Friday, March 27, 2009

Robin's Deep Dark Confessions Part II

In my last post, I promised to let you in on what got me out of my creative slump last year. I told you that it might shock some of you. Here's a hint: it was nothing short of magic.

Right after I realized that I had lost interest in my writing, I reached another nasty conclusion. I had even lost interest in reading!

Well, that was just going too far. Maybe I could give up writing and live a somewhat normal life, but do without reading? I had always been the type that reads obsessively. Once I started a book, I had to finish it. I would stay up until the crack of dawn, make myself late coming back from lunch hours. Yes, I've even been known to sneak out a book in class and surreptitiously read it under the desk while the teacher lectured. Even if I could manage to separate myself from a novel physically, my mind tended to drift back to that world.

But not anymore. Not only was I apathetic about the stories I was making up, but I wasn't all that excited by what the pros were writing, either. I was still reading books, but I was having to schedule reading sessions like a chore. Even if a book seemed fairly enjoyable while I was reading it, I had no trouble ending the session and moving on to the next activity. Reading was okay, just sort of ...blah.

Something had to be done.

It didn't take me long to realize that a major problem was my selection of reading material. There was nothing particularly wrong with any individual book, but they were all pretty much the same. I was reading mostly genre fiction written in the past couple of years. I was choosing books because they were popular or were selling well, so I read them to try to learn from them--under the theory that then I could be popular and sell well, too. The voices and the stories began to sound the same. It was time to shake things up a bit.

A few weeks before my mid-life creative crisis, I had been to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. A big topic of conversation there (and at the library where I worked, and almost everywhere else in the world) was the release of the last book in the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). I didn't necessarily care what the rest of the world had to say, but I was fascinated to hear Christian writers and editors so passionate--and so divided--over a work of fiction.

I heard a good Christian woman denounce the series as unhealthy interest in the occult while another lady behind me was bouncing on her seat, wanting to protest. I sat at a lunch table where the subject came up, and one conferee said he liked the Harry Potter books but really wished there was more religion in the world that Rowling created. The editor at the table, someone I admire very much, declared that Deathly Hallows was in fact a very Christian book in its themes.

Now, I had spent years avoiding the Harry Potter books. I figured that a series about educating children at a school for witchcraft was not for me. But now, I at least wanted to take a look.

I started checking out the audio books from the library, and in about ten minutes was hooked. Seldom have I ever encountered a fictional world so inventive, so full of wit and humor and fantastical detail--and yet so homey. How was it possible to create a school of magic set in a medieval castle, with unicorns and centaurs in the forest and mer-people in its lake, that felt so familiar? Probably because that castle was filled with people I was sure I'd known in my own life. People so real that I raced through the entire seven-book series to see what would happen to them--because Rowling's world can also be a very dangerous place, particularly by Book Seven.

I still understand why some folks want to avoid books that have witches and wizards as the main characters. I myself wish Rowling had used some other terminology, but other than that, I didn't find characters any more offensive than Glenda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Somewhere during the experience, however, I did rediscover my own imagination.

Not only did I have fun imagining what was coming for Harry and friends, but I found myself daydreaming, starting to rewrite my own stories in my head. For years, I'd been caught up in things like point of view shifts and short paragraphs and active voice. Now, I was finally getting caught up in my stories, in my own little boys and their heartaches and struggles and magic. I started getting excited about making my own worlds so magical and homey, so dangerous yet sunny. And as far as genre--well, editors and agents have battered me for years with the rule that I've got to pigeon hole my stories into one genre and its guidelines. But Harry? Where does he fit? Book One is a children's book, Book Seven? Whoa!

Again, I'm not telling you to read Harry Potter or anything like it if you're uncomfortable with the idea. But I'll always be grateful to J.K. Rowling for helping me get my own magic back.

Oh, and what does all that have to do with why I started this new blog? Well, a couple of things.

First of all, I not only fell into the Harry Potter trap myself but I took Kristi along with me. We had so much fun going through that series together (with me a few books ahead)! I think that series sparked both our imaginations, and led us into discussions that turned up fascinating and important questions for a hopeful novelist and a Little Fish about to try her luck in the motion picture industry.

How can a serious Christian discern what they should or shouldn't read? Watch on TV? Act in?

How can our imaginations be used to point readers to God and glorify him? Why did C.S. Lewis think that our desire for fantasy reflects a desire for the eternal? How could we learn to write works that will reflect God's truth while tapping into those desires?

And so we started this blog. And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.

Or at least, it's the beginning.


  1. Great post, Robin! Tinker Bell, Harry Potter ... I guess God can use anything!

    To be honest, I don't enjoy a lot of the books I start to read. If a book annoys me too greatly, I will not read it. I've even been known to put a book down after only five or six pages. But I do still get excited sometimes about a book, which is encouraging. I don't ever want to get so jaded or become such a know-it-all (or whatever it is that makes me dislike a lot of books) that I don't enjoy reading fiction. Because fiction can be a great illustration of God's truths. Fiction reaches me in ways nonfiction doesn't.

  2. I know that when I don't get time to read, I'm not motivated to write. They go hand in hand.

    So when I do read, I pick only what interests me. If I'm not hooked and I find myself saying, "I should read that book instead of" something else, then I know it's not for me and I stop reading.

    I haven't yet read the Harry Potter books. I'm not much for fantasy, but I do think I'll give them a try someday when I've got a bit of time.