Monday, January 18, 2010

Open Letter to My Friends at FaithWriters

Dear FaithWriter Friends,

It’s been a long week for me. I struggled with the choice of writing this letter, or just taking the easy way out and letting this cloud disperse unexplained. I am aware of the behind the scenes “shock and awe” that my story has created. Since I was only able to converse with the people that chose to leave a comment, I felt it was necessary to address the remaining three hundred plus readers that have been pointed to or stumbled upon my Challenge entry.

I first want to apologize for any offense that my story might have caused any of you. I should not have submitted it for the Challenge. A dear friend and writing mentor told me that I shouldn’t ever apologize for something I wrote, but I am truly remorseful for placing this story on this particular venue.

On Wednesday I had an email exchange with Deb, and I gave her my full permission to pull the story before it went live. She decided to leave it on the list, and we would “see what others have to say”. Beyond the fact that it’s in the rules that entries will not be removed after they are submitted, I believe I understand the heart of the reason why Deb left it up; a mistake almost made would leave me void of the teaching moment at hand. Fielding the comments, emails, and this letter are my deserved penance. I actually praise her for the decision to let the chips fall where they may; part of Deb’s mission is to help make us better writers, both in skill and the realities of the writing world. This week has re-taught me one of the cardinal rules of any art form: know your audience. I should’ve known better.

In fact, I did. Before I submitted it, I asked a few people to read it to make sure it wasn’t too edgy for the challenge. My sister in law thought it might be too much. My husband told me that I shouldn’t unless I have the “Archangel Gabriel swoop down and rescue the girl and smite the creep.” I shrugged off two of the people closest to me in my walk, on the grounds that they were not writers or FW members, and chose to ask yet a third person who met those criteria. That person gave me a yes, but attached some practical, sound advice. Finally getting what I wanted, I snatched the former without applying the latter. I had already been told “no” by that small voice, and then three doses of Godly counsel. I knew better, and that is what I mourn about all this; I blew off the Holy Spirit, and pursued what I wanted to hear.

The piece of writing itself, however, I do not regret, nor do I believe it was inherently sinful [to write] or reflective of some dark, evil spirit in me. It was a writing exercise; an attempt to stretch myself beyond my norm.

During the conference last summer, something in one of Cori Smelker’s seminars resounded with me. She said—and I am paraphrasing from memory—that sometimes we need to “dare to be dreadful”. Write from the point of view of someone completely unlike us, who believes different things, or who is even despicable. I have been at FaithWriters for almost two years now and have read hundreds and hundreds of your stories. A very large percentage of them—mine included—are from the POV of the protagonist. Since I started my novel I have become increasingly aware that it is easier to get into my protagonist’s mind versus that of the antagonist. Every piece of writing of almost any length needs conflict, and in most cases that is inflicted by a person. So, inspired by the prompt, I set out to write a first person, present tense character sketch of a sadist. And I vowed not to give it a happy ending. If I were writing a longer piece with this character in it, I believe I would try to achieve justice, but I chose to just portray one scene—a glimpse into a sick, twisted mind. And honestly, I was pleased with the result.

Anyone that has read a sampling of my writing knows that I often have an edge. I strive to write from an angle or POV that no one else would think of; typically, I try to produce something subtly didactic if possible, and strongly emotional. Whether that is a comedic look at vasectomies, or a child that has been orphaned by suicide, I strive to make my reader feel something. To me, that’s what good story telling is. However, I think that is what bit me with A Twisted Slice of Life. Not so much the violence—which I really did try to minimize and still convey the topic—but it was the emotion it created. Fright. The fear of an evil we don’t understand, and don’t really want to understand. I totally get why it disturbed so many people. Believe me, it was disturbing to write.

The Writing Challenge has been instrumental in my growth as a writer these past two years. I have submitted forty eight entries, judged in six quarters, and have been honored and blessed to receive eighteen EC’s. I love FaithWriters and the people that make it what it is. I would encourage everyone who reads this to not be afraid to “dare to be dreadful” in their writing, even if it means face planting in front of three hundred plus colleagues. If you’re as lucky as I am, a few of those colleagues will help you to your feet, and nudge you back up that high dive. You never know if you’re going to hit blue water or painted concrete unless you jump.

Just don’t forget—know your audience. :)

Grace and Peace,

Michele (Chely) Roach