Hi, everyone, and welcome to the latest issue of Faith-Filled Fiction.
I write this in the season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter when we Catholics prepare ourselves anew for
our mission as people created in the image of God. It's a time of prayer, self-examination, and reconcilliation with
God and our neighbors.
There are many wonderful traditions associated with Lent: Stations of the Cross, a prayerful meditation
of Jesus's trial and crucifixion; meatless Firdays, a reminder and respect to the sacrifice of Christ; and giving up something,
an act of self-sacrifice as Jesus modeled when he went to the desert for 40 days.
It was an act of self-sacrifice during Lent, that led me to the place I am now as a writer. In
1996, we'd just moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, I'd gone form active duty Air Force to Air Force Reserves, which meant I
stayed home most of the time with two toddlers. I was reading Harry Turtledove, usually a favorite. That day,
however, I was very frustrated.
"I know how to write," part of me griped. "I have stories to tell. Why wasn't I a writer?
Because I spend all day cleaning house and reading other people's stuff!"
I couldn't give up cleaning house, but I did decide to give up reading for Lent and take up writing instead.
I placed my resolution before God in prayer and asked him to make something of my intention.
Before Easter, I had my first writing job with Wyoming Catholic.
Twleve years later, I've written for diocese and local newspapers, national magazines, e-zines and devotionals.
I've have three craft books published by EcceHomo Press; Infinite Space, Infinite God, a Catholic SF anthology by
Twilight Times Books, and am shopping around another anthology, a fantasy trilogy and a fantasy noir novel. Then there
are my blogs, websites, Yahoo Groups, the Catholic Writers' Guild (I'm president) and this newsletter. God has certainly
taken my offering and made it into something more than I ever intended. Isn't that just like Him, though?
This issue, Janet Elaine Smith shares with us how God has directed her writing. "God's Writing Prompts"
first appeared in Christian Fiction Factor. You'll also read about the "Seven Deadly Sins" of portraying faith in fiction.
In our Religion Reserach section, we have a couple of series starting: on Islam by Sis Zabrina and on Eastern Orthodoxy
by Katherine Hyde. Now that we're on-line, I have market and brags, blogs and resources all in their own pages.
Have fun browsing, and if you have any great sites to add, let me know!
Folks have asked about contributing. I'm glad to take articles as well as news and have placed
submission guidelines on the site--just click on the navbar.
If you have comments, please use the guestbook.
Blessings to you and your writing,
GOD'S WRITING PROMPTS
by Janet Elaine Smith
I started writing my first book twenty-five years ago. It finally
got published five years ago. During that twenty-year lapse, I kept writing-books, magazine articles, lesson plans, all sorts
of things. There were several things that kept me going, which I would like to share with you so you won't fall into that
"what's the point" frame of mind that will make you throw in the towel, or throw out the pen.
It was going to be a fun little Regency romance, with a "Christian twist." However, as I began to write
the story, I told my husband that I really needed some sort of hidden treasure in Great Britain. Without a moment's hesitation,
he replied, "Why don't you just use our family's jewels?"
I laughed, but I saw that he was serious. Then he began
to tell me of the Keith clan (his great-grandmother was Caroline Keith) and the Scottish regalia, which they had hidden at
Dunnottar Castle to keep Oliver Cromwell from melting it down, like he had already done to the royal jewels, crown, etc. of
I have always loved a challenge. I set out to prove him wrong, but I soon discovered that he was right.
Yes, he loved gloating over that fact. But, it gave me a whole new book, set about 150 years before the Regency era, and one
which would go on to be my "ticket to publishing success." The change in my plans was caused by God's little writing prompt
to me-through my husband.
Meanwhile, as I worked on Dunnottar, which was a big historical epic, not a little Regency
romance, I heard someone make a comment that changed the way I looked at my fiction writing from that moment on. What did
they say that was so earth-shattering? It was said by a nominal Christian woman. She said, "When I look for a really good
book, I never go to a Christian bookstore."
The wheels in my mind began to whir. So if I wanted to reach the non-Christian
populace with my books, what could I do? And that is when God's second prompt took hold. I could write a book that would be
acceptable by the general public, but my characters would be the ones who would draw the readers to the Lord. There would
be no preaching in the books, nor would there be any great narrative orations. It has been said so often that it has become
trite, but it is still true: what you do speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say. Yes, my characters would show the readers
the path to God, not through their words as much by their dialogue as by their actions.
This has followed with all
of my books. I don't write "religious" books; I write books of faith.
As I said earlier, it took twenty years for
Dunnottar to get published. But what happened to that book was just the tip of the iceberg. I rewrote it five times, each
time to suit the wants of a specific editor at some publishing house or other. They still sent me one of those "good rejections"
I have in my filing cabinet. When it finally came out, it was the way I had written it originally-the way it was meant to
be all the time!
