Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hey Publishing World: Christianity is Diverse, Too

I see a lot of #PubRants about diversity. That's awesome. That's really awesome. As someone who has mixed race heritage, has grown up in largely diverse neighborhoods, and who has friends of all backgrounds and stories, it's really important to me. But like any demographic, I get frustrated when I see my own stereotyped.

Except I'm not talking about race or sexuality. I'm talking about religion.

I kept track this week of how many times on Twitter I saw the words "Christian" used by people (those involved in the publishing industry to any degree). I saw it a few dozen times. Every single time it was in a harshly negative sense, combined with often with the word "white" and related to topics such as abuse, sexism, rape culture, and hatred. And I want to tear my hair out sometimes because I am a Christian, and I have never been a victim of nor a participant in abuse, sexism, rape culture, nor hatred. While some have, most have not.

A few months ago, I looked up the book Devoted. Now, before I go on, let me clarify that I only read of much of it as was available on Amazon, mostly because I am extremely broke (which is sad because I love books.) However, it made me upset rather quickly for a number of reasons. I recognize that the story set forth in Devoted is based off of real, legitimate situations and those stories break my heart. No one should have to go through such suppression.

However, from what I see all over the internet, especially Twitter (where I am an active but rather politically silent participant), the attitude towards Christians is a general one. A general one that assumes we are all like the families presented in Devoted, and not necessarily in lifestyle, but more in the way we treat each other, those we disagree with, our women, and our children. Essentially, people outside of Christianity box it in generally in the "suppressive" and "offensive" box simply based on its some of its members' political stances.

I recognize that some people have been victims of severe mistreatment, emotional abuse, and (many more) historically, death, in Christian environments and circles. These are real stories and horrors and realities and they are awful. They are disgusting. However, (and not to excuse it in the least) in all reality, this is true of every religion, and is not so much because of the religion as because of those who hold to it (again, there are exceptions in certain circles, but you simply CANNOT say a 11th century German mercenary who fought in the Crusades and murdered Jewish children for kicks is the same as your friendly elderly lady down the street that attends the local Baptist church just because they both held to the label "Christian"). We in the Twitterverse (with the exception of trolls, but don't let trolls define a demographic, either) do this with all other religions and those who hold to them, whether they follow Islam, Mormonism, Paganism, Hinduism, etc. It's about time we start being consistent and doing the same with Christianity.

Before anyone tells me I'm whining like a privileged white girl and my opinions don't matter, let me first admit that yes, I am privileged to live in a two-parent home with enough money to go to college. However, I've also had the advantage of living in multiple regions and meeting many fellow Christians from other regions and other countries (including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Ghana, Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, China). Church history is one of my major interests, as well as theology (the study of Christian doctrine, and by that I mean ALL BRANCHES of it). As an ENTJ, part of my personality is such that in order to disagree with someone religiously or politically, I need to understand all the angles behind their reasoning and even be able to debate from their perspective regardless of whether or not I agree with it.

That said, I see the internet stereotype of the "white angry Christian" and it makes me mad. Mad. So I guess that makes me an angry white Christian, but I digress.


Because in the next ten to fifteen years, there are likely going to be more Christians in Asia and Africa than in the Western World. Christianity is NOT a white religion. In fact, in the grand scheme of Christianity's history, it is relatively recently a "white religion."

Because practicing and devoted Christians (the ones that attend church frequently) are equally concerned about their theology as opposed to their politics. We are NOT Westboro Baptist Church. Some of the words on their website are the same as on mine, but in no way are Christians WBC. The language used by Christians is incredibly complex and nuanced and diverse. We have more than two dozen different terms for two dozen different ways just on how we think the world will end. The way one Christian uses a word will be entirely different from a definition for the same word used by a Christian from a different definition.

Because we are not all the Duggars. I own three pairs of skinny jeans and have been on dates. When I turn 21, I will likely drink (in fact, in my particular denomination and its sisters, there's a subculture of beer and wine snobs).

