicated. Her devout dad is happily in heaven now, everyone tells her, so she’s really not supposed to be upset. But the very real pain and anger she feels can’t be easily argued away or healed with nice-sounding platitudes. The secure faith of her childhood begins to waver.

In places of great pain, any belief system will take a beating—even if it’s a secular belief in the power of friendship or family love. I think that aspect makes my novel a relatable story no matter where you are on the faith/doubt/indifference spectrum.

Still, it’s hard to ignore how deeply polarizing religion can be. When I initially sat down to write this post for Leigh, we were in the midst of one of the ugliest presidential races I’ve ever witnessed. And I have to admit that during that time, when faced with the task of discussing how I use religious themes in my work, I emotionally imploded.

Christians on both ends of the political spectrum were behaving badly, and any attempt to have a civil discussion was looking pretty fruitless. I don’t know if it was wise or simply cowardly to hold off writing this post; all I could see was how Christianity had become the Tar Baby. So I’ve waited to let the rancor subside and to gather my thoughts a little longer.

Writing religion is risky. Beliefs and values are so core to our identities, our vision of the good life, and these beliefs often come into conflict. And yet teens need to see themselves in fiction. In this Huffington Post interview, “Religion lifts YA books from ‘darkness’,” YA author Rae Carson expresses well the idea that pushing religion out of books marginalizes groups and their real experiences.

Spiritual questions about the nature of life and of a higher power naturally come up when a person is grieving. To remove religious thinking on the topic seems to me inauthentic.

My approach was simply to write a character for whom faith is a natural part of life. It’s Dani’s framework for understanding the world, just like her artistic ability is. The imagery and stories of her faith weave through her thought world as much as the language of painting and drawing. Like any teen raised in a Christian home, she goes through a coming-of-age process in which she has to decide if she truly believes for herself, rather than believing in her parent’s belief.

Most centrally, Never Gone is a dramatic story, not a handbook or a “how to grieve well” manual. Readers walk with Dani through sadness, longing, first love, turmoil, broken relationships, confusion and doubt. The adults in her world sometimes help, sometimes fail her badly. She has to come to grips with what is really real, with who God is, and with how she must grow and change in order to become her best self.

I don’t think you have to be a Christian to read a story like mine and get something positive out of it. I’m not Jewish, but I really love Chaim Potok’s stories, which give me a glimpse into Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities. One of the most lovely things about literature is how it opens a window into other worlds, gives us a chance to understand other perspectives by living inside them for just a little while.


Laurel Garver is the author of Never Gone, a novel about grief, faith and finding love when all seems lost. A word nerd, Indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. 

Trailer for Never Gone

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It is available as an ebook and a paperback at, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, CreateSpace.


Laura Pauling said...

Some of the most timely novels are the ones that broach religion. It's not an easy subject but one that is just as needed as others.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Having faith be a natural part of the character's life seems like a great way to handle the touchy subject of religion. It is an important part of so many people's lives. Thanks for sharing this.

Jessica Bell said...

I started reading this book this weekend. 20 pages in and already loving it :)

Pat Hatt said...

Faith can sure make for a great write, if done right! And hope you can pump out another one in your cave that is all the rave!

Stina said...

I agree with Natalie. It comes off as authentic when it's a natural part of the character's life, even if they don't embrace it themselves (meaning it's a friend or family member who embraces it).

Woo hoo! There's going to be a companion novel to TTAF. I'm all for that. :D

Creepy Query Girl said...

I didn't know there was going to be a companion to TTAF either! but I'm psyched there is! And I agree with Natalie too. There's something a lot more honest and authentic about the religion aspect being a part of who a character is rather than beliefs being forced on a reader.

Old Kitty said...

All the best with your book Laurel. It so true how one's personal faith becomes more marked at times of intense grief and sadness! Take care

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Gosh, Laura, I got choked up just reading this post. Very thought-provoking. Grief can be stifling, sucking the life from us. (especially during the holidays)

Laurel Garver said...

Thanks for having me as your guest today, Leigh. The holidays are an especially hard time for people who are grieving, so I hope this book reaches the right readers at the right time so they don't feel so alone.

Laurel Garver said...

Laura: Thanks for the encouraging words. It's hard to put faith-based work out there, because its impossible to please every reader. But I hope Dani's story speaks to some and helps those who are grieving.

Natalie: I tried hard to emulate Potok, who invites readers into his characters' world rather than having some kind of proselytizing agenda.

Laurel Garver said...