And then, when I was at a booksigning at our local Barnes & Noble bookstore, someone walked up to me,
handed me a paper and asked, "Have you seen this?" I looked at it. It was a printout of an amazon.com page, showing that Dunnottar
was their No. 1 best-selling Scottish book! And that was out of over 8,000 other titles at the time! God's prompt was working!
And who was reading it? People who also bought books by James Patterson, John Grisham, Heather Graham-authors whose books
were in every bookstore in the country, people who probably have never been inside a Christian bookstore.
get me wrong. I stand foursquare behind Christian bookstores. But, that isn't where you will find the people who need the
message my books (subtly) contain. I don't want to preach to the choir! I want to go on the highways and byways with the message
that there is redemption-for everyone!
When I get reviews like these, I know that God doesn't make mistakes.
"There is enough adventure in it to satisfy any reader but it also explores ethical and religious
issues--and it does all of that with humor." (Carolyn Howard-Johnson, about Pampas)
I'm not a mystery reader,
and that's probably because I'm not fond of formula books. But I have read and enjoyed two of Janet Elaine Smith's historicals,
so I ordered IN ST. PATRICK'S CUSTODY fully expecting a good read. I was not a bit disappointed. This "mystery without
the cliches" is gently told, and filled with characters whose human foibles make them real. It's also (dare I say this, or
will I scare someone away?) a curiously inspirational tale. While the author never preaches, and never allows her characters
to do so, either, their faith in the Higher Power watching over their lives comes through loud and clear. (Nina Osier,
about In St. Patrick's Custody)
Janet Elaine Smith has done it again. Masterfully written, A Christmas Dream is
one one book that will touch your soul. Do you believe in love? Do you believe in miracles? A Christmas Dream will make a
believer out of you. (Barbara Williamson-Wood, about A Christmas Dream)
Yes, fourteen published books later and living my dream life, God's Prompts have proven themselves over
and over again. I get at least thirty emails a day from people all over the country who are walking into bookstores and finding
my books, or they are ordering them online. I am convinced that they are reaching people where they are. I'm not sure it would
have worked nearly as well if I had planned it myself. I'd probably be writing "religious" books that very few people were
reading. I've learned, years ago, that God is a whole lot smarter than I am!
About Our Guest: Janet Elaine Smith and her husband, Ivan, were missionaries
in Venezuela for nine years. They have run Mission Socorro, a charitable organization and HELP line, for the past thirty years,
since their return. They are located in the Red River Valley area of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Janet has written successfully for many magazines over the years. She still writes for a dozen magazines
on a regular basis, some print and some ezines. She has well over 1,000 magazine articles to her credit. She is the Assoc.
Editor for Memories and Mysteries Magazine, and a contributing editor for both Heritage Quest Magazine and
Deadly Sins of Portraying Faith
Karina L. Fabian
Telling. We all know to show not tell. Telling pulls the reader out of the story. We want to get the reader into the action rather than standing at the sidelines. We want the reader to feel with the character rather than feel about him.
This is especially important when portraying faith in fiction. Otherwise,
it can come off as preaching. Also, readers who are not of the same faith as
your character will sympathize more with her if you show them the day-to-day practice and beliefs as they come up in the story
rather than using words to "prove" what a faithful person she is.
Monologuing. We expect evil overlords to monologue, but
when the regular characters do it--unless in parody--it pulls us out of the story and doesn't ring true. If your character monologues about faith--unless in a sermon or in parody--you're building a stereotype
and a sense of falseness that takes away from the story's truth and the Truth you're trying to proclaim.
Don't disguise monologue in dialogue, either. A real conversation has give-and-take, dropped points, misunderstandings, things that
can't be fully explained. If you can take out one character and have a coherent,
straightforward profession of faith, you've probably got a monologue.
3. Stereotyping. I
know you hate it when someone stereotypes your faith, but do you do it to others in your writing? Sometimes, stereotypes
happen when we try over-hard to show a faith we don't understand:
--"This is a highly volatile experiment, and
of Egypt is depending on its success," Dr. Shahid told his assistant
Omar. "It must be watched constantly to make sure the temperature does not exceed
200 degrees or it will explode and take half the wing with it. You are excused
from prayers to monitor this."
--"Why don’t you marry a good Jewish boy?"
Mama asked me as I came in from my date with Gary Thomas, valedictorian and track star.
"What about that Isaac Grossman? Ah!
You never listen to your mother. Break my heart. Go ahead--just put a knife in my chest…"
Generalizing. Not all Muslims pray seven times a day;
not all Catholics carry a rosary; not all Baptists refer to themselves as "born again;" not all Buddhists have internal serenity. Practices not only vary from person to person, but nation to nation. Not all Muslim nations practice ; not all Catholic pilgrimages require you to crawl to the church on your
Evangelizing. First off, you're either preaching to the
choir or most likely going to turn off your reader if you stop the story in order to insert a diatribe about the merits or
your or your character's faith. (Please note I'm giving examples from a Christian
perspective. This is the religion I know.
