Why I changed my genre (Pt. 2)

Previous: Why I changed my genre (Pt. 1)

Beginning with my first elementary school trip to a pioneer village in Port Carling, and to Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto with my grandparents, I developed a lifelong fascination with all things 19th century, especially the Victorians.

Over the years I’ve carted the hubby and kiddos along to several pioneer villages. As we wander from one creaking room to the next, cicadas buzzing and birds chirping outside the windows, there’s this feeling of stepping into liminal spaces; of being caught in a time warp between two worlds. But I also feel something else: a craving for tiny doors too small for even my foot to fit through. Tiny doors that lead…where?

As a teen, I discovered by chance that I loved Celtic instrumental music. It was both melancholy and uplifting, and so enchanting and mysterious; whisking me away. I was a maiden standing on the edge of a cliff, skirts and shawls flapping in the wind as I gazed out to sea. It was a mood I found haunting yet strangely decompressing. I’m second-generation Canadian born, but because I have mostly Scottish and British ancestry, I’ve long felt a connection to the United Kingdom. So for me, Celtic music was a portal between worlds.

I grew up in Muskoka, Ontario, with a family cottage in Haliburton County. My parents love the woods and took me and my siblings on endless hikes, canoe rides, and drives through the countryside. For as long as I can remember, forests and woody landscapes, fields, barns, and century homes – especially decrepit and abandoned/boarded up ones – have struck a chord in me.

Sunbeams on a forest floor, wildflowers, mossy logs, brooks, swamps, ponds, lily pads, gnarled trees… I’ve always looked at them with a sense of whimsy or an eerie intrigue, as though a faerie might appear or some sort of spook. I also feel a mild disappointment each time when of course, nothing ever does appear; my mind urging me to fill those nooks and crannies with otherworldly, shapeshifting creatures.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Whenever I’d see a hole in a knotted tree I’d shrink down and explore it from a squirrel’s eye view. A Victorian mansion? I’d explore the rooms in my mind’s eye, searching for secret passageways leading to mysterious chambers, attics and cellars. An overgrown country cottage being consumed by nature? I’d peek into the decomposing rooms and hear the whispers, see the shadows, of wandering spirits. Modern shops housed in 19th century buildings? The street becomes overlayed with horse and carriage; the pedestrians garbed in wide-skirted dresses and petticoats, feathered hats, tweed suits and top hats.

G.K. Chesterton put it well when he said of such peculiar sights: what story waits here to be told?

This is how my mind works, how I think, but I’ve kept it largely to myself until recently. When it comes to much of my fiction writing, I’ve barely scratched the surface of my imagination – I was too busy writing for adults! Well, now the time has come to put to pen what I’d previously chalked up to childish fantasies. I find cryptids and faerie lore most fascinating, and that’s why my first youth fiction is about a werewolf.

C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

I’m old enough now to start writing them… 😉

Image by AD_Images from Pixabay

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Why I changed my genre (Pt. 1)

I’ve always been a bookworm but it wasn’t until my early twenties that I seriously began tinkering with fiction writing. Over the course of the next decade I proceeded to co-write a murder mystery novel with my youngest sister and two solo novels in the contemporary Christian fiction genre (which is drama with a subplot of romance).

Then one day, while I’d already started a third solo novel, my other sister asked if I wanted to co-write a fantasy genre novel with her. She had already plotted it and created the characters and setting, so I took a look at what she had and quickly agreed. After that it took us four years of collaborative writing to complete the novel, and we named it The Attic.

While absolutely LOVING the experience of writing fantasy (especially exploring all those secret passageways in the Gothic mansion!) and considering it a marvelous adventure, I didn’t quite feel I was capable of plotting fantasy fiction on my own. So I finished writing my third solo project: another Christian drama/romance.

BUT once that novel was completed I distinctly felt like I’d reached a dead end: or a finish line if you will.

The wind was out of my sails. I felt like I’d said all I ever wanted to say in the contemporary Christian fiction genre. So what to do next? I didn’t want to write drama without romance and I didn’t want to right full-blown romance either. I also didn’t want to write murder mysteries because they require too much knowledge of police and detective work (all that inside legal and procedural stuff, not to mention forensics).

So it was at this point that I began writing short stories in order to play my hand at a variety of genres. And it was here I serendipitously discovered in allegorical fiction a niche in which I could write for a mainstream audience (like we did with The Attic) while still being inclusive of my Christian faith and values.

Then one summer on a whim, I bought a youth fiction novel because the synopsis appealed to me and it had a delightful title: A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano. It had simply never occurred to me before that I might enjoy youth fiction, of all things, but the book just popped out at me from the shelf. I went on to read many more novels for middle graders after that first one. But in reading this particular book I felt an awakening, like I’d found something I didn’t even know I’d been looking for!

Continue reading Why I changed my genre (Pt. 1)

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Holding those with opposing views to a higher standard than we hold ourselves

I’ve been reflecting on humility and meekness as Christian virtues, and how Jesus said that “the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).”