Jessia: I'm glad you're willing to give it a try!

Pat: I leave it to readers to judge whether I've done it "right." But my aim was to invite readers into Dani's internal world to understand how a teen raised in the church might experience grief.

Laurel Garver said...

Stina: It's so much more enlightening to experience the world through a character's eyes and belief systems, whether you agree or not, than to be preached at. As as reader, I find it grating to have messages forced on me.

Katie: I couldn't agree more, on both counts (I have been bugging Leigh to finish that MS. she showed me in 2010!)

Laurel Garver said...

Old Kitty: Thanks for you kind words. Yes, one's belief systems always become so important when navigating major loss.

Sheri: The holidays are a tough time for those who are grieving. In fact, this story takes place in the week between Christmas and New Years, plus a few weeks following. I hope it provides a sense of companionship for readers going through dark times during the holidays.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Laurel, religion is a tricky thing to write in today's politically correct society. Yet, each of us possesses faith in something ... even if it is in Chaos.

Chaos theory teaches that underneath the most erratic madness there is an order if you only look deeply enough.

In New Orleans after Katrina, I sat on the curb of the noisy Convention Center and held a sobbing mother who was holding her tiny baby who had just taken his last breath.

There were no words to be said. Any words would have sounded as bitter as vinegar and as hollow as my heart felt. I did not know the mother but I knew her pain. Sooner or later, we all know that pain.

"I know I will see him again. I know it! But, oh, how will I go on til I do. How?"

How? Each of us must answer that question for ourselves. I did it in my urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. But I left it to my readers to decide who was right: my undead priest or my agnostic hero, who once believed but whose grief no longer allowed him to.

Thanks, Leigh, for allowing Laurel a chance to make us all reflect this Christmas season on faith in our works.

Barbara Watson said...

I love your point about opening windows into other worlds and how literature gives us chances to understand other perspectives. For that reason, we need to give many different types of books, no matter their perspective, a chance to touch our lives.

Anonymous said...

Such a lovely post, Laurel! Your book sounds fab!

Looking forward to your next book, Leigh.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Big questions are what make a good read great. Keep at it, both of you! <3

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, LB, Hi Laurel,

Congrats on the vigorous writing LB. I hope it's contagious. You're on a creative high and that is AWESOME!

I won Laurel's book and it's on my list. I hope to get to it soon.


Now that I read your post, I really think I will enjoy your book. Can't wait to get to it!

KM Nalle said...

Leigh - I can't wait to read your next work! Good luck in your writing cave, may the muse be with you.

Laurel - I love the last line of your post. I have struggled with how to represent faith in some of my manuscripts and I agree with you whole-heartedly with your words. I'll be adding your book to my TBR list!

Laurel Garver said...

Roland: It sounds like you were able to be like Job's friends in their best moment, when they sat with him in silence and were simply present while he grieved. That is what is most helpful in grief--presence. How one goes on is the big question and I certainly don't think there are easy answers to it. Healing will look different for every person.

Barbara: Thanks. I'm glad that resonated with you. I find I feel more open to a culture once I've "visited" fictionally, even more than just reading news stories.

Laurel Garver said...

Laura D: Thanks so much.

Carolyn: I surely hope that's the case. I know I couldn't have written this story without the faith element. A totally different book would have resulted.

Laurel Garver said...

Michael: Glad to know I've rekindled your interest in the story. I hope you enjoy it!

Kari Marie: Nice to meet you! Glad to hear that you're interested getting to know my protagonist's world. I hope the story will be an encouragement to you.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I loved that you included faith in TTAF! And I wish Laurel the best with her book!!

Margo Berendsen said...

I love how you are weaving Dani's faith in and out of Never Gone, I'm half way through it and really picking up momentum.

I know what you mean about the election and Christianity being the Tar Baby. So discouraging, and yet I find so much hope for understanding as you put it so well: "one of the most lovely things about literature is how it opens a window into other worlds, gives us a chance to understand other perspectives by living inside them for just a little while."

Curious about Rae Carson's article and off to read that now.

LTM said...

@LBD--I agree. Great work, Laurel! And I'm writing like the wind, girl! Hope to have it ready early January~ <3

@Carolyn--I agree. I love it when books make me think about bigger things. ((hugs))

@Kari--Thanks, girl! Come on, muses! And I think you'll like Never Gone! :o) <3

Carol Riggs said...

Yes, sometimes it's not "proper" or acceptable to include a character of faith in a book, but it reflects real life more, right?! :)