I'm sure other religions can be just as bad; I just don't know them well enough to parody.)
--Narrative: "Gary knew he had nothing to worry about.
Jesus died for his sins; his soul would go to heaven and in the end of time, God would give him a perfect body. For it said in (insert favorite Bible verse here).
"So what if this lunatic slit his throat right
now? He thanked God for the peace he felt knowing he was in His hands and prayed
that the police would not have to shoot the kidnapper until he, too, had a chance to know Jesus. Jesus would forgive him; Jesus would wash him clean of his sin. Gary knew the man had only to ask."
--Dialogue: "Oh, Zorkon, why must you be so evil?" Christiana's gentle
words cut across his monologue and jarred him with her peaceful, childlike innocence.
"What do you mean? It's what I do!"
"But you don't have to. You can turn away from these evil deeds now. God will take
you back. He always does."
"Yeah, right," yet his hand strayed from the
Jesus died for us--you as well as me."
"It's too late!"
His voice rose and he didn't know if it was to declare the culmination of his evil plans or to profess the finality
of his own fate.
"It's never too late! God will forgive you. Just ask him. I forgive you."
Dogmatizing opinions. This applies to
politics, practice or stereotype.
If you're a "real" Christian, you're an environmentalist.
If you're a "real" Shiite, you rejoice at your
son's suicide mission.
If you're a "real" Buddhist, you meditate transcendentally.
If you're a "real" Catholic, you attend Latin Mass.
Judging others based on their religions or lack of religious affiliation. While most of us know better, it can come out in subtle ways, sometimes while trying to make a point of
our own faith:
--As Kayden worked over the body of the heart
attack victim, he prayed that the man would live. Sure other EMTs would want
him to live; it was their job. But since becoming a Christian, Kayden had learned
that God loved every man. Because of his faith, he loved this man, too, and wanted
him to live.
Next time: Seven
Strategies to Avoid the Seven Sins
Do Muslims Believe In?
By Sis Zabrina
As an introduction to Islam, I would be writing
a series on the basis of the Muslim’s belief. Let me start you off with the first three pillars of the foundation of
There are five pillars of faith practiced
by the Muslims. It forms the foundation of Muslim life. The five pillars are:
· Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad
· Establishment of daily prayers
· Concern for and almsgiving to the needy
· Self-purification through fasting
· The pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) for those who are able.
The first pillar –
The Declaration of Faith
"There is none worthy of worship
except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
This declaration of faith is called the Shahadah, a simple formula that
all the faithful pronounce. The significance of this declaration is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and
obey God, and this is achieved through the teachings and practices of the Last Prophet, Muhammad.
The Arabic version of the declaration is
“Laa ilaahah illa allah” and that “Muhammadun rasool ullaah”.
The meaning of “Laa ilaahah illa allah”
is that nothing worshipped is worthy of worship except Allah—it is simultaneously a denial and affirmation. “Laa
ilaahah” is denial of all worship other than that of Allah. “illa allaah” is affirmation that all worship
is for Allah alone without partners.
As for the declaration, “Muhammadun
rasool ullaa,” its meaning is the assertion of the message of Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and
to believe in it and to adhere to it by speech, action and faith, and to avoid all that is against it, whether it be sayings,
actions, or intentions.
In other words, obeying him in what he ordered
and believing in what he said and relayed and avoiding what he has forbid and denounced and not worshipping Allah except as
he has ordained.
The Lord (Rabb) is the One
Who has the power of creation, dominion and control. There is no Creator except Allaah, no Sovereign except Allaah, and
no controller of affairs except Allaah. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Surely, His is the creation and commandment” [Chapter
7 The Elevated Place: Verse: 54]
“And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger
(proclaiming): “Worship Allaah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taaghoot (all false deities, i.e. do not worship
Taaghoot besides Allaah)” [Chapter The Bee: Verse 36]
The Second Pillar –
Salah (prayer) is the name for
the obligatory prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is
no hierarchical authority in Islam and there are no priests. Prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Qur'an and
is generally chosen by the congregation.
Prayers are said at dawn, mid-day,
late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day.
These five prescribed prayers
contain verses from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation. Personal supplications, however,
can be offered in one's own language and at any time.
Although it is preferable to worship
together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Oftentimes
visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.
A translation of the Adan or Call
to Prayer is:
God is Great.
God is Great.
God is Great.
God is Great.
I testify that there is none worthy of worship
I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Come to prayer!
Come to prayer!
Come to success!
God is Great!
God is Great!
There is none worthy of worship except God.
The Third Pillar –
An important principle of Islam
is that everything belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakah means both
"purification" and "growth." Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society
in general. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.
