Preachy Fiction

Two of the Mikes whose blogs I follow, Mike Duran and Mike Dellosso (soon to be known as Michael King — you’ll have to ask him about that) posted this week on the subject themes in fiction. As it happened, they took opposite positions on the subject.

What caught my attention most, however, was Tony’s comment to Mike Dellosso’s article. In part he said

If you can entertain me first, I won’t mind a message in there. It’s why shows like Glee are so successful despite their obvious indoctrination-style message.

Ah, yes, Glee, a show with an “obvious indoctrination-style message.” I would mention Harry’s Law as just such a show as well. Perhaps there are others I’ve never watched. These two, I know about. In both cases I watched the first season and indeed found them entertaining, but at some point all the preachiness, much of it about things with which I disagree, drove me away.

I’ll give you a snippet of a recent Harry’s Law — and I didn’t watch this entire show, so don’t have all the details.

First a little background. Harry is a lawyer, a 50-something woman who got fed up with the way law had turned into a game, but ended up opening a store-front office in the heart of the inner city and started representing those who normally couldn’t afford representation that would give them a fair shake. Well, a season later, she’s been so successful, she’s taken on partners and is now in charge of her own firm.

In the show in question, someone came to her because they wanted to sue the local zoo on behalf of a gorilla. The animal was being unfairly treated, the claimant said, its rights trampled. The show then went into the courtroom where all kinds of evidence was brought up — how intelligent the animal was, how social it was, how its present conditions deprived it of what it needed.

Ultimately the judge had to rule on the question of whether or not the gorilla was considered property. There was even comparison with how the gorilla was being treated and the treatment of African Americans during the era of slavery.

Yes, meat-eating came up and what a ruling in favor of the gorilla would mean for pets. In the end, Harry lost the case, but the show closed with a touching scene where Harry went to the cage to tell the gorilla she would keep fighting for it to get moved or to stay, I forget which was at issue.

Simply put, Harry’s Law is an issues show. Glee is too, or at least it had become one at the point when I stopped watching it.

Is blog commenter Tony right that these kinds of shows stay on the air because they are so well done, the preachiness of them doesn’t spoil them?

But more to the point, why do secular TV shows get to be preachy but Christian fiction doesn’t? Obviously I’m not talking about “get to” in the sense of “permission.” Rather, when these things are reviewed, do the writers of Harry’s Law and Glee get taken to task for their preachiness in the same way that authors of Christian fiction do?

Here’s one segment of a review covering the episode I referred to:

While I recognize the prerogative of the writers of this show to turn everything into a social issue, this show cannot and should not be expected to hold its own on this premises alone.

This series is more than capable of building deep and convincing character development while still achieving its social issues agenda in the courtroom.

Apparently this reviewer agrees with Tony.

Then are Christians laboring under a double standard in fiction — people can write about what they believe as long as it isn’t Christianity?

As a reminder, I’m not in favor of in-your-face themes. That’s very different from fiction that says nothing, however. Themes that are well crafted and need some tugging and teasing to bring them out are absolutely the best. Those are embedded into the story and are part of it’s warp and woof. The characters’ lives, choices, and development direct the reader toward the story’s meaning. The Ah-ha moment is not summed up in dialogue or even in internal monologue.

Little Red Riding Hood does not turn to the Hunter and say, Thank you for saving me from the Big Bad Wolf. I understand that I was wrong to talk to a stranger. From now on I will be sure to obey.

Weeping over the death of her grandmother would be far more effective.

But either way, the message is there. Christian writers seem to be on an island thinking that our stories are not supposed to mean something.

Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm  Comments (27)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Darkness Follows, Day 3

Some books aren’t destined to be loved, I don’t think, whereas their authors might be. Stephen King comes to mind as an example. I suspect Mike Dellosso, author of the CSFF Blog Tour June feature, Darkness Follows, might also fall into this category.

