Monday, March 21, 2011

A Christian Fiction

As I trudge through pages and pages of fiction for my thesis, I am reminded daily of a huge division among Christian readers/writers - that of content/subject matter. There is no story without conflict, and there is no conflict without putting your protagonist in some kind of peril. There's just no getting around this fact. The division occurs, however, over what exactly that conflict should entail and how "worldly" the content should be.

I was raised in the church. I was also raised by people with very conservative views about literature, film, and television content. During my childhood/teenage years, I read tons of "Christian Fiction" and listened to "Christian Music." This blog entry is not intended as a slam against either of these genres, nor is it a slight against my upbringing. Rather, I write to question the distinction of "Christian" genres altogether. I am still a Christian, but now, at the age of 33, my tastes in books, movies, and music is drastically different (and perhaps more controversial in Christian circles.) This shift is not something I take lightly, however.

Let me preface my comments on Christian fiction with the following: If you enjoy Christian fiction, that's great. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading it. If you find it enjoyable, then by all means, pick up a stack of your favorites and read away.

As I mentioned before, I have read quite a bit of Christian fiction, and I have to say that after years of reading it, followed by years of reading more literary fiction, there really is no comparison, if you are looking for quality writing. It is by the very nature of Christian fiction's structure that it must be highly formulaic and predictable. There are only so many ways to present the story of once-I-was-lost-and-now-I'm-found, and I'm sure there is a place (particularly in the evangelistic arena) for that sort of story.

I am, however, working to write the best, truest fiction that I can, and these limits of storyline and content can be detrimental to realism. If my writing is art, and I am looking to represent "true" stories (not to be confused with things that actually happened), then I must look to the character for my direction, not the predetermined redemptive conclusion. Truly character-driven plots are rare in Christian fiction (in my opinion), and this fact alone, reduces its value to me as literature.

Arbitrary content restrictions are limiting to the artist, and I don't believe that they are something imposed on us by Scripture. Look to the Old Testament for your example. While I'm not in any way suggesting that it is fiction, I do submit to you that there are plenty of people doing and saying horrible things (as well many good ones, too), and not everyone recognizes the error of their ways, or is punished horribly for their sins (in this life, anyway.)

In Flannery O'Connor's essay on the Christian writer, she suggests that there can be a Christian who writes but not a Christian writer because someone who writes to make a point or to send a message is not, in fact, a real fiction writer. Certainly our religious and other perspectives color our writing, but to write a story to further a cause or belief is more like propaganda than thoughtful fiction.

Ultimately, I believe the distinction of "Christian Fition" is arbitrary and ridiculous. We don't have "Christian Plumbing" or "Christian Engineers," though certainly, there are many in those professions who are dedicated Christians. Real, good, well-written fiction is fiction, pure and simple. The fact that my main character is doing or saying despicable things does not devalue my work or make it sinful. I'm not reading a novel to determine how to live my life, and if an adult reader is so easily swayed, then, perhaps, they have bigger problems than their reading material.

I'm sure there are those who will find my stance offensive, or at the very least, vehemently disagree. That's okay. I won't make you read my novel. You might want to change your mind, however. You might show up in a story some day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Zombie Rules

I liked monsters before they were cool. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in the nineties before anybody cared who Sarah Michelle Gellar was (which is actually pretty similar to now.) I love a good horror movie with lots of glistening corn syrup and high-pitched screaming. I laughed myself into a painful stitch in my side when I saw Shaun of the Dead for the first time. I enjoy the Halloween and Freddy movies, and I'll even get behind some Bruce Campbell campiness.

Of course, now, I'm just a nerdy cliche. Actually, I don't even think you can associate monster mania with nerds anymore after the influx of super-hot vampires slinking across every movie and television screen in American, and don't even get me started on all the vampire books. And now, zombies are getting the "cool" treatment, too, with popular films and series like, Zombieland and The Walking Dead. There are even zombie songs, like No More Kings, "Zombie Me" and Jonathan Coulton's brilliant, "Re: Your Brains."

Unfortunately, years of watching zombies shuffle across the screen have done little to address some of my basic questions about zombies and our world post-zombie-ocalypse. As a writer, I understand that the creator of a film, book, or television show creates a world where the action takes place, and that this action must follow the rules of said world. In all my years of zombie viewing, however, I've yet to see any rules that make sense or even stay consistent within their ficitonal realm. I would like to address a couple here.

Lifespan - How long do zombies live? Are they immortal like vampires and werewolves or do they, like the Energizer Bunny, just keep going and going until they run out of juice? In the films I've seen, zombies seem to be in the midst of varying degrees of decay, and with nothing to arrest this process, wouldn't they eventually just rot into impotence? Sure they want to eat your brains, but you don't see too many zombies with a toothbrush. So what happens when their molars fall out? They may be called the undead, but calling something immortal that is made of flesh and blood just doesn't add up. They're not lizards. They're not going to re-grow severed limbs, and nature is a powerful force when it comes to reclaiming its dead.

In, The Walking Dead, the survivors of the zombie-ocalypse sneak into zombie-infested Atlanta weeks or months after the original outbreak. Couldn't they just wait it out? With no food souce, would the zombies just languish and disintegrate? Which brings me to my next question...

