I got my start in the Christian fiction market. It was a natural fit for me because I’ve always been interested in the great questions surrounding life, the universe, and everything––what theologian Paul Tillich called matters of “ultimate concern.” (And what Douglas Adams called 42).
Basically, how do we figure out this journey we’re all on?
In college I loved philosophy, though I didn’t major in it. I took a much more practical major, film. But all through college and after, I continued to read philosophy and theology. Love Plato. Love Pascal. Love the Stoics. I tried reading Kant but my head exploded. Aquinas was tough but fair. I’ve tangled with Nietzsche and the existentialists.
The point is, I guess, that I just find compelling the threads of great thoughts as they wind down through the centuries.
Even now, with a general market publisher (Hachette) for my Try series, I find my characters involved in the big questions. Ty Buchanan is a lawyer whose fiancée is killed on page one of the first book, sending him reeling spiritually and every other way. He is befriended by an African American priest and a basketball playing nun who have one view of things. He hangs out at a coffee place run by Barton C. “Pick” McNitt, a former philosophy professor at Cal State who went insane, recovered, and now pushes caffeine and raises butterflies for funerals. He’s an atheist.
Buchanan finds himself bobbing and weaving between these characters even as he’s trying to find out the truth behind his fiancée’s death.
And so it goes. The fiction I love best has characters going through inner as well as outer challenges, dealing with a dark world and trying to find their way around in it.
My recent release, Watch Your Back, has generated some responses from my established readers. One comment is that the tales seemed “dark” and unlike my previous work. This, I note, in spite of the fact that I do not use gratuitous elements in my fiction. I like to write in a style that would fit a 1940’s film noir (noir, of course, is French for dark).
So here’s why I chose the material I did for Watch Your Back: Dark tales can often be the most moral of all.
I believe in what John Gardner, the late novelist and writing teacher, said in an interview in Paris Review. Good art is about “creating, out of deep and honest concern, a vision of life that is worth pursuing.” He contrasted this with art that is just “staring, because it is fashionable, into the dark abyss.” And staying in the abyss. That doesn’t interest me.
As I look back at my work, the thread that seems to run through all of it is the pursuit of justice. Maybe that’s in part because of how I was raised, by an L.A. lawyer who fought for justice for the indigent as well as for paying clients.
Now, a dark story, in my view, ought to explore the consequences of human actions. Indeed, isn’t that what Greek tragedy was all about? By showing the audience the catastrophe of hubris, the theater was training citizens in virtue. There was a cosmic justice in the tragic fall.
Cut to: Stephen King. I would argue that King’s “dark” fiction is highly moral. Much of it shows, for example, what happens when one trucks with evil, even with good motives. Pet Sematary is perhaps the most lucid example of this. He has many others. I would call your attention especially to the fabulous mini-series he wrote, Storm of the Century. I won’t give away any spoilers, but you ought to watch it to see how this sort of thing is really done.
So, in my stories in this latest collection, you will find criminals, rip-off artists, adulterers and liars. But I believe you will also see I am not dwelling in the dark. When characters get it “wrong,” that’s another way of showing what’s right.
On the other hand, I’m not being didactic. I’m not a professor. I’m a writer whose first job is to keep you turning the pages. My favorite writers of all time do that for me, and then leave me thinking about the book when it’s over. I don’t know if you can ask much more of a fiction writer than that.
And that’s what I try to do in my fiction, including Watch Your Back.
So who are some of the writers who have taken you through a dark story with a candle in their hands?