I came across this photo when I was scrolling through our photographer’s album from our Orthodox wedding earlier this summer. “It’s my real smile!” I said aloud (because I talk to myself, as one does). I remembered when I was in high school and in my 20s, when I would modify my smile to fit my idea of a more attractive or more polite or restrained image. And I had pity on my former self, because, ha! Look at me being real!
Then I started thinking about how real smiles are like real writing. We all know people who have deer in headlights profile pictures meant to disguise their round cheeks. They look fake, but to the insecure, those photos put the subject in a better light than a real smile. In writing, the fake wide-eyed smile looks derivative or pretentious or like it’s trying too hard to be like Twilight. As in profile photos, so in life.
If you ask an agent what’s selling, they’ll usually warn you not to write in a genre just to try to sell it. That’s because readers, publishers, agents, kids, animals, and some species of plankton, can spot a fake a mile away.
It’s easy to lose your way when you first start writing, because writing is risk taking. The story you need to tell may make you feel exposed. It may make you feel like a weirdo. You may worry that no one will understand, or worse, that they all will, and you won’t look too good for being the one to speak up first and out yourself for knowing such a thing.
Sometimes you’ll have to spread your stories across genres. Sometimes you have to write where no genre has gone before.
At a conference last spring, I met another Orthodox women’s fiction writer. I told her about my plans to start writing fiction with an Orthodox Christian framework, some historical, some modern. We wound up commiserating over the market prejudice against historically attuned forms of Christianity. Most publishers who call themselves “Christian” really mean a strict form of evangelicalism that holds priests, saints, and early and medieval Christianity in deep suspicion — largely because the denominations sprung up in a time before Western Christian scholarship was underway, so wild stereotypes and frankly false versions of history inform the worldview. (For instance, there’s a VERY popular idea among many Evangelicals that the Church was watered down after Constantine c. 314AD, that the Church lost its tradition of healing and spiritual gifts from Constantine until their pastor’s granddaddy’s day, and so on. It’s a patently false point of view, but the evolutionary view of history from the turn of the 20th Century that infected much modern Protestant thought did not have access to knowledge on the whole of Christian history or the Eastern Churches. In absence of actual facts, stereotypes, political biases, and an idea that history always replaced worser things with better solidified in the minds of many Protestant thinkers the idea that older forms of Christianity were superstitious, ignorant, backward, and so on, without regard to the actual forms of prayer and practice of traditional Christians.) Forgive my digression.
The problem is, that if a writer needs to tell a story about people who make up 90% of the world’s Christian population (Roman Catholics and Orthodox combined), “Christian” publishers think the subject is unmarketable. Blink. Blink. Blink.
But to write, you have to take risks. So, hopefully this fall, I am going to become what is called a hybrid author. That means, in addition to writing for publication with my wonderful publisher (and maybe others in the future), I am going to branch into self publishing. I’ll still edit and revise and put forward a professional text, of course. But I can’t wait for marketers to shift their models to include global math; I need to talk about Christian experiences outside of the Evangelical movement.
I may be quiet for the next few weeks as I push to wrap up the first part of this self-pub project. But watch this space for updates come October.
And please, in your writing and your smiles, be real.