Appetite - Do zombies need a minimum quantity of flesh to sustain "life"? Can the undead starve? In films like 28 Days Later, Zombieland, and in the show The Walking Dead, there are dramatic scenes of zombie hoardes mobbing the streets looking for a little human (or in the case of The Walking Dead, horse) meat. If one follows the zombie blight to its "natural" conclusion, wouldn't the stumbling mumblers eventually exhaust their food source? And if that is possible, wouldn't it (once again) be most logical to go somewhere secluded and wait them out? Zombie films seem to underestimate the number of people in the world and how many other people it would take to feed them. Do the math people. We're talking about a lot of hungry zombies in need of a hot meal. If my suggestion is correct, then suddenly waiting it out in a mall (as they tried in Dawn of the Dead) could theoretically work (if they hadn't fallen into the classic zombie trap of keeping an infected person alive. Gosh, it's like they've never seem a zombie movie.)

Of course, if the zombies eat other living things (like the ill-fated horse in Walking Dead) that would broaden their food chain, but there would still be a limit. Zombies aren't exactly living self-sustainable lives. It seems to me that their future is quite finite.

All of this is not to suggest that the zombie-ocalypse is entirely unplausible/unreadable/unviewable. Instead, I submit to you, that every zombie film/television show I've ever seen would benefit from a clear definition of its own rules and regulations. Can zombies live forever? Fine, then maybe they shouldn' t decay before my eyes. Is their eating only a sympton and not relevant to their survival? Then make that clear....though that would seem to fly in the face of every zombie-related thing I've seen or read.

There are other small things that are specific to certain programs/movies that I also find to be in need of clarifcation, such as zombie dormancy. In The Walking Dead (yes, I know I'm hitting that show hard, but it's freshest in my mind and raises a lot of questions), zombies, who appear to be simply dead people sprawled out on the ground, rise up when prey arrives in the form of a tasty unsuspecting live human and chases them down the street. Do they go into sleep mode like undead laptops, their personal motion detectors kicking them awake when some idiot walks by? Or are these zombies actually lying in wait, trying to look dead, so they can catch a meal? And if they are, then wouldn't that be require thought and reasoning, and therefore, a sign of brain activity - you know, everything a zombie CAN'T do?

And what about the zombie baby in Dawn of the Dead? Wouldn't it have tried to eat its mother/host? Not a pretty thought, but one worth asking if you've seen the film. And don't even get me started on incubation periods and the classic zombie movie blunders (which I wouldn't change for the world.)
All in all, I'm just a nerd in need of some answers that I know I'm probably not going to get, but I'm trying to take some solace in the fact that it will be difficult for Hollywood to find a way to make zombies sexy (like they've attempted with vampires.) Oh, who am I kidding? HBO's probably already got a show in the works about four spunky lady zombies who laugh and cry (which both sound pretty much the same when you're a zombie) while they navigate the world of zombie men and high-calorie humans. The name of this future hit? Bite Me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Less Tunnel, More Light

YIKES!!! I'm halfway through March, and I just realized I haven't posted since January. If it was my New Year's resolution to return to my faithful blogging habits (I can't remember if it was), then I totally blew it. I could defend myself a long list of distractions, but they're excuses. I'm sure I waste enough time every day that could be spent doing a little blogging.

I'm fingertip-nearly-touching close to completing my MFA. My FINAL, COMPLETE thesis is due the end of April, and I'm plugging away at revisions. On Facebook, I kept a detailed log of how many pages of revised thesis I'd completed during my most recent revisions. Imagine everyone's disappointment when they realized I would be revising my thesis yet again, and they would have to endure yet another countdown.

Actually, in addition to my completed thesis, I also need to have my craft lecture written and ready to go, my graduation forms filled out and submitted, all my reading completed, and some research done on a separate project that will for now remain nameless. Add to that, a new puppy, a now mobile toddler, and upcoming VBS dramas to plan, and I'm starting to sweat it just a little bit. Unfortunately, I'm going through that I-have-way-too-much-to-do paralysis that occasionally afflicts me. I haven't been using my little bit of downtime very wisely, and that's so unlike me, and it's driving me crazy. Here's hoping the adrenaline and characteristic Sarah-style organization kicks in soon.

Blogging is not the only thing I've been neglecting, however. My DVR is jam-packed with unwatched programs. I'm woefully behind on my New Yorker issues, and I'm just barely keeping my head above water with the housework. Must focus. Must prioritize.

Lest you start feeling too sorry for poor, put-upon Sarah. Please note that I've brought every single one of these things down on myself, and if I'd just get my act together, I would be able to plow through them without too much stress. Also there has been some fun interjected between the craziness.

Last week was the Holland Park Church ladies' retreat at Bonclarken, in Flat Rock, NC. The weekend was too wonderful to try to squeeze into a puny blog description. Suffice it to say that I got a desperately needed injection of fellowship, encouragement, and love. Have I mentioned how much I love, respect, and admire the amazing women at HPC? Plus, I got to eat an unhealthy amount of homemade desserts.

Also, we are now the proud (if somewhat harried) owners of a Komondor puppy. Sam is 14 weeks old and is a 35.5 pound bundle of energy and teeth. I can't wait to take him downtown and to the park this weekend for the very first time. It's going to be crazy, chaotic fun.

Enough with the catching up, I'd better get to bed, so I don't have yet another excuse for not getting things done (not enough sleep.) Maybe my next blog entry will be the zen musings of an MFA graduate.