The Short Version:
I write fiction that explores the relationships we share with people we didn’t get to choose, and what happens when we try to live with (or without) them.
As a person of faith, I want to tell stories that are both honest about life as it is and hopeful about life as it can be. While they probe the painful realities of being human in a broken world, my novels aren’t the work of a cynic because I can’t afford to be one.
The Apostle Paul says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). If this is true, it means that good stories will always reflect that groaning, at least to some extent. Life is hard. Readers won’t find neatly-tied ribbons at the ends of my stories because we don’t find those in the real world. Not everything works out in the end–at least not in this life.
But Paul also reminds us that, “we hope for what we do not see.” And that’s the other side of things. Hope will not die because he is a Person who lives.
I attempt to capture both of these elements in my writing: truth (however difficult) and hope (however distant He might seem).
The Long(er) Version:
I am a Christian and a novelist, and I have a confession to make: I love Flannery O’Connor–that wicked-sharp Southern writer who made fun of religious hypocrites and put swear words in her characters’ mouths; a Catholic who watched her loosely styled protagonists die in ditches without a shred of sympathy for them. What I mean is, I love her like I wish we could have been best friends, and I could have taken care of her when her Lupus got bad. Her writing is a Swiss train, hurtling me to her destination, warning me not to get too comfortable. I can hardly catch my breath, but I keep coming back for more because she promises not to lie.
This only seems strange if I admit something else: I suffer from depression, anxiety, and the occasional suspicion that God isn’t actually good. I have to fight for joy, as John Piper says, and this requires me to cull what goes into my mind. I don’t watch most of what’s on Netflix. I don’t listen to the news. I don’t hang out much on social media. So why would I avoid all that and then choose to read novels about the ugly side of human existence? Why would I want to see my own secret sins mocked on the page? Because O’Conner sees our ugliness and still manages to believe in God, which makes me feel strangely hopeful. And because, as a writer, I can’t run away from reality if I want to tell a good and true story myself.
Of course, reality is as complicated as a good novel, as I learned when my family and I moved from the U.S. to India. During our time overseas, we were tempted, in newsletters and in social media updates, to shade what we experienced to fit our American readers’ expectations, painting India either as too beautiful (the spices!) or beyond hope (sex slavery, beggars everywhere!). But, of course, real life is what my mother calls an ugly mix. There’s beauty and pain, the divine and ordinary, in every moment.
O’Conner’s stories reflect her unwavering commitment to tell the darker truths of life on this groaning planet. She assures her readers, “You’re not crazy. People are, indeed, silly and bad. Ridiculous, even.” That’s helpful. But, maybe now more than ever, readers need stories that keep them from despairing, too. Because–I don’t know–the darkness feels darker these days.
So, I want to write hope-ward stories that don’t succumb to cheesiness. Which is no small task because it’s as easy to become twee as it is cynical. Too many “wholesome” novels are infected with Hallmark Syndrome, a disease whose symptoms include 2D villains, attractive protagonists, and plenty of Deus ex machina. These stories might make readers feel good, but they’re offering an alternate universe, not a real and redeemed one. They entertain but don’t make us think. And yet it’s harder to avoid Hallmark Syndrome than it looks.
Ask me how I know.
There are those who manage to write deeply honest stories that leave readers both better off than they were before and entertained. Leif Enger comes to mind, among others. My writing heroes are traveling the middle way between despair and Disney, and I aim to follow them. It’s a hard path but one worth pursuing.
The task of the artist will always be to say something true, and the ultimate true story is the Gospel, gloriously confounding with its gore and surprise ending. Maybe that’s why truly satisfying stories reflect both suffering and hope, darkness and light.
This is what I want to do: to say something true. To write the hard, good stories you can’t put down or stop thinking about. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.
I’m married to my college sweetheart, and we are best friends. Everyone says that, but it’s true in our case. I like him and he likes me. We have three teenagers I’ve been homeschooling since they were in kindergarten, partly because we all liked it and partly because we lived abroad, traveled a lot, and found it to be the easiest way to keep some stability in our lives. I had my kids when I was in my early twenties (three kids in 32 months, to be exact). They have helped me grow up.
I have lived in North America, Europe, and Asia. I’ve spent time in South America and Africa. I love this world. Also, it has broken my heart. Traveling has proven to me what we’ve always been told: people are, deep down, the same everywhere. Except when they’re different.
I’m a classically trained cellist and soprano, and I speak Hindi and German. Once, I played a concert with Peter Cetera of Chicago in Nashville. These facts make me seem erudite and sophisticated, but I eat Frosted Mini Wheats out of the box and sleep in my clothes once in a while.
I’m the oldest of three girls. I love my sisters more than life itself. I can say anything I want about them, but if you do, you’re dead to me–unless it’s to tell me we look alike and are funny.