See here’s the thing with liberals and conservatives on social media: both sides are saturated in self-righteous pride. Each side believes they have the enlightened truth (liberals are “woke”, conservatives are “wise”) and that the other side is bigoted and stupid. Liberals view themselves as gloriously open-minded and conservatives view themselves as gloriously high-minded.

Yet liberals aren’t open-minded toward any conservative views and conservatives don’t acknowledge that a liberal’s moral code is as strong as theirs. Each views the other side as morally bankrupt.

It’s all a matter of perspective though, for we’re all the same, we really are. Human nature is human nature. With the exception of pride (which seems to be distributed quite evenly on both sides), our sins are collective and unique (yet only unique in the sense of individual). All the same wrongdoings are committed across the board, no matter how disguised they may seem at first glance. We are mirror images, photos and negatives, heads and tails.

Which brings me to my next observation: the difficulty of having a close relationship with friends and family members on opposing sides of the political (and religious) spectrum. There’s a sadness here, especially when it comes to the parent-adult child relationship.

If one’s chiselling of views didn’t come about until adulthood, what tends to be experienced is that a once seemingly close relationship quickly grows distant – there is a disconnect, a divide, a wall. To the adult child this feels like conditional love (“my parent will only truly love and accept me again if I embrace all the same views they have”), and there is resentment and a feeling of disillusionment. But I would imagine that this sadness is felt by the parent as well: they too feel the wall and have the feeling that “my child will only truly love and accept me again if I embrace their views instead of mine.”

So, both parties feel like victims of conditional love.

Now, of course it’s true that it is exceedingly difficult to feel close to someone who holds opposing views, many of which may be downright offensive and deeply hurtful – but I’ve noticed a self-centeredness here when I’ve seen this issue discussed on social media:
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Catching Nuance

In the musical, My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner, a professor takes on a cockney flower girl as his protégé and gives her speech lessons until she can pass in public society as a lady. And indeed he succeeds. Yet in the end this young woman finds herself caught between two worlds: she no longer fits comfortably in the cockney world she came from (a world she can never fully return to for her speech has forever been altered), but neither does she feel at home in the posh world.

I’ve come to see myself in a similar way, as a “My Fair Lady” of sorts. I would rather be myself, authentic, instead of pretending to believe this or that just to fully fit in on one side or another. But it means sometimes journeying through no man’s land. I will be misunderstood. A lot.

It’s my experience that people don’t ask questions, they just write me off. If they hear I’m a feminist they assume I’m pro-choice, if they hear I’m an evangelical, they assume I’m anti-LGBT. You get the drift. But I wonder … how many times have I made similar incorrect assumptions about others? Continue reading Catching Nuance

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The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

Joy is contagious. But so is misery. If you sit with a miserable person, you quickly begin to feel the same way. You mirror them. So if God is mourning with us, he is truly going to be a fellow mourner. And mourning feels terrible. It doesn’t feel warm like joy: it is cold, lonely, raw, and painful. If God is mirroring the same dark emotions that we’re feeling (sitting with us in solidarity because he genuinely cares), then in our pain and loneliness, we are going to feel like God isn’t there—because we only associate God’s presence with the feel-good emotions of happiness, joy, and security.

So, let’s talk about the art of validation. Continue reading The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

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The Mind’s Eye

A virtual reality, a time machine, a teleporter. I’ve heard it said that each person’s mind is like the Tardis from Dr. Who – a time traveling ship, bigger on the inside than on the outside, its corridors infinite.

Whenever I read literature written in the 18th and 19th centuries, I think about how much understanding of geography and history had to be gleaned from drawings and books in those days, unless one had the privilege of traveling. Today we have the advantage of cinematography.

I can fly over and through a gorge with a bird’s-eyed view. I can go on YouTube and look at virtual reality photographs and videos of famous landmarks. It’s all so detailed and sophisticated. But I bet the imaginings of those writers a century or two ago were just as vivid without all of that. Here’s why:

I used to play Sierra’s “Space Quest” as a child and to see it now, I’m reminded just how pixelated it was, how blurry and lacking in detail, compared to the games now available to my children. But back when I was immersed in those games, all the pixelation and blurriness vanished as my mind superimposed perfectly clear scenery into the game. I can easily remember the game both ways – how it really looked and how I transformed it. Either way, it was the same story.

Sometimes this happens with people too, especially when memories span across decades. I can easily superimpose their previous figure over their current one. One minute I see my grandpa as he is today. Bent over with a walker, face drawn into permanent lines that give him a look of perpetual sadness, eyes that no longer recognize me; next he’s suddenly standing upright, shoulders back, thirty pounds heavier, white hair now gray with brown weaving through, a wide smile and eyes alight with recognition.