Because some of us have lifestyles like the Duggars and suddenly every sweet Christian girl with curly hair and jean skirts was labeled as "oppressed" and her brothers and father labeled a rapist by the media when the Duggar scandal broke out. No. Just stop. I have friends who are more conservative and live a lifestyle similar to the Duggars on the outside (though often their theology and political views are very different on different levels) and they chose that lifestyle. Don't harass them for it, please.

Because I have held the hands of those who have had to flee for their lives for owning a Bible.

Because not every Christian who believes in modesty is a victim of or participant in rape culture. Modesty is a hotly debated and often abused conviction, for sure, but I personally am convicted to avoid short shorts and plunge-neck tees and spaghetti strap anything. Is this because I'm a participant in rape culture? Because I've been brainwashed? NO. It's because that is my personal conviction (and also because of my body type). I'm not about to go stuffing it in anyone's throats but if you try to tell me that I'm being oppressed because I choose to dress that way, I'll get lit pretty quickly. Fact: in my circle of friends I have a girlfriend who wears only skirts, and also another friend with multiple piercings and a tattoo who dyed her hair. Do I necessarily agree with their choices on this? No. Do we argue about it or get mad at each other over it? Again, no. We chose that lifestyle, same as the girls getting harassed in France (wrongfully so) for wearing burkinis, and same as you with whatever style of dress you've adopted.

There's a phenomenon in Christian culture called Christian Liberty that I want to raise to your attention, dear reader. What it means is that lifestyle convictions are left to the conscience of the individual and their interpretation of the Bible. The limits and boundaries of Christian Liberty are another hotly debated topic between denominations, but it nevertheless exists and often times Christians respect one another's convictions in the matter. It's when someone disrupts a church in an attempt to stuff their opposing conviction down the rest of the congregation's throats (while aware it's against all of their consciences) that things get sticky. And I'm not just talking about homosexuality, which is probably the first thing that came to mind for you. It can be something like whether or not to use wine or grape juice in Communion. It could be over the music used in the service. It can be over one's interpretation of the Holy Spirit's work in today's day and age and whether or not pew sitters have the ability to work miracles. It could be over the use of a catechism. It could be over the interpretation of the world's creation. It could be over the existence or lack thereof of Sunday School.

Christians cannot be boxed in by politics. And we are as diverse as diverse gets. Which has its advantages and disadvantages. Like a big city, a big religion means we have more criminals and trolls and bullies lurking around simply because of our immense size and differences.

I'm a (mostly) white (I say mostly because I have Japanese and Cherokee heritage that I correlate to deeply) homeschooled Christian girl. Likely the first thing you think of is the Duggars or Duck Dynasty. But I am not Southern. I'm from Philadelphia. I'm going to college with the goal of pursuing a career. Alcohol is consumed (in moderation, of course) in my house. My definition of modesty is very different from what most people think of when they hear it. I have a generally skeptical outlook on America. I dislike Ted Cruz. Race issues are very important to me. Courtship is not a word in my vocabulary. I don't hold to homeopathic medicine, though I respect it. I dislike the Christian film and literature industry immensely, with the exception of C.S. Lewis. But what is equally important to me is my theology.

I hold to paedobaptism, amillennialism, the regulative principle of worship, Calvinism, credocommunionism, Presbyterianism in form of church government, inerrancy, Sabbatarianism, among many other doctrines. Big words, I know. Big words that most Christians would disagree with (but that's okay. We in Christian circles often have many friends and family that have differing views when it comes to their faith).  You're not likely to find anything that agrees with me in a Christian bookstore. I am a part of a very small and very unknown (but nevertheless proudly noisy) branch of my religion, a minority among minorities. My point is that I am nothing near the Rachel character in Devoted. My question is, if I tell you I am a white homeschooled Christian girl who would like to have a family, are you automatically going to place me among the internet trolls, snake throwers, and rabid Trump supporters and therefore yell at me for every bad thing other people identifying as Christian have done to upset you? Are you automatically going to assume my parents abused me? Are you automatically going to assume I hate different groups of people?

