A Sparkling Vintage Life

Looking On the Bright Side: Why I Write What I Write

Photo by Thomas Leo

Photo by Thomas Leo

Did you ever feel strongly about something, but have trouble articulating why you felt so strongly about it? And then you read something that expresses the polar opposite view, and suddenly your own feelings on the matter crystallize and become clear? That happened to me this week.

As I may have mentioned a few (hundred) times on this blog, I’ve written one novel and am midway through writing a second one, both in historical settings. When I write magazine articles, my favorite topics always have to do with exploring some aspect of history. Even the most cursory perusal of this blog reveals that my heart longs for the civility and graciousness and even material culture of times past, everything from cameos to table manners to robust old-time hymns. Do I love these things because I’m a old fuddy-duddy stick-in-the-mud who hates progress? No. (Well, at least I hope not.) But why, then? Why does the past, at least certain aspects of it, have such a grip on my imagination?

With this question rolling around in my mind, I picked up one of my regular reads, a trade journal for the book publishing industry. In it was an opinion piece by a popular author of fiction for young adults. In an impassioned defense of including graphic sex, violence, and language in young-adult novels (which was already giving me the vapors), she wrote, “When I decided to write [my book], I made a conscious decision: I wanted to write exactly what and how I wanted. I didn’t write with the reader, or my agent, or my editor in mind. I wrote for me.”

Okay, I get that. I, too, write for myself in the sense of writing the kinds of things I like to read. Of course, I hope to please readers as well, but since I tend to picture my readers as people who are quite similar to myself in worldview, outlook, and tastes, it boils down to essentially the same thing.

Then young adult author went on to say, “It [her book] was the first time I ever dropped the F bomb in my writing. It was the first time I ever wrote a castration scene (which later got cut from the book). I didn’t censor the sex or language or violence. I pushed the envelope, and then I pushed some more. Everyone has a dark side, and mine truly came out in this book. Do I expect my readers to suddenly become serial killers? Absolutely not. I do expect them to create fan art and express their emotions in a healthy way just like I did.” [Emphasis mine.]

Here’s where we seriously parted ways, this young-adult author and I. A healthy way? Really?

I don’t need anybody to tell me I have a dark side. I’m horrified by it. I don’t care to celebrate it or share it with the world, and certainly not with my readers.  I hate it. I want to kill it, to conquer it, to banish it. Now I know I can’t get rid of this dark side under my own power, but only through the grace and love of Jesus Christ. But why in the world would I want to feed it and coddle it and strengthen it and give it more power? Ugh.

That’s what I want for my readers, too–to celebrate life and light and goodness and truth and beauty and duty and honor and nobility and those other mothball-scented qualities. In short, to find faith and have hope and see the good in the world. Not to glory in the dark side and let it consume their thoughts. That’s one reason I look to the past–when it seems these values were more widely and publicly esteemed, supported, and sought after, instead of being mocked and ridiculed and called irrelevant.

The young-adult author went on to encourage the publishing community to “[e]mbrace reality. It can’t be stopped. Embrace the art of entertainment and understand it as a means of social change. It’s supposed to make you think and ask questions.”

I totally agree that entertainment is a means of social change, but I could not disagree more with the kind of “social change” this author seems to want. I do invite my readers to think and ask questions, but is being offensive and “pushing boundaries” the only way to accomplish this? I don’t believe that graphic violence qualifies as “reality” while love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control do not, and I certainly think it can be stopped . . . at least in my books, and those I like to read. That’s why, even though my stories do sometimes address evil, sin, death and all that nasty stuff, you won’t find graphic violence or sex or foul language there. That’s not the brand of “reality” I want to promote.

Do I study and write about the past because I wish I lived back then? No, not really, even though I joke about that very thing. I truly don’t want to return to the days before indoor plumbing and antibiotics and computers and (pre-TSA) jet travel. I want my stories to preserve and promote the best aspects of the past and keep them alive in the context of today’s world, to keep them from being trampled by so-called progress as defined by this author. If that makes me a hopeless idealist and the very antithesis of hip, then so be it.

Your turn: What do you think? What do you hope to find in the books you read and movies you watch?

2 Responses to Looking On the Bright Side: Why I Write What I Write

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    Heather Kliesner says:

    I could not agree more. As society crumbles around us and as what is good and true and right becomes ridiculed by more “progressive” thinkers, I yearn for the days when right was right and good was good and everyone agreed on where the line between good and evil was drawn. Thank you for your post; it did help clarify my own thoughts on the topic. I had a conversation this week with one of my students, who said she loved crime shows, one in particular, which I mentioned I can’t watch because the victims are always women and children, and it’s too horrifying that people would do such awful things to children. She said she liked it because the bad guy always got caught in the end. In life though, that’s not the case. And I can’t help thinking these shows give bad people bad ideas and the formula for executing these terrible deeds. Keep up the writing on celebrating light and truth and goodness and all of those mothball-scented qualities. Maybe you will, in fact, influence your readers to live in the light rather than in the darkness.

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    Diedre says:

    Wonderful post, Jenny. When our kids were little, Jim’s uncle would question why we didn’t let our kids watch certain television programs since they’d have to deal with those issues someday. I always had to say that they will have to deal with this icky, evil world someday, but why do I need to expose it to them now. It made no sense to me. I also long for the “olden days” of chivalry and proper conduct, manners and respect, but I sure couldn’t give up my modern technology. 🙂

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Jennifer Lamont Leo