Of course, this idea that authors can be loved even if their books aren’t, can be argued, depending on why a particular reader loves a book. For me, being appalled pretty much eliminates a novel from the “I love it” category. Others may well disagree.

All this to say, I am happy I read a Mike Dellosso novel. I’d happily recommend him to anyone who wants to read horror. At the same time, I won’t be reading another one of his.

I’ve said from time to time that I enjoy reading most genres, but not suspense or horror. And yet I’ve read some suspense and liked it, some Christian supernatural suspense and liked it. However, in reading reviews of those books, I discovered that readers who genuinely enjoy the suspense or horror genres thought the books I liked were too tame.

I don’t think any horror fan would find Darkness Follows tame.

Which is why I won’t read any more Dellosso novels. He’s too good. By that I mean, the story was the kind that comes alive. The characters seemed like real people, the growing darkness a real threat, the danger a tragedy waiting to happen. I hated it — in the same way that I hate roller coasters. Other people find the adrenaline rush thrilling, I find it horrific.

All that by way of introduction to my review. 😉

The Story.
Sam Travis is recovering from a brain injury — except he feels as if he’s not. He has begun to hear things, like sounds of battle, the kind that would have come from the Battle of Gettysberg that took place not far from his home. He’s also started seeing things, or more accurately, a person — his dead brother. The capper is, he’s starting to do things he doesn’t remember, specifically journaling as if he is Captain Samuel Whiting, a member of the US military during the Civil War.

Fearing for his sanity, Sam does not reveal what he’s experiencing to his wife or his little girl, Eva, though both are concerned for him and the changes they see. A gulf begins to grow between them, and Sam finds himself more and more drawn into what he perceives to be an inevitable darkness that propels him toward unspeakable actions.

The story is well-written and compelling. The prose is not lyrical but it is certainly above average. Scenes are vivid, action properly motivated, characters painted as individuals, each with his or her own unique story. The interaction between Sam and his daughter and between Sam and his wife was so natural which made the progression toward estrangement more and more painful.

The tension was palpable, and the suspense proved to be that “compelling” element.

The theme of love as the redeeming factor in a person’s life was clear — not not just love in a generic way, but Jesus’s love.

I had one minor issue that proved to be major for me. At one point the antagonist stalks his target, described to have brown hair. Because the character the reader would assume to be the target of a kidnapping had blond hair, I surmised that someone else was the actual target. Not so. Apparently it was an editing glitch. I admit I was disappointed because I thought that could have taken the story in an interesting direction.

The larger issue, however, was that some of the end didn’t seem earned. The explanation of brainwashing and neo-Nazi involvement was from out of the blue. The subconscious journal writing and the appearance of a message written in grass (when Sam was fully conscious and absent from the location) was never adequately explained. Nor was the inciting incident — the Civil War sounds and the shattered window that started him on his journey toward darkness.

Surprisingly, the puzzle pieces not quite fitting didn’t deter from the story. Only as I thought about it after finishing was I aware of the questions the story left a little scrambled.

This one is no yawner. The pages flew by, and if I enjoyed horror, I have no doubt that I would have discovered a new favorite author. Mike writes well!

That being said, this is horror. Actual ugly horror with horrific things happening. This is a book that earns the word Darkness in the title, and anyone picking it up should realize they are not getting a sanitized version of horror.

I highly recommend Darkness Follows to anyone interested in horror and particular to anyone who wants to see what Christian horror looks like. To anyone who doesn’t care for horror, stay away from this one.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour – Darkness Follows, Day 2

I find it interesting that this month’s CSFF feature, Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso (Realms), brought to my mind a tough question, one that is sensitive by nature and often isn’t discussed. Interesting because the last two Realms books, The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell and The Resurrection by Mike Duran had similar effects.

In Darkness Follows, the issue is a little convoluted. I’m referring to mental disorders/demon oppression or possession. I separated the two with a slash simply because those who believe in demon oppression and possession struggle knowing where mental disorders leave off and demon activity takes over.