That's stereotyping. It's inconsistency on the part of those who cry foul on my religious brothers and sisters for being stereotypers and haters simply because they're a part of particular demographic. It's also why I keep my mouth shut about my religious convictions on Twitter. It's not necessarily because I am ashamed of who I am. Not at all. It's rather because the immensity and the diversity and all of the nuances in Christianity, both historically, demographically, and theologically, are much too massive to fit in a 140 character sentence. It's also just because I don't really feel like defending myself in endless internet spats about my existence. This post is not to defend myself. I don't want to. Christians do way too much apologizing for their own existence in an attempt to connect with people outside of it when they've done nothing wrong to said people. Rather, it's to raise awareness that if anything is diverse, it's Christianity. If anything is misrepresented and stuffed in a box by the entertainment world, it's Christianity.

There are many, many, many, many branches to Christianity. There are many, many, many faces to it. I am all for embracing minorities. But Christianity is something that unites millions of people across the globe, regardless of demographics. It's really sad that it has been reduced to what's presented in Devoted: oppressive, neglectful, abusive, the bad guy, the obstacle parent, nothing but hate and tyranny. Something to escape. Something to defeat. There's definitely people in our ranks, sadly, who are this way (and they need to change or be rid of). But very few of us are actually like that. The rest of us just don't make the headlines and the hit posts.

Where is our positive representation in the literary market, specifically in Young Adult? And I'm talking about just even a slight presence, not the preachy sugar water stacked in Christian book stores.

I haven't found it yet. Not in today's market, anyway. Les Mis was the last decent film I saw with a positive representation of Christianity, but that book was also written in the 19th century, so there's that.

At the very least, stop making Christianity a one-dimensional, flat, enemy. It's 1. Inconsistent with the cry for the end of stereotypes, 2. ignorant, 3. unrealistic, 4. unnecessary, 5. putting the biggest religion in the WORLD into a tiny American Left box. You cannot stuff thousands of years of cultures, faces, stories, and thought-out beliefs into that tiny box structured by people who have created an imaginary, nonexistent majority/demographic of abusive, white, angry, hateful Christian males in the name of politics. Because it barely exists (there's only one Westboro Baptist Church and it has, like, maybe twenty members), and when you do that, you do it at the expense of millions of people around the world both today and in the past.

At the very least, when you DO meet a lovely young girl in a jean skirt with long hair, helping her mom herd along her many siblings, smile at her. Contrary to what you may think, unlike the Rachel character in Devoted, she probably loves her life and has her own convictions, opinions, and choices that while they are very different from yours, deserve your respect because she is an individual with the right to those convictions, opinions, and choices.

Please? Please? Anyone? Bueller?

Actually, no please. Just stop.

Instead, do me a favor. Look at this list.  I know it's Wikipedia, but all that means is that this list is not exhaustive. Let me say that again. This list is not exhaustive.

That's a lot of diversity.

Also, whether you agree or not, Christianity is statistically the biggest religion in the world (read: world. Not just white Republican Americans). When you adopt this anti-Christian attitude and stereotype Christians as white angry abusive men, you are stereotyping one of the largest and most diverse demographics in historical existence.

It's time to write Christianity back into the market, but to do so with the knowledge that it's a diverse, complicated religion that deserves respect as much as any other religion discussed in literature. It's time to recognize that Devoted is only one story, and it's not everyone's. It's time to be consistent.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Interview: Dr. Dan Williams

Hi everyone! I'm starting a new series in which I interview fellow unpublished or newly published writers and ask them about their writing. The goal is for y'all to make some new connections and get to know some other authors.

