As I near the end of writing "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I contemplate again what an odd situation this is - a Protestant author writing a fantasy novel for a Catholic press. I've been working really hard to craft a novel that is faithful to a Catholic Worldview, while remaining accessible and engaging to audiences of other faiths. So far my husband (biased, but Protestant), thinks I've succeeded. I hope that all of you do as well!
Anyhow, I wanted to share some of my further thoughts on the subject of writing Characters of Faith or writing for a Christian audience, and thought that the best way to do so would be to share with you a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago, which I reproduce here with her permission.
AnneMarie said: Dear Mrs. Hajek, First, congratulations on your marriage! I have been praying for you two, and hope that you are enjoying married life!
Anyway, I had a thought-and if this is out of line or too personal, feel free to not answer-- but, in one of my writing classes, many students have been discussing the place for Faith (for my classmates and I, Catholicism) in literature. Since you are a huge fan of Regina Doman's books (which have lots of Catholicism sprinkled around), but you're not a Catholic yourself, I was wondering what your perspective is? I've had friends tell me that I can't put overtly Catholic subject matter in fiction writing, because people don't like it/aren't comfortable with it/feel like they're being preached to/if you want to be successful, you can't be overtly Catholic in fiction.
Do you feel that there is a particular way in which Catholicism (or even Christianity as a whole) is treated better when used in fiction writing? Is there a place for it in fiction writing?
I said: Okay so here are my thoughts... I think there are three ways to bring religion (of any sort) into writing.
#1 - to write a religious character. This character lives out their religion, it is an important part of their lives, but it is not the focus of the book. You could have a Catholic or a Muslim or a Buddhist and their faith makes them who they are, but it doesn't make the book a "preaching book." (Orson Scott Card does this very well. What Regina does falls between this and a sort of in-between category of this and #2. Chesterton's Father Brown is this as well.)
#2 - a preaching book. This is what most explicitly Christian literature is. It's not just filled with religious characters, but there must be a conversion story, a crisis of faith, etc. It is nearly impossible to have a book with a main Protestant character that will not be a book of this sort and published by a Christian publisher. Because there are not as many small Catholic publishers, you are more likely to find a book with Catholic characters out in mainstream publishing, but you will probably not find a conversion story in those books.
#3 - a book written from a Christian worldview, but without any sort of proselytizing agenda. This means that ultimately the main moral compass of the book is going to line up with Christian believes, even if it's set in another world. (The Lord of the Rings is an excellent example of this, as is "Till We Have Faces" by C.S. Lewis. Orson Scott Card does this in most of his writing, although technically he is Mormon.)
You can have books that mix and match these catagories, of course. #1 and #2 will nearly always also incorporate #3. But you can have #3 without #1 or #2. Many young writers make the mistake of thinking that in order to have their faith be present in their works, they need to write #2. That's not true. You don't have to have a Christian "message" or "character" to be writing a book that is consistent with Christianity and that brings people to understand something true and beautiful about God's creation. BUT you can definitely have people of faith in secular novels.
I again mention Orson Scott Card, who is becoming more lamblasted for his conservative worldview, but nonetheless writes in the secular science fiction market. He has characters of many faiths in his books, and each one is treated with deep respect. I highly recommend reading some of his work if you haven't already.
There is a line you have to walk, however. One of the main reasons Regina Doman got into self publishing was because her books were "too Catholic" for the secular market but "not Catholic enough/too Catholic for Protestants" for the religious market. Her books are fabulous and I wouldn't' change them a bit, but she would agree that the route she took would be very difficult for another to take without also going the selfpublishing route (and remember, she was published by Bethlehem books first, but they couldn't make enough on their fiction imprint and closed that down). Neither she nor I would recommend starting off in the self-publishing market.
I am grateful to be able to write for Regina's company and therefore be able to write a character of faith without having to write a conversion story. I've found it very hard to write a Protestant character of faith without it sounding very cheesy to me - actually it's been much easier to write a Catholic character because it is much easier to describe the outward forms and the particular journey of this character within the symbolism of the Catholic church. I have a great appreciation of the Catholic Church, which is why I am able to write this book, but I would never be able to write something like this for a secular market. I already know it is going to be difficult to sell this book outside of the Catholic circles, because it will have some elements that will be too foreign for a lot of reader - but I'm doing my best to write it as "an intriguing look into another way of life" rather than an alienating difference.