Of course there was a period of time when the common understanding of all mental disorders related to demonic spiritual forces. Today, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction: in western culture few people give credence to demon possession, and mental disorders are understood as biological issues or perhaps psychological ones, but never spiritual.

In Darkness Follows Mike Dellosso seems to be exploring both mental disorders and spiritual activity simultaneously. In his story it is nearly impossible to know where one stops and the other starts.

For clarification, there is also clear, tangible angelic spiritual activity. It’s the dark that is left more murky and tangled with the physical.

* * * Spoiler Alert Warning: of necessity some spoilers may be included in this discussion. * * *

First the clear physical exploration of mental disorder. One of the minor characters was experiencing early signs of Alzheimer’s. The protagonist was recovering from a closed brain injury due to a twenty-foot fall. His brother had suffered from an undiagnosed mental disorder manifesting as escalating violence. The antagonist suffered the effects of brain altering experimentation. The protagonist’s father, also a minor character, exhibited signs of confusion and memory loss — perhaps the result of an earlier injury.

Coupled with these physical or “explained” mental disorders was the “darkness” that inhabited the original journal writer, Samuel Whiting (a 19th century Civil War officer who seemed to be “channeling” his thoughts to the protagonist who wrote them down), and also the protagonist, Sam Travis (who at one point tries to commit suicide).

Several actions sprang from this darkness — actions paralleled by demon possession recorded in Scripture: violence against others, violence against self, isolation from other people.

      * * * End Spoiler Alert * * *

So the questions are these: where does mental illness end and demon activity begin? and can a Christian be demon possessed?

The second question is actually something that I think has a Biblical answer. No, Christians cannot be demon possessed. Second Cor. 6:14, in a different context, indicates there is no partnership between light and dark. First John 1:6 says we’re lying if we say we have fellowship with God and “yet walk in darkness.” First John 5:18 says of one born of God, “the evil one does not touch him.”

Jesus, of course, made a case for the impossibility of someone casting out demons by the power of the devil. By implication, I conclude that God has power over demons, not the reverse. The logical conclusion, then, is that the Holy Spirit in a person’s life does not “share,” nor will He be cowered into a corner while a legion takes over.

But can darkness influence a Christian — demonic darkness? I don’t know how far Satan or his forces can go. I do know I Peter 5:8-9 says, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” Because this passage ties in with brethren suffering in the world, it seems to me that Satan may have power over our circumstances, much the way Joseph’s brothers had power over his circumstances. In the end, what they meant for evil, God meant for good.

Nevertheless, we are to resist. This action, I take to be spiritual, in which we utilize the armor of God — the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the shoes of the gospel of peace.

As to the first question — where does a mental disorder stop and demon activity begin … well, that’s one I’d like someone else to answer for me.

I know there will be lots (maybe most) taking the humanistic view that there are only biological causes for mental disorders. I just don’t see why a spiritual force, if it has any power at all, couldn’t have an effect on someone’s brain. In other words, scientists are perfectly right to say this chemical imbalance has that affect on a person. But why couldn’t the root of the chemical imbalance be in the spiritual activity of a demon?

I suppose in the end, we can’t know. One thing is clear, however: we are to resist the devil and when we do, he will flee. We are to draw near to God, and He will draw near to us.

Christ resisted all the temptations Satan threw at Him over a period of forty days — right after His baptism. Interesting how a spiritual high point can be followed by such an intense spiritual attack. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord.

CSFF Blog Tour – Darkness Follows

Author Mike Dellosso

There’s just something about starting a book that lets you know almost at once whether or not you’re in the hands of a competent storyteller or not. When I discover that I am, I immediately relax and let the story take over.