Today's spotlighted writer is Dr. Dan Williams! Dr. Williams was my English 101 professor last fall. He's known on my college campus for wearing crocs, for the campus reading series and their hilarious preview videos shown in chapel, for sitting in ceiling rafters during class, and for other general awesomeness. But he's also a great author, and he was generous enough to allow me to interview him for this blog series! He also draws:

1.      And the dreaded, standard first question! When did you start writing?

a.       I started writing in undergrad. My first creative writing class got me hooked. The teacher looked like an off-season Santa Claus—limping through a Christmas hangover, the snow-white that his hair and beard should have been was a February yellow. Mrs. Claus didn’t want to see him again until November. He looked crazy. He gave me excellent advice: never give up.   

2.      What was your first MS about?

a.       About some castle-times family traveling into a great northern European-ish wilderness to be eaten alive by trees. The characters had horrible names, names like Stretten and Brehonibeam. No wonder I sent them away to die.  

3.      What is your current MS about, and why do you love it?

a.       The idea came from something brutal: the way mice kill whole beehives. A mouse climbs onto the hive’s front porch and scratches at the door. So the bees send a drone down to check it out. The mouse eats that drone then scratches again. Another drone comes. The mouse eats that one too then scratches yet again. All the mice take their turns (this is the part that really sounds fake to me, but I think it’s real) scratching until the whole hive's gone, even the queen. So the story’s a dystopian thing where the entire world's an office building and all employees are drones. They each have their own little cell called a cube where they live. And the scratching mouse comes in the form of telephone calls that, now and then, send another employee away to die. 
b.      I love this because it gives me a chance to talk about one of the biggest things I can think of: the fear of death. I want my main character Arny to get over it, to face his inevitable (maybe) call with bravery. I want to get over my own fear. I think that’s part of why I’m writing this. Because I’m afraid.   

4.      Do you have a new shiny idea that’s distracting you from your current project? How do you keep your focus?

a.       Just this year I learned to stop trusting shiny ideas. I hope one day to hate them. I want to smell their stink (I once thought it was good perfume) miles away and greet them at the gate with a shotgun. They’re in the snakeoil business. The shiners show up because I’m having a hard time with my current project, the one that was once a shiny itself. I know this about shiners—they all turn into heartbreakingly heavy trackless tanks that put down roots faster than leeches. This is the life-cycle of a story: shiny goes quickly to dead-tank and then to…(and I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten beyond dead-tank).  
b.      But yes, I’ve got shiners. They’re there like hallucinations I have to ignore so they don’t get worse. I stay focused by knowing that following shiners is one of the most dangerous things a person can do, if they’re interested in having a happy life, or at the very least, a good one. 

5.      What are some things you love in real life that usually end up in your Mss?

a.       The ocean. The way I see it, the Atlantic. I’ve said for a long time that I want to write an ocean book, something that captures the way I feel about it. But it makes me tired to think about that book. I don’t know how to say it yet. I’ve got to live a lot longer and read a lot more before I try. It’s sort of like being in the mudroom of God’s palace and some angel says, “Come on in whenever you’re ready.” Most people would stay in the mudroom for a thousand years, getting ready.      

6.      Which fictional character would be your best friend?

a.       I think Tom Sawyer would be my best friend, and maybe Bilbo Baggins, once we’d roomed together long enough and had all the usual fights a person would have with a Hobbit—fights about schedules and pantries and my side of the room and your side. But in the woods, we’d be blood-brothers.   

7.      What authors would you say have most influenced your writing?

a.       Melville 
b.      Faulkner 
c.       Hemingway 
d.      Steinbeck 
e.       C.S. Lewis 
f.       Tolkien 
g.      Flannery O’Connor 
h.      Kafka 
i.        Stephen King 

8.      Where’s your favorite place to connect with other authors?

a.       Email, so far, is the finest place, though a healthy trustworthy writers’ group would be ideal. The trouble is, establishing that kind of group, one that lasts and is healthy and fun and helpful, is just about as difficult as finding a church that doesn’t leave you feeling chilly or like you’re being courted by a cult.  

