Wednesday, February 23, 2011

CSFF Tour Day 3 - The God Haters

Okay, so I'm in the minority in this one.

Yesterday I gave my review for The God Haters by Bill Myers, in which I didn't have a great opinion of the book. It seems that a majority of the CSFF Tour is enjoying the book. There are a few that REALLY love it, a wider majority that likes it a lot, and there are a couple of stragglers with me saying "Meh." (I love to say "meh" even when I don't have a reason for it. Meh.)

That's alright. Everyone's going to have an opinion, and I admire what he tried to do, and he's published way more books than me, so take this for what it is.

I followed The God Hater by reading The Resurrection, the debut novel from internet buddy Mike Duran, and the subject of next month's CSFF tour. The back-to-back reading was an interesting contrast to me.

Bill Myers said in a Q&A in the back of his book that he likes to have a significant quiet time each morning with God to seek ideas about his writing. He seems to write books directed at opening Biblical truth in new ways via fiction. This is my take at least, and I consider it an admirable goal.

Mike Duran has been blogging for quite a while at Decompose, and he is a strong proponent of the "art first/message second" school of thought.

I mentioned yesterday that there seems to be two philosophical schools in CBA fiction (and in Christian entertainment in general, i.e. film, music, etc.). One way has a message or theme that they craft a story around, and the other comes at a story open-ended, and in the creative process the theme works out from that. Of course these are simplifications and these type of things never fit neatly into a specific box.

I would say that there was a different tactic taken by the two authors I'm contrasting. My perception is that Myers was inspired to write a story that presented God's logic as a creator through an imperfect vessel, an atheist professor, and had to weave around that framework. I would guess Duran asked a question: What would happen if a resurrection happened today, and wrote his story exploring that a little more open-ended.

I'm not trying to say one way or the other is right. I would say that there are potential pitfalls with both approaches. Myers' book is a loose allegory, and to try and work a Biblical tale into modern fiction is a difficult task. An author really has to nail it to make it work. I think Francine Rivers has done that very well with her book Redeeming Love, which is mentioned often as a great book that is a Western take on the story of Hosea. I've also seen books written closer to Duran's work that don't make a strong statement one way or the other on its premise, which is a let down to a reader.

I remember a heated debate in the mid 90's (yes, way back then) when the editor of CCM Magazine slammed the latest album by Carman, considering it to be inferior art and only a vehicle for preaching a message with a beat associated with it. The two sat down in an interview and cleared the air, but it was an interesting event nonetheless. I do side more with the editor, because I think Christian art (whether fiction, music, or film) gets a bad rap when we produce weak product but sell it because it is "ministry." Brandilyn Collins is a prolific suspense author that has been praised by Publishers Weekly. She has said many times her job is to entertain first, but as a Christian author she gets to put in truth to varying degrees based off what fits the story, which only adds depth to what she is doing. I like this statement, and I would say it sums up my philosophy well.

I can't really state where either author comes from. I can only give my opinion and relate it to the idea of how do we write. The two different novels served as a jumping off point is all. Obviously The God Haters didn't work for me, but I also don't like those that get sanctimonious about a work of art being inferior. Give your opinion, but don't take it personal. I've seen other Christians get on their high horse over such issues. I wish Bill Myers much success in his writing career. But I won't be passing it on to other readers either.

If you're curious about The Resurrection, I'll have a review of it for my next post. If you want to see what the other tourmates are saying about The God Maker, check out Becky Miller's blog, as she keeps track of all the posts for the tour. The CSFF tour is always enjoyable in seeing the varying opinions, so check them out!
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7 comments:

  1. I read your comments with interest regard art vs. message. I liked the book well enough and would recommend it to anyone interested in the philosophical/atheistic vs faith-based arguments. I thought this was the strongest part of the book. While I thought the book was written well enough (better than some other CBA books I've read), it was a very quick read for me and when I was finished, I was ready to move on. While I didn't think twice about that at the time, your comments have made me think twice about my response. Maybe you have hit the nail on the head that explains my response.

    I have followed Mike D on Facebook for a while and saw he has a new book coming out. Now I'm even more intrigued and will have to move it higher up my list of potential reads. :)

    Thanks for offering such a thoughtful review.

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  2. Hey, how come you're jumping the gun with Resurrection? What will you have left to say during Mike's tour??

    But here's what I actually wanted to say. Do you think readers will come away thinking about deep issues after they've read The God Hater? I understand what you're saying--if someone things the story is "inferior" they may not entertain the thoughts that would lead them to something deeper.

    But I continue to have a problem with the writer who wants to make art whether with little care for using the forum of a story to communicate truth. Believe me, secular writers are using their stories as forums--except, perhaps, writers of commercial fiction.

    Becky

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  3. Interesting thoughts on the art vs. message. It made me think what kind of write I am...

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  4. Dona - Thanks for the comment! Yes, God Hater was better than some other CBA books I've read. As I think about the book, I may have held it to a little higher standard, because I knew it would have to rock the storytelling to not come across as a message book. As far as Mike's book, it is the next CSFF tour, so you'd' better get on it. And hang on tight!

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  5. Becky - Don't worry about Mike's tour. I have plenty up my sleeve for that one ;)

    As far as the message, I think obviously it has touched people on the tour. I thought the short nature of the book caused some holes to be in the arguments. If he'd had more space, I could see them patched both artistically and message-wise.

    I knew you'd comment on the art and theme part. I think of Jeff Overstreet, who stresses somewhat indignantly that he writes "artfully" and isn't making Auralia's Thread to be an allegory. I believe that it isn't an allegory, but there is obviously meaning in there that he is being intentional about, even if he isn't fully owning that.

    That's my take, at least. Maybe I'll have to blog a little more on this...

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  6. Morgan - Glad it could make you think. I know I hope for the best of both worlds - write as creatively as I can, with a message that resounds and is meaningful.

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  7. I think when the message dominates the story, we writers get criticized for being "preachy", but when the story develops a message within the storytelling, it's really no different than secular stories which as others have said carry a message and often get preachy about them.

    I'm of the opinion that message cannot be escaped. It might not be prevalent, but it appears in some form. Whether it's a "Christian" message around forgiveness or pride or whether it's a secular message around environmental issues, atheism, or hopelessness, there's a message there for every reader to decipher. Whether they choose to engage a novel for pure entertainment and ignore any light or heavy messaging, there remains a point to be made.

    When art and message collide, you get a masterpiece like Redeeming Love.

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