Each Muslim calculates his or
her own zakah individually. This involves the annual payment of a fortieth of one's capital, excluding such items as primary
residence, car and professional tools.
An individual may also give as
much as he or she pleases as sadaqa-h, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as "voluntary
charity" it has a wider meaning.
The Prophet said, "Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is an act of charity."
The Prophet also said: "Charity
is a necessity for every Muslim." He was asked: "What if a person has nothing?" The Prophet replied: "He should work
with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity." The Companions of the Prophet
asked: "What if he is not able to work?" The Prophet said: "He should help the poor and needy." The Companions further asked:
"What if he cannot do even that?" The Prophet said: "He should urge others to do good." The Companions said: "What if he lacks
that also?" The Prophet said: "He should check himself from doing evil. That is also an act of charity."
In the next newsletter, I shall
continue with the next two pillars of Islam- fasting and pilgrimage.
For More Information:
Sis Zabrina: Sis Zabrina brands herself as ‘Life Storyteller’ who writes on daily happenings
in life. She believes that it is the small things in life which people often overlooked are the ones that make life matters.
Her writings are available at her blog, http://wisdomthruwords.blogspot.com, and her website www.wisdomthruwords.com.
Copyright © Sis
Zabrina 2007. Used with Permission
Makes You Greek” and Other Misconceptions about the Orthodox Christian Faith
by Katherine Hyde
If you’ve seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, maybe all you know about the Orthodox Church is the scene where Ian gets baptized in
a kiddie pool under a huge chandelier and comes out saying, “Now I’m Greek.”
On the other hand, if you’ve read
The Brothers Karamazov, you may have some inkling of the spiritual depth and richness
of this ancient faith once embraced by half the Christian world.
Which is the true picture? Unfortunately,
both. For a lot of historical reasons too complex to go into here, many Orthodox Christians in America seem a little confused as to where their ethnicity leaves off and their
religion begins. But the truth of the matter is that the so-called Eastern Orthodox Church is not exclusively “Eastern,”
or indeed exclusive at all. It is a church for all Christians, as Western converts are discovering every day.
Let’s get down to some Useful Facts
(1) Orthodoxy is the dominant Christian
church of Greece, the Middle East, North
Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia, Armenia, and Georgia.
If you are setting a story in any of those places, a rudimentary understanding of Orthodoxy is essential. In all those places,
Orthodoxy has been persecuted either by Islam or by communism, so you need to have an understanding of that situation as well.
Because Orthodoxy was brought to America
by immigrants from these lands, America now has multiple Orthodox “jurisdictions”—organizational units of
the Church that in some cases are still governed by the church of the country they came from. These various jurisdictions
have different ethnic flavors, may serve in different languages, and exhibit minor variations in liturgical practice, but
they are all part of the same universal Orthodox Church.
(2) The Orthodox Church is not just the
Eastern version of the Roman Catholic Church. Orthodoxy goes back to apostolic times and has some significant doctrinal differences.
The Orthodox (original) version of the Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, not from the
Father and the Son as believed in the West. Also, the Orthodox Church does not believe in the authority of the Church being
centered in one man (the pope). Orthodoxy has a conciliar government, with the heads of the various national churches (called
patriarchs, archbishops, or metropolitans) all having equal authority; a council of bishops of all countries is required to
address major questions of doctrine and church polity.
More subtly, the Orthodox Church differs
from Western churches in approaching the faith primarily through mystery rather than through reason. Orthodoxy embraces sacred
paradox and is comfortable with not understanding exactly how God works.
(3) Orthodox priests may and generally
do marry—or to be more precise, they are ordained after marriage. Orthodox bishops may not be married, but they may
be widowers. Priests who are widowed may not remarry. Those priests who are not married are usually monks.
Priests of the Slavic traditions often
have long hair and beards and wear long black robes called cassocks in daily life. Priests of the Greek and Antiochian (Arabic)
churches in America often have short hair
and short or no beards and dress like Episcopal priests, in black suits with white collars. All priests, deacons, and altar
boys (called acolytes) wear colorful embroidered vestments during services.
Priests are not seen as having a mediatorial
role between the believer and Christ. Rather, the priest is Christ’s representative in ministering to the people, and
the people’s representative in worshiping God. The true priesthood extends to all believers, and all have direct access
About Katherine Hyde: After a mainline Protestant childhood and misspent agnostic adolescence,
Katherine Hyde joined a group of evangelicals who were looking for the true Church. Their search led them to Orthodoxy. Katherine
has spent much of the last twenty years editing and writing for Orthodox publications and has recently returned to her lifelong
dream of writing fiction. She is currently looking for a publisher for her first novel and is in the generative stages of
a second. Katherine lives in the redwood country of California with her husband and the younger two of her four children.
Next issue: Points 4-8 or 12 about
the Eastern Orthodox religion. Can't wait? View the entire article here.