9.      What else do you like to do besides writing?

a.       I’m in love with drawing. It’s been my constant companion for years, my oxygen in smotheringly boring meetings and waitings of all kinds.  

10.  Favorite GIF or meme?

a.       I don’t know if this counts, but it’s a pic of a person making a thoughtful face and thinking, “hmmmm…and yet another day has passed and I did not use Algebra once…very interesting.” 

11.  Anything else you’d like to add? A pitch? A reading suggestion? An advertisement?

a.       For all story writers, read, The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

Thanks, Dr. Williams!! Best of luck to you and your writing!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

It's Time for Pitchwars 2016!! Yay!!

Pitchwars 2016! Yay! This is my second year entering, and I'm super excited about it! At first I wasn't going to, but then I just decided, hey, it's worth a shot.

So, about me:

Me looking serious

I'm a Pennsylvanian who grew up in South Carolina and lives in Oklahoma but goes to college in Pennsylvania. I'm a sophomore high school history education major, which means I study teenagers and dead people. That's basically what I write about, too. I'm also a professional photographer. You can see my pictures (and sign up for a photoshoot! I'm really affordable!) here:

Follow me on Twitter: @whatshewrote
Instagram: @tulsan_rachel

Favorite authors: Susan Cooper, Cornelia Funke, N.D. Wilson, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Maggie Stiefvater Lemony Snicket

I love Stiefvater's and Cooper's atmospheric writing styles and Tolstoy and Austen's characterizations. So I'm basically a stylistic mashup of them all.

Favorite movies: Hugo, The Hundred Foot Journey, Bridge of Spies, The King's Speech, Princess Bride (I directed a parody film of it at my school, actually), Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson version), Young Victoria, Les Miserables, Meet the Robinsons

Fandoms: Tintin, Star Wars, Star Trek, Les Mis (I have a folder on my computer dedicated to Les Mis memes), Phantom of the Opera, Raven Boys

one of my favorite internet things ever 

Fun Facts about me: 

1.  I'm part Japanese and part Cherokee and a tiny part Jewish as well and proud of it all

2. I'm a member of my college's marching band and I can't play an instrument, I didn't audition, and I don't have to march or wear a uniform (I play the camera)

3. I'm related to Milton Hershey (as in Hershey's chocolate) and there's a 80% chance he stole my family's famous chocolate recipe for himself

4. I own a fat cat named Joash and a hyper beagle puppy named Machen. If you choose me as your mentee I will send you therapeutic fur baby photos and videos

5. I am an expert in historical fashion. Anyone reading this post who has questions about historical fashion from any era, hit me up

6. I host #YayYA!! Check it out, right here on this blog. Mentors Monica Hoffman and Joan He are among our past participants!


Title: The Red and the Scarlet

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy

Comps: Les Miserables, Mulan, Jonathan Strange, Shadow and Bone, Burning Glass 

Setting: Fictional Slavic/Asian continent in our world, 1811(the era of Beethoven and Jane Austen and Napoleon and War and Peace)

Main character: 18-year-old Fyr. Basically a bounty-hunting POC Anne Shirley with some extra grit and sarcasm. She has anxiety and PTSD but I don't really discuss this directly because those things weren't recognized in her day and age as medical problems.

Main character's brother: 12-year-old Asaan. He's supposed to be a special hero (or so his sister hopes) but he'd rather just play the piano than save the world. (He's usually a beta favorite!)

So this story has siblings and friendship and SLOOOOOWWWWW BURNING hate to love romance. It also has war with lots of cannons and late night heists and spies and secret organizations and dances and pirates and natural disasters and mythology and riots and fireworks and concerts and resurrected heroes and a bad guy inspired by Aaron Tveit.

I hope that sounds at least somewhat interesting.

Now it's just time to watch the #PWTeaser feed!