Without a doubt, Mike Dellosso, author of this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature Darkness Follows is the kind of storyteller that lets me know I’m in good hands. His command of the scene, his visual imagery created through action, his use of similes that not only describe but set the mood — all this and more helps me trust that the author knows what he’s doing.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Two, and you’ll see what I mean:

Molly was down the steps in no time, slippered feet scuffing the hardwood like fine-grit sandpaper. Her hair was wildly out of place, pushed to one side and matted like steel wool, and pillow crease lines marked her left cheek. Her eyes were wide and bleary, her jaw slack.

“Wha-what happened?” The panic in her voice sent spidery legs down Sam’s back.

She stood at the bottom of the steps in her blue flannel pajamas, palms turned up, expecting an answer. But Sam didn’t have one. He had no idea what had happened. He knew the window had exploded — the glass on the living room floor, glimmering like diamonds in the light, testified to that — but the gunshot …

Was it real? Was it his mind playing war games with him?

He looked at Molly. “I, uh, I’m …” He glanced at the floor then back at her. His damaged brain wouldn’t shift into gear.

She took three steps forward, cautiously, as though creeping through a haunted house and expecting a mischievous teenager in a monster mask to jump from he next corner. She looked into the living room, and her hand went to her mouth. “Sam, what happened? The window.”


It was Eva, standing at the top of the stairs.

Sam was still frozen, his mind a block of ice, unable to make sense of anything hat had transpired in the last fifteen minutes.

Molly spun around. “Eva, stay there, baby. Don’t come down.”

“What happened? Did something break?” She was barefoot in her Dora jammies, clutching her worn-out stuffed dog in her arms. Max. There was no fear in her eyes, only questions.

“Yes, baby,” Molly said. She was in take-charge mode, and Sam knew when she had that look it was best to let her do her thing. “The window broke, that’s all. Nothing to worry about. Just stay there, OK? There’s glass all over the floor.”

Molly looked at Sam again. “What happened? Why’s the front door open? How did the window break?”

Too many questions.

Take some time now to read the buzz around the blog tour about Darkness Follows and Mike Dellosso.

The Post I Wish I’d Written

It turns out author Mike Dellosso wrote the response I wish I’d written to Eric Wilson‘s article, “Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?”

Well, I couldn’t have written the article in just the way Mike did because he’s a published author and I’m not. But he said many of the things that I believe. Here’s the key paragraph:

I don’t think it’s the author’s job to reach lost people and share Christ with them. How can we? Our only contact with them is words on a page? Yes, stories are powerful and can be thought-provoking and challenging and uplifting. That’s what I go for in my own stories. They can even protray Christians in a positive light and point the spotlight at God. But how will they hear unless someone tells them? If our books plainly preach Christ and him crucified, risen, and coming again they won’t make it into the general market where the lost people are, heck, they probably won’t even make it into the CBA. Rather, I feel it is the author’s job to give Christians a tool so they can then take that tool and reach the lost around them with it. To me, that’s evangelistic writing. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you disagree, that’s fine, but that’s where I am. (Emphasis mine.)

While I believe that stories are important, especially in this day and age, that stories can “till the soil,” and that the Holy Spirit can use them to point to Christ, primarily people come to God as a result of another person telling them the good news about the Savior who died for them.

But books can be the means by which a conversation about God might start. They can open up avenues of discussion that might not come about in another way. Books can give Christians the opportunity of saying to their non-Christian friends, So what do you think?

Think about he eunuch the Holy Spirit sent Philip to. He had Scripture, but he still needed someone to explain what he was reading. How much more so if a person is reading a novel, does he need a believer to extrapolate to real life and point to God.

Should Christians write for other Christians? Absolutely—we are to stimulate each other to love and good works, and I believe novels can do this.

Should Christians write for non-Christians? Absolutely—we are to let our light shine, and I believe novels can do this.

God calls some to write for believers and some to write for unbelievers.

The critical point to understand is this: in either case, God brings our labor to fruition. We may never see until eternity dawns what influence and effect our writing has had, but we are to remain faithful. That’s our responsibility and all we can control.

I think Mike said that too in the post I wish I’d written. 😉

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm  Comments (6)  
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