As a novelist, blogger or scribe-by-any-other-means can you succeed by writing about religion?
Short of drafting new commandments and starting your own brand of a repackaged ‘follow-me-to-eternal-salvation and registered-for-tax-breaks’ religious group does it pay to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on such an eternally hot topic?
I’m talking about earning cash, moola—the big bikkies.
Will you be remunerated for exploring the pros and cons of perhaps the most divisive subject of all time? Or will you be ridiculed, misrepresented and banished to anonymous pauperdom for daring to tackle the holiest of holy grails?
Of course success is not measured by money alone but as I get older and have more nappies to buy (no, not for me—yet), anniversaries to celebrate, and a love of red wine to foster I increasingly appreciate being paid for my work.
And though, as a writer, I have always thought more about what I need to express rather than trying to guess what other people might want I know I can’t go on forever ignoring the demands of the open market.
As a teenager I could afford to spend years-on-end writing songs for no financial reward; in my twenties I could experiment with penning plays that ran for a week, and in my early thirties I still managed to avoid the responsibilities of a stable family life—a life which requires a good income. But these days I need more than writers’ satisfaction.
Now I gotta start asking the right questions; now I gotta get paid.
So, what do I choose as the central subject of my first book? Vampires? Mystical-orphan-with-glasses-masters-dark-arts? Something else with a strong whiff of commercial viability? No, not me. I went straight for the literary jugular. I wrote about religion.
What was I thinking?
Not only is religion a mammoth theme to even consider approaching with one’s debut novel, it is also a bloody contentious one (for ‘one’—if not most).
What’s more, many people who may very well enjoy my storytelling style, viewpoint and deeper subject matter may be put off by the idea of reading about a family in a Christian fundamentalist cult. Isn’t there enough crazy religion in the world without curling up to read about more?
Yes, it was a risk—when writing scenes with righteous Pastor’s sermonizing, and church leaders quoting bible verses—to use the religious language they do (in order to show their tendency to preach rather than practice) of possibly having too much ‘biblical’ prose. But it was a risk I needed to take. These were the words once used to control me and I sought to have those same words now serve me.
In one way of thinking I guess I could have written my novel about anything but in another I had no choice. I felt I had to use the experiences of my own life to write with any authenticity and power and so that’s what I did. I wrote about religion; and my experience with it.
And my ‘story’ follows my own very closely.
Born into a doomsday cult my father was a minister in, I lived for my first ten years going to church every Saturday; not celebrating Christmas, Easter or birthdays and, among many other unique customs inspired by our leader’s interpretations of the bible, being taught to believe I belonged to the ONLY true church.
Our religion was the right one; all other’s were wrong.
When we left The Worldwide Church of God, when, in the face of financial corruption and perpetual and insidious physical and sexual abuse, Dad resigned from the ministry, I began to discover there were others like me. Many children from all around the world were taught as I was: they were of the true faith; they were following the true God.
Other children, everywhere, were taught to believe they were following the right religion and everybody else was wrong.
I wasn’t alone.
After many years spiritually exploring my search for greater understanding of my small place in this endless universe led me to form some beliefs of my own. Exactly what those beliefs are is difficult to simplify but if I had to I might say it comes down to one thing: telling the truth.
For me, the truth is liberating, comforting and awe-inspiring.
The truth is I do not know everything. The truth is all forms of written spiritual instruction are the work of many, many men (mostly). The truth is all groups which seek to impose their rules (of morality, business or land ownership) on others are by nature controlling. The truth is all religion serves a need for humanity: the need to make sense of our lives and of our deaths. The truth is not everyone fulfils those needs with religion.
And, some of us do not need religion to know the truth can set you free.
But, as Anthony Keidis from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers once said: “I’ll be doing all I can if I die an honest man.”
Like my grunge-funk-rockin’ friend I am doing all I can to stay honest. Yes, my novel could be described as being about religion but on a deeper level it is about something even grander, even more powerful and even more resilient—impervious—to the egos of men who would make themselves Gods.
It is about the truth—and the lies confronted in finding it.
Will I get paid for writing about the truth versus religion? Will my simple story about a family choosing truth over religion pay off for me? Time will tell. Though encouragingly, the first print run of The Last Great Day has sold out and I just had my best month of eBook sales on Amazon.
I loved writing The Last Great Day. I wrote the story I needed to and was most passionate about but maybe writing about religion can be rewarding in more ways than one. After all, it worked for Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code. Sales wise that Catholic conspiracy story did okay.
Maybe my Christian cult one will too.
N.B. Here is the first REVIEW of The Last Great Day.