In all my writing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I strive to tell the truth about life and hope my audience comes away with some insights in addition to having a pleasurable time reading. Of course, in my novel and short stories, the main concern is relating an engaging narrative, so any “lesson” that might be learned is merely implied. In my books Keeping It Between the Ditches and The Good and Ancient Way, which are non-fiction, I’m more direct, but I still try not to be pat or formulaic in my prose. In my works there is clarity, sometimes even rawness, about the way things really are, or so I’ve been told.
More than ever, I hope that my fiction presents life as it is actually lived rather than pushing a philosophy or agenda.
Especially of late, I’ve determined that my non-fiction, which tends to address areas concerning Christian life and spirituality, should be concise and relevant. I don’t write for academics or church leaders, but more for the Christians and tired skeptics down in the trenches of daily life. Perhaps it’s my teaching experience that makes me want to write this way because I’ve noted students like to have complex concepts and tasks broken down and put into linear progressions. When students are confused, they don’t even know where to start. Give them a place to begin, guide them along the way, and understanding will come.
Maybe the fact that I’m a bass player also has something to do with the way I approach teaching and expository writing. As instrumentalists, we stand off to the side, listening and then playing the essence of what we hear so as to complement the overall sound of a group. The great jazz bassist Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” In music, writing, and life in general, I thrive on simplicity, begrudge needless complexity, and detest pomposity.
More than ever, I hope that my fiction presents life as it is actually lived rather than pushing a philosophy or agenda. In fact, one Christian reviewer of my short story collection found fault with this approach, saying, “Aside from about three of the seventeen stories, there is no mention of Christ or even religion in general. But this is a relatively small criticism overall, for this collection is an enjoyable read by an obviously talented writer.” He did understand that I was “more about telling a story than preaching a sermon,” and his remarks made me think even more about what I am doing.
Early in my writing career, I was a young man who had recently found Christ and was trying to use whatever gifts he had to “shine a light,” as the Christian cliché goes. Now, I’m older, and it’s more like that line out of a Bruce Cockburn song where I feel like I’m going to “kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” I’ve endured banalities, hypocrisy, excess, and downright silliness in segments of American Christianity, and even more troubling, I’ve wrestled with my own frailties and failures. But I still believe. And if conflict and resolution are at the heart of good writing, I certainly have plenty to share.