This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juli Caldwell is the author of Psyched and Beyond Perfection. She’s a freelance writer and editor as well. You can follow her on Twitter @ImJuliCaldwell or on her blog http://julicaldwell.blogspot.com/
I’m a Mormon.
That phrase right there may have you thinking you know all about me, so let me smash a few stereotypes first thing. I’m a college educated feminist. I can’t craft, sew, or toll pain anything. I’m not a registered republican. (I was a democrat for many years, until the most recent administration—I’m now unaffiliated, though I lean libertarian, so let’s not waste any time talking politics. We’ll only tick each other off.) I don’t eat green jello and it will be a cold day in hell before I let my kids go to BYU. Maybe BYU Hawaii…I might be able to get behind something like that.
Yes, I garden and bottle stuff. Sometimes. Even though I stink at it and occasionally set fire to the counter in the process. I store food and water, but that’s just being smart. It worked out great when I lived in Florida and hurricanes knocked out the grid for a few days at a time. No FEMA lines for me! Yes, I go to church for at least three hours a week and I have the magic underwear to prove I’m a member of the in crowd. I don’t bash your religion or lack thereof and can’t stand those who do. I’d appreciate the same respect in return. Deal?
My religion is who I am, and who I am infuses my writing. My first novel was very skewed to the religion and trended popularly in our subculture. I write for young adults, and that book resonated with them because I offered up a girl who was just like them, dealt with our issues and pressures, and in some cases mocked us. It was great to share that with people who would get it because we have so much in common.
But I’m a pragmatist, and it takes 30 seconds of looking at census data to realize that writing for 2% of the U.S. population is no way to make a living. My latest release, Psyched, is a greater expression of who I am because I was able to let go of those stereotypes I remolded for the sake of Mormon readers. My protagonist in Psyched, Aisi, is a deeper reflection of who I am because I went back to the basics of what I believe a decent and likeable, if flawed, human being is.
The values I believe are most valuable go back to the beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Mount:
It’s good to want to be a good person
Be a peacemaker instead of a drama queen
Be merciful and kind instead of a jackwagon
Caring about others isn’t a weakness—it’s actually a strength
People who are all of the above will win in the end
What Jesus said is good stuff. Even if you see no value in religious practice, the moral code he outlined, though radical at the time, has led to more loving and kinder civilizations (we can argue the Inquisition and Crusades if you want, but I’m speaking generally of people who live this code and not political leaders who misinterpreted the Bible for personal gain and power). Jesus said love God and love your neighbor. If you add in the ten commandments from the Old Testament we find in the Bible, misinterpreted though it may be, a primer on how to be a decent human being.
This all comes back to fiction, I promise. Writers are told over and over to write what we know. So what do I know? I’ve had enough spiritual experiences to believe I’ve found the truth. And it’s beautiful. I think everyone should find that feeling of peace, in a church, in spiritual reflection, in volunteering, in nature. Just find it. I’m not the one you’ll find wearing a black name tag knocking on your front door, but I still have a desire to share what I think is good and decent with others. As a writer, the best way for me to do that is through the books I offer. That doesn’t mean my characters will find Jesus. But they will find hope and peace.
I write clean, which means no swearing and no heaving bosoms. That doesn’t mean I re-create Leave it to Beaver and the most offensive thing you’ll see is when the Beav stubs his toe and everyone gasps when he says “golly gosh darn it.” In Psyched I draw from the Apocrypha and African mythology to create a nasty villain, a demon named Malus. I know the big thing in my genre is “love” stories with a human girl and a criminally hot, inhuman bad boy, and I may suffer in sales because I don’t play the game. But I prefer to write strong characters with the values I outlined above to tell a story that’s a little different and hopefully more interesting than the latest best-selling demon erotica.
There are plenty of books out there that explore the dark side of life, and when they’re done well, they contribute thought-provoking material to the literary canon. I can’t write this way because I believe in happy endings. Not the fairy tale kind, just the kind where not all hope is lost. Why? Because I believe there’s hope to be found in this life. We read to escape, to find something missing in our own lives. To figure out who we are and where we go from here. I’m probably biased, but I think living the Judeo-Christian code of ethics is the surest path to becoming a decent human being. How can you go wrong if “love one another” is your mantra?
If I can use who I am to create a story someone will love, something that resonates, something that will encourage people to find hope even when they feel their circumstances are hopeless, I call that a win.