There’s this one driveway we pass by on the way to the family cottage and I always see him standing there on the grass next to a decorative boulder, wearing a caramel leather jacket, strong and self-sufficient. It’s like seeing a ghost, but it’s only a memory from nearly three decades ago, and besides, he’s still alive. But the weird thing is, though I was standing right next to him when I made that memory (we’d taken a walk together), half his height and staring up to see his face, I now see that memory from twenty feet away, as though I had been the same height and was looking at him from across the street.
Continue reading The Mind’s Eye

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Experiencing God’s presence through love

Previously I wrote about ways to experience God’s presence through our senses. Today I’d like to look at another way, inspired by conversations I had recently with my sister regarding blessings and healings. We talked about how all good things come from the original source of good, God (James 1:17), and how many people interpret these good gifts to be answered prayer or blessings. Now, of course they can certainly be both, but I think they are also random in many cases as well. Here’s why:

God does not discriminate: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). What’s more, a blessing to me could be a curse to someone else. e.g. Sunshine on a wedding day is ideal, but maybe someone drowned that same day because the warm sun had them out swimming.

It occurs to me that for God to specifically grant my wish for a sunny day, knowing that it would lead to John Doe’s drowning, seems immoral of him. But if the day is sunny just because it’s nature taking its course, then it’s still a blessing to me and I can and should give thanks to God for every good gift, but it has not been given to me at the cost of someone else. The sunshine was given to everyone and sadly, tragedies do occur, rain or shine.

It comes down to the “life is unfair” thing. See, the only way life could be fair is if everyone had identical experiences – rendering free will and individuality impossible.

Another blessing/good gift in life is being healed of physical ailments, especially dangerous ones. And the human body is designed by the Great Physician to regenerate. When the immune system works properly (and we have access to good nutrition, medicine, successful surgery, and the like), we are healed. We rightly give thanks to God for healing us because he is our Creator and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Prayer can play a significant role in healing too, don’t get me wrong, but God also heals people who haven’t prayed for healing. Unbelievers regenerate successfully too, just as the sun and rain are sent without discrimination. (Please note, I am not discrediting miracles. By their very definition, they can only occur once in a while, not regularly.)

This leads me to the question of God’s presence in conjunction with love.

Jesus said that love was not unique to believers. He said even the pagans love each other; of course they do! We all know this. But he also said, I’m holding you to a higher standard when it comes to love – I want you to love your enemies too. So it’s not love that is unique to Christians but rather enemy love. What’s more, and this is important, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love then it follows that he is the original source of love as well. That’s what he is, Love Himself.

In the same way that every experience of good is coming from the original source of good (Good Himself), and healing of the body comes from the original source (the Great Physician), all manifestations of genuine love also come from the original source, Love Himself. So, isn’t it possible that the more goodness, health, and love one has in their life, the more they will feel the presence of God? The obverse is true as well, which is why I wanted to write this blog piece in the first place.

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An Open Sesame

Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
(Hebrews 12:28b)

Anything from a ray of sunlight warming my knees as I sit on the sofa, to the cheep of a chickadee, to a hot cup of tea, a tasty treat, time with loved ones, a good story, the hush of a snowfall, the laughter of a child, a power nap, a shared smile . . . and even the less obvious: enjoying the clean floors after mopping, hanging fresh clothes in the closet, washing the pots and pans that made a meal, and neverending clutter (the evidence of a living family!).

The simple (yet profound) act of saying, “Thank you, Lord,” for each and every gift has opened the door to a much deeper and more intimate relationship with God than I was able to have before. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise.” It really is an open-sesame to the presence of God.

I know though, when life is grim, giving thanks can feel next to impossible. Food tastes like gravel, material possessions seem meaningless, and sunshine taunts an overcast soul.

But it turns out giving thanks is a veritable life line.

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Experiencing God’s presence through our senses

We live in a physical world of matter, so much so that naturalists believe this is all there is, that there couldn’t possibly be a supernatural realm as well. But what if the two are intertwined? God is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere: all at the same time. Have you ever pondered the infinity of the universe? The scientists say the universe is expanding – yet how is this possible? There is no “space” outside of space, so where does the room come from to expand into, so to speak?

Well, think about it this way: if the universe exists within the omnipresent God, who is infinitely big, the universe can expand forever and ever and never come up against a wall. It’s fascinating to think about. But what’s my point? My point is that if you want to experience the presence of God, why not consider the senses as a gateway of sorts?

The omnipresence of God could be why pagans throughout history have been so inclined to worship nature. They sense (feel) the presence of God in his created things, but don’t necessarily look any further. So they worship the flower rather than the One who made it. It was God who created all matter and space – even linear time (the universe had a beginning). As C.S. Lewis said, “He likes matter; he invented it.” Being made of matter is what enables us to have a physical existence in a physical universe. It is also what makes it possible for us to feel the presence of God.

To be close to someone physically, we need to be in their presence.

Think of the infant whose attachment to mom is entirely through the senses. We need to either see the person, hear them, touch them, kiss them, smell them, or feel their spirit, to maintain a connection. The ways to achieve this are obvious with people and animals, but it may not be quite as obvious with God. Or so one might think.

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Diary of a Former Hypochondriac

When I was eleven, I developed an anxiety disorder which manifested itself primarily as hypochondria; with depression as its cousin companion.

I was not, however, the stereotypical sort of hypochondriac child that one associates with verbally fretting over every ache and pain, scrape and bruise; analyzing each sniffle and cough; feeling for lumps; or sighing and fainting with weakness. No, I was nothing like Colin in The Secret Garden. At least, not on the face, that is.

I kept it all a big secret.

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