Why I Write Inspirational Fiction

People ask me, “Why do you write Christian fiction?” This reminds me of when people ask me, “Why are you just a nurse?”
pragIn reality, they are politely implying that I am too smart and, perhaps, have wasted my time by never going for a medical degree. However, I think the answer to these two questions is the same.

To save lives.

I’m an ER nurse and a suspense author–I do tend toward the dramatic, and this is a dramatic post. But then again, life is dramatic. So is death.

If you’ve ever been in a hospital, you know a nurse is the last line of defense for a patient. We’re the ones that give medication, order tests, make sure patients are at the right place at the right time. Ensure that people who are learning medicine don’t kill you. A seasoned nurse (even if they aren’t super warm and fluffy) is the best asset for a patient next to a competent physician.

What I see in nursing, some days, are last moments. The last moment of life. The last moment of “My life was this…” before hearing a cancer diagnosis. The last moment of peace, maybe for a while.

It surprises me how blase people can be about eternity. They just feel that they know the right answer without having cracked open a Bible or any other holy book. For a Christian, a person who doesn’t invest in investigating life after death is curiously reckless. Like biking without a helmet. Or biking and texting without a helmet (yes, I just saw that last week!).

Since I experience the fragility of life, I want people to be confident in their beliefs about the afterlife. And I know many of us don’t have as many moments left as we think. A novel can be a less threatening way to introduce someone to the concepts of Christianity than handing them a Bible, and yet can still deliver a strong, compelling message.

It’s like pulling someone off the train tracks as the whistle is warning them to move.

Here is my top ten list of why I write Christian fiction:

1. September 11, 2001.
2. The Boston bombing.
3. Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
4. The child that died of an allergic reaction.
5. The family I helped give a cancer diagnosis.
6. My friend’s brother, who died after being in a vegetative state for 13 years following a motorcycle accident.
7. Christians who are killed/maimed/imprisoned for their faith.
8. Kids in my ER whose families won’t show up.
9. Driving on ice.
10. Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes.

What I’ve seen is that sometimes I can’t stop the train. I can’t stop that moment. What I can do is offer what I think is hope . . . preventative medicine for the ever after.
We as religious people get so caught up in divisive cultural issues. Pro-life/pro-choice. Traditional marriage. Homosexual marriage. Gun control. And I’ll be the first to say, as a Christian, that while I have strong beliefs on each of these issues, my expressing them can pull people away from the true message of why Christ came.

He died. For. You.

That’s it.

So before you decide, do some reading. Whatever method is the least threatening. A novel. A blog post. The Bible.

Just read and see if His message begins to resonate with you.

Before the train whistle blows on your last moment.

Writing a Trilogy

For those of you starting on your writing journey—there are two realms of publishing. The ABA (the American Booksellers Association) and the CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association.) The ABA publishes what would be considered secular novels and the CBA publishes Christian or “inspirational” books. Publishers generally fall under one of these two categories.

Book #1 Bloodline Trilogy

Book #1 Bloodline Trilogy

CBA publishers like trilogies. And there is good reason for this. If you can hook a reader on one, they’ll likely buy the rest. There is an inherent marketing value to producing a series. I’ve not quite seen this trilogy trend in the ABA though there are beloved characters (James Patterson’s Alex Cross, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone to name a few) that monopolize more than a few books but are not quite designed as self-enclosed three-book sets.

When Proof was first contracted, it was proposed as a trilogy. The publisher didn’t like the first proposed sequels and asked for different plot lines in the subsequent titles, which I provided. Even after that, they still contracted only the first. In a twist and turn of God fingerprinted events, they ended up contracting the trilogy a few months after the initial offer.

Book #2 Bloodline Trilogy

Book #2 Bloodline Trilogy

However, having not ever written a trilogy, there are a few things I would do now when planning a series that I thought could benefit future trilogy authors.

  1. Each book stands alone but should be connected to the others: It’s nice for readers if they don’t have to read one book to understand the others but is also nice if certain characters/themes carry through all the books for those sticking with you. This can be challenging because a little information will have to be given (in a creative way) to readers to both clue them in to the previous story(ies) and also serve as a nice reminder to those picking up the next book who may have read the others—considering books release six to twelve months apart.
  2. Book #3 Bloodline Trilogy

    Book #3 Bloodline Trilogy

    Timelines are important: I know—this should have been uber-obvious to me, right? But consider some things that can seriously mess up your timeline—like characters getting pregnant. You have to then backtrack to the time of conception and make sure all story plots support it. Add to that a hostage story (Poison) that deals with younger children that then need to be aged seven years, and a teen pregnancy (yes, I did all of this!) and it can be challenging to make sure all events line up. Graphing out the timeline is a seriously good idea. And then keep it to refer back to until the book is actually in print.

  3. Avoid absolute characterizations: In Proofone character commented that another one never sweats (and it was a blazing hot day and he was in SWAT gear.) It was more to relay how calm the man was under pressure. Well, in Poison, my editor reminded me how often this character was now sweating and how I said in book #1 that he never did. It’s just like a test—never, all, and always are not good picks or preludes to character traits.
  4. Provide a circular moment for the reader: What is a circular moment? It’s something (an event, an emotion) that happens in the beginning that is revisited at the end of the novel that shows how the character has changed. For instance, in Proof, the lead detective, Nathan Long, carries a list of “unforgivables”—acts that he literally writes out that he can’t get over emotionally. There is some forgiveness for Nathan at the end of the first book but it ultimately doesn’t fully happen until the end of Peril, the third book in the series. So each book needs a moment like this as well as the series.

What about you? Do you have tips for planning a trilogy?