Beguiled by J. Mark Bertrand

😆 I realize the title to this post is misleading on two levels. First Mark hasn’t beguiled anyone that I know of, and second he isn’t the sole author of the novel Beguiled.

The latter, however, is on point. As part of the CFBA blog tour for Beguiled, co-authored by Mark and Deeanne Gist, I offer the following guest post by J. Mark Bertrand. Tomorrow I plan a review of Beguiled, an ARC of which I received for free from Bethany House Publishers.

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Films About the Wheat Harvest?

    by J. Mark Bertrand

I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me that I sound like a broken record, always intoning the same quotation. In my defense, I’m often asked the same question, namely, “How can you justify what you’re writing as Christian fiction?” Short answer: I don’t even try. In the same way I don’t try to justify it as crime fiction, or even good fiction. All I can say is it’s my fiction, a reflection of the world as I see it.

The long answer involves the aforementioned quote. Claude Chabrol, the French film director, was asked by Robert Ebert back in the 1970s how as a communist he could justify the kind of movies he made. “I am a Communist, certainly,” Chabrol replied, “but that doesn’t mean I have to make films about the wheat harvest.”

The reason I cite this response so often is that it underscores a false assumption behind the question — i.e., that an artist’s ideology ought to dictate the kind of work he does and whatever meaning it might convey. How could a Communist sleep at night knowing a particular film, perhaps the only one of his movies a certain viewer might ever see, didn’t include a persuasive pitch for collective farming and the redistribution of wealth? His only chance to convert a movie-going capitalist and he blew it!

A novelist’s perspective doesn’t have to function as a pair of blinders or a pigeonhole. Think of it instead as an influence. People are influenced by their politics, by past experience, by religious and philosophical convictions, and these influences combine to form an interesting (or at any rate, unique) way of seeing things. When a Communist puts pen to paper, he’s not representing a monolithic movement; he’s revealing himself. The same is true for any ideologue, including the Christian.

Naturally, there are people who believe by definition that Communist art should be about dialectical materialism and Christian art should be about the gospel. “Redemption,” broadly speaking, is the term often used. Paradoxically, these totalizing narratives are straightjacketed into narrowly-focused niche products that can’t speak to the whole of existence, or at least shouldn’t.

I can respect the position, but I don’t happen to share it. As a writer, I prefer to take on the world at large, the big messy scope of reality, pursuing it subjectively and (I hope) convincingly wherever it leads. I’m confident enough in my ideas not to think they need special coddling, and have a high enough view of my readers to realize that while my work might entertain and engage them, even influence them, it’s hardly capable of scrubbing away their own conception of life and inserting my own.

So when I write, I’m speaking for myself, for better or worse. I’m a Christian, and in my less humble moments (which are all too common) I prefer to think of myself as more influenced by that theological tradition than many people who’d own the label of “Christian novelist” with less ambiguity. My books come with no implicit guarantee that they’ll match up to anyone else’s notion of what they should be. For better or worse, the worldview they embody is my own.

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J. Mark Bertrand’s novel Beguiled, co-authored with Deeanne Gist, is in stores now. His crime novel Back on Murder, the first in a series featuring Houston homicide detective Roland March, releases this summer. More information at and on Mark’s new blog

Published in: on February 1, 2010 at 9:50 am  Comments (2)  
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