Today, I am pleased to feature Carl R. Brush, author of The Second Vendetta, on my blog.
Guest Post: A Little Old Time Religion Could Save (or at least spice up) Your Story’s Soul
Since we’re in the middle of the holiday (holy day) season, I thought a few remarks about religion in writing might be in order. I think, particularly in the world of thrillers and mysteries, authors tend to ignore the subject. I’m guilty. Both my historical thriller THE SECOND VENDETTA and its soon-to-be released prequel THE MAXWELL VENDETTA contain little in the way of encounters with god and church, though they hold a healthy component of the spiritual in other modes. However, in working on a third book in this California history trilogy of mine (the title du jour is BONITA, the protagonist’s name), I’ve created religious characters by necessity. They’re part of Mexican California society, ca 1840, so it’s nearly impossible to write about the era without writing about the church. Here’s what I’m finding at about three-quarters of the way through my draft.
Characters with a religious mind-set continuously measure their thoughts and actions against the demands of both the religious institutions and the notions of the eternal spirits to whom they pay homage. That fact gives the writer an opportunity to explore moral and religious questions of plot and of relationships in a way that secular narrative doesn’t afford. It’s one thing to say or to show that it’s wrong and legally perilous to, for example, kill and torture. It’s quite another to do or witness or suborn these acts under the threat of eternal damnation. It matters not, I think, whether your readers believe the doctrine. If your writing is convincing, it’s enough that your characters believe it. And it adds a dimension to themes such as the conflict between what’s legal and what’s just that I don’t think we can create any other way.
Or take matters of authority. Most of us use politicians or police as the exemplars of societal power. But what of the priest? It’s easier, I suppose for a historical novelist like me, who can enter an era where priests count more in the societal structure, but they still count today. Else why would we have a rebellious nun speaking at the Democratic convention? Is not a preacher with a prostitute a bigger hypocrite than a businessman with one, even if the businessman is a putative family man? And what if the preacher is speaking out against fornication at the same time? And when you add that spiritual element to a secular situation, you’ve automatically expanded your story’s consciousness.
Finally, the way your characters relate to their religion can speak volumes about their inner life and by extension about major themes in your narrative. For example, one of my characters in BONITA is an Anglican convert to Catholicism. Mostly, he is a perfunctory observer of his new religion, but the sacrament of confession absorbs him completely. It’s his way to absolution, and it influences how he acts in everyday life as well in moments of crisis.
So, give religion a try. It might not save your soul, but it might inject a new spirit into some of your writing.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a last minute Christmas gift, take a look at my historical thriller, set in 1910 San Francisco/Berkeley/Sierra Nevada, THE SECOND VENDETTA, at $2.99 for the e-book and $10.99 for the paperback on Amazon. If you’re in the bay area, there’s still time to get an autographed copy. Just contact me carlrbrush @me.com.
It’s taken Andy Maxwell two years—1908-1910—to help his family recover from the vendetta that nearly killed his mother, burned their Sierra Nevada ranch house, and exhumed some long-buried family secrets—including the fact that his father was black. At last, Andy thinks, he can return to University of California and pursue his history doctorate in peace.
First of all, it turns out they don’t want a miscegenated mongrel in the Ph.D. program. Just when he’s enlisted the eminent San Francisco journalist, Ambrose Bierce, to help him attack that problem, it turns out that marauder who started all the trouble in the first place didn’t stay Shanghaied. Michael Yellow Squirrel is back for another try at eliminating every last Maxwell on earth. So much for school.
And then there’s the election.
Reform gubernatorial candidate Hiram Johnson wants him to run for the California legislature and help foil the railroad barons.
And then there are the women.
The debutante beauty and the Arapaho princess.
So, how is Andy Maxwell, going to deal with all these quandaries? The Second Vendetta answers that question and many more with a tale-telling style that pulls readers into the book and doesn’t let them go till they’ve turned the last page, wishing there were more yet to turn.